GlassPoint Solar Inc will shortly begin work on the 1-GW Miraah solar thermal park in Oman, reported SeeNews Renewables.
Here solar power will be used to heat water into steam for injection into the Amal oilfield, extracting heavy and viscous oil in a process known as thermal EOR (enhanced oil recovery).
The first production planned for late 2017. The Miraah project will use large, curved mirrors to focus sunlight on a boiler tube containing water to produce steam.
According to Bloomberg the thermal project is one of the largest solar parks in the world, and also the first time that solar energy is used to produce oil at a commercial scale.
GlassPoint’s steam-making facility will be run on the sun’s energy by day and natural gas at night. In Oman solar-powered steam is 28% cheaper compared to the export price for liquefied natural gas.
CEO Rod MacGregor explained that oil companies can spend as much as 60% of the field’s operating costs on fuel for EOR, using five barrels of steam to make one barrel of oil, if using traditional methods of heating.
“The global oil industry uses about 9 million barrels of the fossil fuel per day to power the production process, the equivalent of Western Europe’s daily consumption,” he added.
A standard medium-sized oilfield would require 1 gigawatt to 3 gigawatts of solar thermal power to make the right amount of steam. Some of the larger ones would need up to 30 gigawatts, he said.
GlassPoint is a Fremont, California-based company working with Petroleum Development Oman, which itself is a joint venture with Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Total SA and the government of Oman.
MacGregor went on to say that GlassPoint is also considering to develop solar energy for new applications in oil and other industries, such as using thermal heat for desalination and desulfurization, which removes salt and sulfur from water, and to develop sun-powered plants, but “not for decades.”