Solar Power: Harnessing the sun to lift heavy oil

Oman's PDO looks set to embrace new enhanced oil recovery technology

GlassPoint's Kern County 21Z Solar Project was constructed in just six weeks, featuring an innovative glasshouse enclosure for environmental protectio
GlassPoint's Kern County 21Z Solar Project was constructed in just six weeks, featuring an innovative glasshouse enclosure for environmental protectio

In February GlassPoint Solar, a provider of solar steam generators for enhanced oil recovery, unveiled the world’s first commercial solar enhanced oil recovery (EOR) project at Berry Petroleum Company’s 21Z lease in McKittrick, California.

The Kern County 21Z Solar Project is the only operational solar EOR project in the world. The project also incorporates GlassPoint’s Single Transit Trough (STT) technology, the first new solar thermal technology in decades.

Specifically designed for rugged oilfield environments, the GlassPoint solution encloses the solar technology in a unique glasshouse structure to deliver durable, low-cost solar steam in industrial environments.

The project was built in less than six weeks. Steam-based EOR, also known as thermal EOR, dominates EOR operations worldwide, delivering more petroleum and enabling production of otherwise inaccessible heavy oil.

Today’s steam generators burn fuel – primarily natural gas – to produce steam injected into the reservoir to facilitate oil production.

GlassPoint’s new technology creates steam with solar energy, delivering it at a fraction of the cost of gas-fired steam. Solar-generated steam can deliver up to 80% of total annual EOR project needs, consequently reducing the amount of natural gas used by 80%.

The Kern County 21Z Solar Project will produce approximately 1 million BTUs per hour of solar heat, replacing natural gas used for steam generation.

The oil fields in Kern County have been in production for over a century, and the most accessible oil has already been recovered. Oil companies, such as Berry Petroleum Company, are committed to seeking advanced technologies to economically produce their heavy oil reserves with least impact to the environment.

GlassPoint’s solar EOR technology has the potential to significantly reduce natural gas usage for steam generation purposes and to increase the ultimate recovery fraction of heavy oil reserves.

The key to GlassPoint’s cost advantage rests in the system’s glasshouse enclosure, which protects and seals the mirror system from the elements, including dust, dirt, sand and humidity. The protected environment allows for the use of ultralight, low-cost reflective materials.

Automated washing equipment eliminates manual cleaning and operator intervention, further reducing costs, worker health and safety challenges and water use.

GlassPoint steam generators directly raise steam using standard oilfield boiler feedwater, eliminating “reboilers” and expensive deionising units required by older solar system designs.

GlassPoint’s innovative Single Transit Trough (STT) technology creates a protected environment, where high-performance, front-surface reflectors are now practical and durable for the first time.

This breakthrough in solar collector design eliminates multiple light transits through dirty glass, delivering higher real-world optical efficiency than today’s systems.

“It’s not well known that the United States still has more oil in the ground than the entire recoverable reserves of Saudi Arabia.

The challenge lies in producing these untapped oil resources with reasonable financial and environmental costs. Our solar EOR solution allows customers to produce heavy oil without the air emissions of combustion-based steam generation, and without the exposure to fuel markets, extending the economic life of aging oil fields,” said GlassPoint CEO Rod MacGregor.

“We expect the economic benefits of GlassPoint’s solution will drive the adoption of solar EOR internationally.”

Dr. Syham Bentouati, corporate technology advisor, Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) adds: “PDO has studied the effect of solar steam on oil production.

We have found that from a sub-surface oil recovery point of view, solar-generated steam provides a viable alternative to constant rate steam injection derived from natural gas.

Much of the world’s heavy oil is located in the Persian Gulf region, which has abundant sunshine. In these locations switching to solar EOR saves gas for higher value applications like industrial development and export as LNG.”

GlassPoint’s solar steam generators deliver steam at a constant price for the entire 30-year life of the system. When oil fields are developed with the certainty of low-cost, fixed-price steam, recovery strategies can be optimized to produce more oil over the lifetime of the field.

This results in an increase in proven reserves, greatly enhancing the value of the asset.

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