Thanks to the success of its solar enhanced oil recovery (EOR) project in Oman, GlassPoint Solar expects to break ground this year on a solar EOR facility for Petroleum Development Oman’s (PDO) Amal field.
Company officials signed an agreement July 8 for construction of the Miraah facility. The 1,021 MW solar facility – the name of which means ‘mirror’ in Arabic – will be the world’s largest solar plant in terms of output.
Raoul Restucci, managing director of PDO, said in a July 8 press statement that the use of solar EOR at the Amal field in southern Oman would free up natural gas supply, which is needed to diversify Oman’s economy and create economic growth. The plant will provide a sustainable solution for EOR steam, which currently is produced by burning gas. Miraah is expected to save 5.6 trillion Btus of gas each year, enough to supply electricity to more than 200,000 residents in Oman.
“It also will displace diesel and higher carbon intensive power generation and oil burning in future projects,” Restucci added.
Steam generation from the first glasshouse module is expected in 2017. Once operations begin, the facility is expected to generate an average 6,000 tons of solar steam daily for oil production and save 300,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. The plant will consist of 36 of GlassSolar’s so-called standard blocks, built and commissioned in succession in groups of four, John O’Donnell, vice president of business development with GlassPoint, told Rigzone in an interview.
The Miraah facility, which will cover 741 acres or 3 square kilometers, will operate alongside the 7 MW pilot project developed by GlassPoint and PDO. In early 2013, GlassPoint kicked off operations at the pilot facility. The pilot project with PDO was a ‘resounding success,’ exceeding expectations in terms of output and met all safety, time and budget goals, O’Donnell said.
“This is just part of the steam at one oilfield, and it’s the largest solar facility in the world,” O’Donnell commented. “People just don’t understand the energy used by the energy industry.”
In 2005, Oman laid out an aggressive plan to reverse its declining oil production. To address this issue, Oman has been experimenting with different types of EOR technology, such as polymer, microbial, waterflooding and steamflooding. By 2023, PDO wants EOR to account for a third of the company’s production.
At the same time, domestic gas demand within Oman means PDO has been limited in the number of steam projects it could pursue by the supply of gas available. Neighboring Kuwait, which is also pursuing giant thermal projects, is already importing liquefied natural gas (LNG). O’Donnell said that solar EOR can offer a competitive alternative to LNG, and can open up fields to more production.
“Sixty percent of the cost of producing a barrel of oil is the cost of the steam. If we can halve the cost of steam versus LNG, we can make a significant economic contribution to the field.” The supply of solar EOR also is unlimited: the Middle East is not short on sunshine or on land surrounding fields, O’Donnell added.
GlassPoint’s technology works by directly making steam from sunshine. Older solar technologies exist that do the same thing — light is focused on a point on a mirror with a reflector 127 times brighter than light outside, heating the panel to high temperatures. As a result, 60 percent of the sunshine coming in leaves as steam.
Older solar technologies are different in that they all use glass mirrors that are outdoors. Making these mirrors optically precise is costly, and the wind constantly moves them. GlassPoint officials determined they could make a cheaper solar technology if it was indoors.
To develop its technology, the company turned to the agricultural greenhouse industry, which for a century has optimized the high sunshine indoor environment in order to grow more vegetables. Using this technology allowed GlassPoint to create a solar collector that weighed less, delivered more energy and was safer to construct.
The company not only employed the agricultural industry’s indoor environment technology, but its approach to construction as well. The field, located 500 miles within Oman’s interior, presented logistical and other challenges for the company in constructing the pilot facility. GlassPoint copied the modular construction approach used in the agricultural greenhouse industry, which paid off.
“We are engineering a solution that can meet the needs of the oil and gas industry,” said O’Donnell. For its oilfield steam project in California, the company worked with an engineering firm to develop a technology as similar to a conventional oilfield boiler as possible.
GlassPoint sees a number of opportunities for its technology, not only in the Middle East, but in California and possibly the Permian Basin, O’Donnell said, describing the company’s technology as a ‘breakthrough that we hope to make commonplace.’