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California’s largest solar power plant to extract oil

Yesterday, Aera Energy and GlassPoint Solar announced plans to build California’s largest solar energy project. Located at the Belridge oilfield west of Bakersfield, the project will be used to generate steam to inject into the ground to help extract oil.

The site will produce 12 million barrels of steam per year, replacing 4.8B ft3 of natural gas that would have been burnt to generate the steam. The oil-producing solar project is projected to save more than 376,000 metric tons of carbon emissions, which is equivalent to the emissions of 80,000 cars per year.

Belridge Solar will consist of two power plants, a solar thermal plant and solar electric plant. The solar thermal facility will output 850 MW of thermal energy, producing 12 million barrels of steam per year via reflecting sunlight from large mirros on a centrally located tube. The solar electric plant will produce 26.5 MW of electricity.

Aera and GlassPoint plan to break ground on the Belridge Solar plant in the first half of 2019 and expect to be producing steam and electricity as early as 2020.

An explanation for the purpose GlassPoint’s solar thermal project was provided:

Heavy oil is produced by injecting steam into the reservoir to heat the oil so it can be pumped to the surface. This process, known as thermal Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR), typically generates steam using natural gas. By harnessing the sun’s thermal energy to replace the combustion of natural gas, GlassPoint is enabling Aera to reduce its energy consumption and carbon footprint at Belridge.

A patent was given for ‘solar augmented geothermal energy‘ that looks very similar to this oil extraction method and was actually referenced by GlassPoint in its own patent filings. The image below gives a rough description of the flow of steam in the power plant:

Five other plants have been built globally with this technology. Glasspoint has been involved in three of them. The first pilot plant for the technology was built in California in 1983 by Arco Solar. Early in November, Glasspoint finished construction on Phase 1 of the same technology in Oman. The Oman plant will be 1GW in size.

The technology is deployed in 28MW blocks that cover 14 acres:

A gorgeous collection of images mostly from the Oman site:

A video of the Oman project:


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