PDO and GlassPoint Solar to Build Plant for Solar-Powered Oil Production
Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), reportedly the largest producer of oil and gas in Oman, and GlassPoint Solar recently announced plans to build what will reportedly be one of the world’s largest solar plants. Miraah (meaning mirror in Arabic) will be a 1,021-MW solar thermal facility in South Oman, harnessing the sun’s rays to produce steam. The steam will be used in thermal enhanced oil recovery (EOR) to extract heavy and viscous oil at the Amal oilfield.
Miraah will reportedly deliver the largest peak energy output of any solar plant in the world. The scope of this project underscores the massive market for deploying solar in the oil and gas industry. The plant will provide a sustainable solution for EOR steam, which is currently produced by burning natural gas. Once complete, Miraah is expected to save 5.6 trillion BTUs of natural gas each year, the amount of gas that could be used to provide residential electricity to 209,000 people in Oman.
“PDO is proud to lead the industry by deploying solar-powered oil production at an unprecedented scale and level of efficiency,” said Raoul Restucci, managing director of PDO. “The project will provide a significant portion of the steam demand at Amal and is an important part of PDO’s production plans. The use of solar for oil recovery is a long-term strategic solution to develop PDO’s viscous oil portfolio and reduce consumption of valuable natural gas, which is needed elsewhere to diversify Oman’s economy and create economic growth. It also will displace diesel and higher carbon intensive power generation and oil burning in future thermal projects. PDO has been a pioneering force in EOR for a number of years and it will play an increasingly important part in the company’s portfolio, accounting for around a third of our production by 2023.”
PDO has been working with GlassPoint since 2010 on a successful pilot scheme at Amal to test the commercial viability of solar steam, which produced 50 tons of steam a day. The 7-MW solar steam pilot will continue to operate at Amal alongside the full-scale development. “PDO awarded GlassPoint the contract based on the strength of our successful solar steam pilot, which has exceeded expectations for reliable operations and steam delivery for the past two years,” said Restucci. “GlassPoint’s proven track record propelled us toward this historic project that will be over 100 times larger.”
The project will generate an average of 6,000 tons of solar steam daily for oil production. The system will deliver steam to Amal’s existing thermal EOR operations, meeting a sizable portion of the field’s steam demand. The full-scale project will comprise 36 glasshouse modules, built and commissioned in succession in groups of four. The project will break ground this year, with steam generation from the first glasshouse module in 2017. Once complete, Miraah will reportedly deliver more energy to the customer than any other solar plant in the world. The project is expected to reduce CO2 emissions by over 300,000 tons annually, the equivalent of taking 63,000 cars off the road.
“The oil and gas industry is the next major market for solar energy,” said Rod MacGregor, president and CEO of GlassPoint Solar. “It takes a tremendous amount of energy to produce heavy and viscous oil, with a typical oil field consuming the same amount of energy as a small city. PDO is the global leader in oil and gas innovation and the first to realize the value of using solar to replace traditional fuel sources to generate steam for EOR. GlassPoint is thrilled to embark on a new era of partnership between the oil and solar industries. Our efforts with PDO will pave the way for additional large-scale solar EOR developments at oilfields around the world.”
Much of the world’s easy oil has already been recovered. To maintain production, oil companies are increasingly moving from primary and secondary methods to tertiary oil recovery processes, as well as unconventional resources that are more complex and expensive to produce. Recovering heavy oil, which represents the major proportion of the world’s remaining reserves, is energy intensive. Typically, for every five barrels of heavy oil, the energy equivalent to one barrel is consumed in the production process.
The leading method of producing heavy oil is steam flooding, a thermal EOR process that injects steam into a reservoir to heat the oil and reduce viscosity, making it easier to extract and pump to the surface. Steam for thermal EOR is typically produced by burning large volumes of natural gas. Gas demand will continue to rise alongside EOR projects.
GlassPoint’s solar EOR solution generates steam from solar energy, reducing an oilfield’s gas consumption by up to 80%. Oman can redirect the gas saved to meet rising demand for power generation, desalination, industrial development and liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports.
GlassPoint designed a concentrating solar power (CSP) technology to meet the specific needs of the oil and gas industry. Unlike solar panels that generate electricity, its enclosed trough technology uses large, curved mirrors to focus sunlight on a boiler tube containing water. The concentrated energy boils the water to produce high-quality steam, which is fed to the oilfield’s existing steam distribution network.
A self-cleaning glasshouse encloses and protects the solar collectors from the wind, sand and dust storms that are common in Oman and throughout the Gulf region. The glasshouse structure creates a wind-free environment so the mirrors and other components inside can be very thin and lightweight. The enclosed trough mirrors are a small fraction of the weight of exposed solar thermal systems, resulting in significant material and cost savings.