After all the bad news regarding solar companies in recent times, here’s something good this time. Chevron unveiled its solar power system in an oil field in California. Its solar concentrating installation consists of 7,600 mirrors that can track the sun, absorb the rays, and divert light onto a water filled box on top of a pole. The resulting steam would then be pumped through the oil field to loosen up heavy oil.
Heating water this way is much cheaper than heating it up with natural gas, which is the conventional method used in most oil fields in the country. The Coalinga field where the concentrating system was installed is one of the oldest in the United States, dating back to the 1890s. Steam is used to heat up the crude oil so that it would be easier to pump it up to the surface.
Chevron’s solar field occupies 100 acres and installed by BrightSource Energy. It has 3,822 heliostats that are mounted on a 6 foot pole with two 10 by 7 foot mirrors. The tower where the light is focus stands 327 feet tall. This is a pilot project to showcase BrightSource’s solar thermal technology that can cleanly improve oil recovery operations.
The 29 megawatt thermal Solar-to-Steam facility utilizes fields of tracking mirrors that are controlled by BrightSource’s proprietary software to concentrate light onto a solar boiler on top of a tower. The boiler is capable of producing high temperature, high pressure steam. It would then be pumped into the sub-surface oil reservoir to heat up the area in an effort to decrease the viscosity of the oil. To conserve water, steam would be cooled down and circulated in a closed loop system.
While this is not the first time that an oil company turned to solar power to make steam, the Chevron setup is the largest around. According to BrightSource, the company wasn’t looking to profit from the Chevron project. Last June, BrightSource put aside $40 million to cover the losses for the said project.
But if Cheveron is pleased with the outcome of this pilot project then it could give BrightSource the chance to install more concentrating plants in other oil fields. Chevron is working with the Kuwaiti government and Saudi Aramco to apply new technology in the Wafra field. There are plans to install giant boilers in that region. BrightSource’s mirrors could be implemented in the project if Chevron is satisfied with their performance.