Solar For the Oil Industry – Applying CSP For Thermal Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR)
The 1,021 MW Oman based “Miraah” project, to be commissioned in 2017, is no ordinary undertaking. In fact it will be the world’s largest Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant, and will produce up to 6,000 tons of steam every day to raise heavy, viscous oil from Oman’s Amal oil field.
Using parabolic trough collectors enclosed in a giant greenhouse (spread over 3 sq. kilometers), water from oil well operations will be used to produce steam that will heat and extract heavy oil that lies deep underground in depleted oilfields. The process is termed as thermal Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR), and it’s being touted as one of the most important new applications of solar power.
It’s important to understand why. So far solar energy’s prime application has been for electricity generation. However, the International Energy Agency (IEA) points out that our primary energy use (2/3rds of all energy consumed) is in the form of heat. Therefore this is a vast area of application where solar power has had very little penetration so far.
The Green Credentials of Solar For Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR)
What makes CSP for thermal EOR even more important is that, as long as we continue to use oil, there will be the issue of greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, thermal EOR is performed using natural gas as the heating agent. Experts claim that this process is so carbon intensive that it would probably surpass the Canadian oil sands industry in terms of environmental impact.
The use of solar energy on the other hand results in significant reductions in carbon emissions for at least one half of the thermal EOR sector. And CSP makes perfect sense for the oil producing nations in the Middle East: Light crude oil is getting more difficult to extract, oil and gas is better sold on the world markets than used in industrial processes and there is an abundance of solar energy.
The Miraah project is being developed by the Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) – the country’s largest oil and gas producer – and venture capitalists funded GlassPoint (based in California). The total cost of the project is $600 million.
To read more about the Miraah project and the use of solar power for thermal EOR, click here.