It is of vital importance that the world’s governments and industries begin transitioning toward a greener and more sustainable energy future. The world is moving ever closer to a tipping point where holding global warming to 2° above 1990 levels is becoming ever more impossible — some say we may have already passed the point. Only a massive, wholesale transition to renewable energy and increased energy efficiency measures will mitigate any further damage.
However, the word ‘transition‘ inherently means “The process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another” — in other words, there is no switch we can flick that will successfully take us from a world almost-entirely dependent on fossil fuels such as coal and oil for our energy generation, to a world in which renewable energies rule.
There needs to be a sustainable transitioning process.
Enter California-based solar company GlassPoint, the self-proclaimed “leader in solar for the oil and gas industry.” Founded in 2009, the company “designs, manufactures, and installs solar steam generators for the oil and gas industry worldwide,” essentially taking the fight to climate change further up the pipeline. According to GlassPoint’s own figures, its solar steam generators can reduce an oil field’s gas consumption and carbon dioxide emissions by up to 80%.
Solar energy has traditionally been seen as simply a replacement for existing energy generation techniques such as coal-fired plants. It is a downstream solution intended to replace fossil fuel technologies for future electricity generation. However, GlassPoint saw the potential solar provided to mitigating the carbon dioxide emissions inherent in the extraction of oil and gas.
It’s not a perfect solution — ideally, one day we will move away entirely from relying on oil and gas to power our cars and heating. However, that day is not here yet, so mitigating the necessary extraction of oil and gas reserves can have a significant impact in the here-and-now.
A prime example of GlassPoint’s aims is the 1 GW solar project currently under construction in Amal, Oman, for Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), the largest producer of oil and gas in Oman. The project, named Miraah for the Arabic word meaning ‘mirror’, is a 1,021 MW solar thermal facility which will use the solar-generated power to produce steam used to extract heavy and viscous oils at the Amal oilfield. Upon completion, Miraah will mitigate 5.6 billion BTUs (British Thermal Units) of natural gas annually, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the site by over 300,000 tonnes annually.
“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, back in July of 2015 at the contract signing ceremony.
“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.”
“The oil and gas industry is the next major market for solar energy,” explained 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.”
In time, such innovations such as solar-driven oil extraction will be unnecessary, as we transition to more sustainable, less carbon-intensive fuels. But for the time being, actively mitigating the carbon emissions and environmental damage of fossil fuel extraction by using renewable energy technologies such as solar can yield a significant benefit to the current global energy transition.