BrightSource Energy, Inc., a leading concentrating solar thermal power technology company, is providing its proprietary LPT solar thermal technology for use in the world’s largest enhanced oil recovery (EOR) project. The solar facility, built for Chevron Technology Ventures, a division of Chevron U.S.A., commenced operations today in Coalinga, California, and serves to demonstrate BrightSource’s solar thermal technology’s ability to cleanly and cost-effectively support enhanced oil recovery efforts.
The 29 megawatt-thermal “Solar-to-Steam” facility, powered by BrightSource’s proprietary LPT solar thermal technology, will use the sun to create high-temperature and pressure steam for EOR. The 100-acre facility consists of 3,822 heliostats, each consisting of two 10×7-foot mirrors mounted to a six-foot steel pole. The mirrors are focused on a boiler atop a 327-foot tall solar tower.
“Chevron’s selection of our LPT solar thermal technology underscores the versatile ways that our systems can produce clean and cost-effective energy,” said John Woolard, President and CEO of BrightSource Energy. “Utilities have recognized BrightSource as a leader in reliable and cost-effective power generation. We’re now showcasing how our technology can help global energy and industrial companies produce energy with lower emissions and hedge against volatile natural gas prices.”
BrightSource’s LPT solar thermal energy system uses fields of tracking mirrors, known as heliostats, controlled by proprietary software to concentrate sunlight onto a solar boiler atop a tower. This boiler produces high-temperature, high-pressure steam. In the case of thermal EOR, the steam is pumped deep into the sub-surface oil reservoir in order to heat the area, increasing the pressure of the reservoir and reducing the viscosity of the oil, making it easier to bring to the surface. To conserve water use, the steam is then cooled and recirculated in a closed loop system.
One of America’s oldest oil fields, Chevron’s Coalinga field began operations in the 1890s. Because the heavy crude produced at the field does not flow readily, steam is injected into heavy-oil reservoirs to heat the crude, making it easier to bring to the surface. The steam at the Coalinga field has traditionally been generated by burning natural gas.
Extracting heavy-oil reserves, like the ones found at Coalinga, is a global challenge. According to a recent report by SBI, conventional oil recovery methods are only able to extract about 10% – 30% of the potential oil from any given reservoir, leaving nearly 70% – 90% of the reservoir’s oil in the ground.1
“The energy intensity associated with extracting heavy-oil is extremely high. This presents a significant challenge to containing emissions and to the supply of fuel – such as natural gas – for this process,” said Paul Markwell, Senior Director, Upstream Research with IHS CERA. “Many of the known heavy-oil reserves around the world have limited access to cost-effective fuel sources and are located in areas with high solar resources. This provides an ideal environment for the use of solar thermal technologies for enhanced oil recovery.”
According to BCC Research, the global market for EOR technologies was $4.7 billion in 2009 and is expected to grow at a 5-year compound annual growth rate of 28%, reaching $16.3 billion in 2014.2
Chevron Technology Ventures selected BrightSource’s LPT technology for the solar-to-steam project through a competitive process and construction began in 2009. BrightSource provided the technology, engineering, and production and construction services; and Chevron Technology Ventures will manage operations of the project.
BrightSource Energy, Inc. designs, develops and sells concentrated solar thermal power systems that deliver reliable clean energy to utilities and industrial companies. The company has contracted to sell approximately 2.6 gigawatts of power to be generated using its proprietary solar thermal technology.