The concentrating solar thermal power project uses over 7,600 mirrors to focus the sun’s energy onto a solar boiler. The steam produced is injected into oil reservoirs to increase oil production. According to CTV, a unit of US super-major Chevron, the project is the largest of its kind in the world.
One of America’s oldest, the Coalinga field began operations in the 1890s. Because the heavy crude produced at the field does not flow readily, it is more difficult to extract than lighter grades of crude.
Chevron enhances oil production from Coalinga by injecting steam to heat the crude, thereby reducing its viscosity and making it easier to produce. This steam is currently generated by burning natural gas.
The solar-to-steam project will supplement the gas-fired steam generators and help determine the commercial viability of using heat from the sun instead of natural gas to generate steam.
Throughout the course of the day, 7,644 mirrors spread across 100 acres track the sun and reflect its rays to a receiver positioned on a solar tower.
Using heat from the concentrated sunlight, the solar tower system produces steam that is distributed throughout the oil field and then injected underground for enhanced oil recovery.
The solar demonstration generates about the same amount of steam as one gas-fired steam generator. Chevron contracted BrightSource Energy as the technology provider and for engineering, procurement and construction.