GlassPoint’s Miraah project achieves 55 per cent cost savings compared to the pilot project according to a technical paper co-authored with Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) and presented at SolarPACES 2017.

GlassPoint Solar, the leading supplier of solar energy to the oil and gas industry, recently published new cost saving achievements in a technical paper presented. The paper, co-authored with GlassPoint’s partner Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), details how the companies have to date reduced costs by 55 per cent as the technology scales up from a seven-megawatt (MW) pilot to Miraah project, a one-gigawatt solar thermal project under construction at the Amal oilfield in the south of Oman. These savings resulted from the use of improved designs, enhanced tooling and increased workforce productivity in deploying its enclosed trough technology.

“GlassPoint’s pilot project for PDO, which produces steam for oil production, has been operating successfully for more than four years. During this time, we worked closely with our partners at PDO to enhance the technology for oilfield deployment and improve overall cost efficiency as we scale by a factor of 100,” said Ben Bierman, GlassPoint COO and Acting CEO. “The results presented at SolarPACES reflect our ongoing commitment to innovation and cost reduction to deliver the most energy per dollar spent,” he added. GlassPoint’s enclosed trough technology was designed to produce steam used in thermal enhanced oil recovery (EOR), a process typically fueled by burning natural gas. This unique solar thermal design takes parabolic trough collectors, or large curved mirrors, and puts them inside an agricultural greenhouse. The mirrors concentrate sunlight on a pipe filled with oilfield-grade water and boils the water directly into steam.

“The greenhouse serves as protection, foundation, and structure in one, enabling major cost and performance advantages compared to exposed solar designs. Most importantly, the zero-wind environment lets us reduce the amount of raw materials used throughout the entire system. Using less material reduces the weight and costs of the solar collectors, and makes the plant easier to install and easier to maintain,” explained Pete von Behrens, GlassPoint’s CTO.

The paper, Deploying Enclosed Trough for Thermal EOR at Commercial Scale, details many of the ways GlassPoint has been able to simplify its solar collectors, which are suspended from thin wires from the greenhouse roof.

GlassPoint optimised the equipment and mirror manufacturing process, improving yield in the factory and mirror performance in the field. The mirror material was reduced by 18 per cent to a little over 1 kg/m2, reducing material costs. They also deployed a new, lighter and stiffer mirror support structure. The new aluminum space frame design, assembled onsite, is five times stiffer than the previous design and cut aluminum usage by 30 per cent. GlassPoint is also deploying a new drive system, which is used to rotate the mirrors to track the sun, that uses one-third fewer motors, and further reduces installation and maintenance costs.

GlassPoint also improved construction productivity, overcoming the challenges of operating in remote desert conditions. In addition to developing special tooling and equipment to streamline installation, GlassPoint also focused on careful training of its local contractors, who had no experience with solar projects. As a result, Miraah has already achieved 60 per cent reduction in labor hours and has a clear path to further reductions as construction progresses.

GlassPoint’s seven MWt pilot for PDO has been operating since 2013 and paved the way for Miraah, which began construction in November 2015 at the same oilfield in south Oman. It will generate 1,021 MW of peak thermal energy once complete, making it one of the world’s largest solar plants of any kind. Miraah will be comprised of 36 standard greenhouse blocks built in a continuous sequence. In August 2017, the first greenhouse block was completed safely, on schedule and on budget with the construction of the remaining 35 blocks ongoing.

Held last week in Chile, SolarPACES is the world’s leading technical conference for the concentrating solar power (CSP) industry. Last year in the United Arab Emirates, the SolarPACES executive committee awarded GlassPoint the Technology Innovation Award for its innovations and cost breakthroughs.

Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) will turn to a fully fledged energy company over the next decade encompassing hydrocarbon and renewable energy generation and water management, an official from PDO said.

The majority state-owned firm has already taken strides in fields of alternate energy with projects such as Glasspoint Miraah and Ras Al Hamra redevelopment and “has a goal to play a major part in Oman’s solar and renewable future.”

“Over the next ten years, our operations will still be dominated by oil and gas, nearly 80 per cent of our operations. But we are increasing the percentage in renewable energy and water management. We will become a fully fledged energy company,” Raoul Restucci, Managing Director of PDO said.

Several opportunities

“There are several opportunities in Oman relating to these sectors. We have to note that 50 per cent of stranded assets in oil and gas will not be monetised due to the rise of these sectors. We need to redefine our businesses and find the sweet spots for growth. The renewable energy sector will drive growth in jobs and solar can contribute to providing for the rising energy requirements in Oman.”

In partnership with Glasspoint, PDO has completed the first phase of Miraah, the largest Concentrating Solar Power Plant in the world, to produce steam for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) at the Amal West oilfield.

At full capacity, the plant can produce 6,000 tonnes of steam for EOR purposes reducing requirement for natural gas. PDO is also working to install thousands of solar panels at its headquarters car park at Mina Al Fahal that can power up to 1,000 homes.

They recently launched a renewable energy initiative where Omani small and medium enterprises (SMEs) could suggest ideas in the field of renewable energy. The firm has also taken significant initiatives in water production and management.

“We need to start capitalising on the opportunities presented by these sectors and create jobs for locals. Our target in the next three years is to create 50,000 jobs outside the oil and gas sector and we are working to achieve this. The private sector in Oman needs to step up and we need to create products in Oman by Omanis and this is what PDO will be focusing on,” Restucci added. According to Fabio Scacciavilani, Chief Economist at Oman Investment Fund, PDO’s gradual transition to an energy company is natural.

“We have seen the likes of BP shifting to renewables. They want to be known as an energy company rather than an oil and gas company. The same is true for PDO. They have the means to develop other sources of energy and I believe this is a very important phase,” he further added.