The 1GW solar-thermal project will turn water into steam for injection into the Amal oilfield.
GlassPoint Solar Inc will begin work on one of the world’s largest solar parks, coming up in Oman, this month, with completion planned for late 2017.

The 1GW solar-thermal project will turn water into steam for injection into the Amal oilfield, in the south of the country. The process known as enhanced oil recovery (EOR) involves heating the ground to improve the flow of heavy crude to the surface.

The Fremont, California-based company is working with Petroleum Development Oman (PDO). The project is a landmark deal in terms of size but also because it also the first time that solar energy is used to produce oil at a commercial scale. GlassPoint previously did smaller pilot projects involving solar and oil.

To be named Miraah (mirror in Arabic), the project comes after the success of the pilot project in Amal.

While PDO will finance and own the project, to be developed at a cost of US$600mn, GlassPoint is the technology and engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) provider.

“The global oil industry uses about 9mn barrels of the fossil fuel per day to power the production process, the equivalent of Western Europe’s daily consumption,” Rod MacGregor, chief executive officer of GlassPoint, said in an interview in London.

Many countries have already pumped their lightest, easiest to access oil and now are using EOR to reach the heavier varieties. Companies can spend as much as 60 per cent of their operating costs on fuel for EOR, using five barrels to steam to make one barrel of oil, according to MacGregor.

GlassPoint’s steam-making facility will largely be run on the sun’s energy by day and natural gas at night. Solar-powered steam is ten per cent cheaper than natural gas in California. In Oman, it’s about 28 per cent cheaper compared to the export price for liquefied natural gas.
“But you also have to factor in the opportunity cost, Oman could be selling that gas,” MacGregor said.

A standard medium-sized oilfield would require 1GW to 3GW of solar thermal power to make the right amount of steam. Some of the larger ones would need up to 30GW, he said.

GlassPoint is also considering to develop solar energy for other applications in the oil industry that use thermal heat such as desalination and desulphurisation which remove salt and sulphur from water. It may eventually develop sun-powered plants for other industrial uses, but ‘not for decades’.