BrightSource Energy has supplied its solar thermal technology for use at Chevron Technology Ventures’ enhanced oil recovery (EOR) project in Coalinga, California. The 29MW thermal “Solar-to-Steam” facility uses 3,822 heliostats, each consisting of two 10×7-foot mirrors mounted to a six-foot steel pole, which are focused on a boiler on top of a 327-foot tall solar tower.
The steam produced by the solar project is distributed throughout the oil field and then introduced underground for enhanced oil recovery. The heliostats are controlled by BrightSource Energy’s software so that they consistently concentrate sunlight onto the solar boiler on the tower. The boiler generates high-temperature, high-pressure steam, which is then pumped into the sub-surface oil reservoir to heat the area. This process is then supposed to increase the pressure of the reservoir and diminish the thickness of the oil making it easier to bring to the surface.
“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 of 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.”