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GlassPoint: Oilfields Throughout China Could Benefit from Solar EOR

—Exclusive Interview with John O’Donnell, Vice President of Business Development of GlassPoint

Reported from CSPPLAZA: GlassPoint Solar is the leading supplier of solar energy to the oil industry. After years of development, it has achieved great success in solar EOR market.

Four blocks (36 blocks in total) of the 1 GW thermal Miraah solar plant developed by GlassPoint have now been constructed safely, on time and on budget with steam production integrated with the Amal network. The largest project (850MW thermal) of its kind in California is also in the early stage of development.

China is one of GlassPoint’s target markets. Early in 2011, it established an office in Shenzhen.

Recently, CSPPLAZA interviewed John O’Donnell, Vice President of Business Development, sharing his views on solar EOR technology and Chinese solar EOR market.

Three Advantages of Solar EOR Technology

Solar EOR was proven as an effective steaming strategy in the 1980s in the U.S., but high costs associated with older solar thermal technologies hindered wide-scale deployment.

After years of development, GlassPoint has solved the problem of high costs with its innovative enclosed trough design.

The technological innovation led to dramatically lower capital and operating costs compared to older, exposed systems. GlassPoint’s innovation allows them to deliver solar steam for EOR for a lower cost than steam produced by natural gas.

Unlike all other solar technologies, GlassPoint puts the solar array inside a greenhouse structure—the type normally used for agriculture. The greenhouse creates an indoor wind-free environment, allowing a reduction in the amount of raw materials used throughout the entire system. Enclosed trough mirrors are made of ultra-light, thin material. Less materials, less weight, means less cost.

John O’Donnell concluded three advantages of solar steam:

1. Reduces emissions, improves air quality – GlassPoint’s solution produces emissions-free steam for EOR, reducing nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate emissions, and CO2 associated with fossil fuel combustion.

2. Lowers cost of oil production – Solar steam reduces EOR fuel costs and helps operators hedge against fuel price volatility. In many heavy fields around the world, purchasing fuel for EOR makes up 60 to 80% of the field’s operating costs. Using solar energy can deliver steam at lower, more stable costs than steam made with traditional fuel-fired boilers, improving oilfield economics.

3. Directs natural gas resources to high value applications – In many oil-producing countries, a shortage of natural gas puts EOR operations in competition with other gas-dependent industries, or in same cases EOR operations are fueled by even more expensive operations, like diesel or fuel oil.  GlassPoint’s solar steam solution can reduce gas usage of EOR projects by up to 80%. This gas saved can be used for higher value applications, such as electricity generation, feedstock for new factories, desalination or even export as LNG, boosting economic activity .

Image: 1 GW Miraah solar plant

To Explore Potential Project Opportunities in China

Headquartered in Fremont, CA, GlassPoint operates across seven locations including in Bakersfield, CA, Muscat, Oman, Kuwait City, Kuwait and Shenzhen, China.

GlassPoint has been working in China since 2009, when they first developed and tested early iterations of its unique solar thermal design. Today, the main activities in China are engineering and manufacturing of some of the components of the system. The products made in China factory are supplied to project sites in the Middle East and California.

When talking about Chinese EOR market, John O’Donnell said:“Heavy oil is currently a small but growing portion of China’s energy production. There are multiple opportunities in current and planned oilfields throughout China that could benefit from solar EOR.”

The oil industry has unique requirements for steam quality, safety and environmental conditions. Today, only GlassPoint has the technology and the proven track record of meeting these oil industry needs.

“For solar EOR to grow in China, it’s important the cost of solar steam is less expensive than steam made from fossil fuels and natural gas. The biggest obstacle in China right now is competing with the very low price of coal-fired steam. However, air quality concerns are driving producers to switch from coal to natural gas. GlassPoint’s technology advancements over the past few years and global scale, allow us to deliver the lowest cost solar steam for EOR, less than the cost of steam made by burning natural gas. Solar EOR is valuable because it can help China to conserve its natural gas supplies, reduce environmental impact and make the economics of heavy oil production more attractive,” John O’Donnell added.

John O’Donnell said: “In each of the markets we work, our strategy has been to engage with local stakeholders and build deep in-country understanding and execution capabilities. We look forward to developing this same approach in China. We currently manufacture and do some production engineering in China and are exploring potential project opportunities as well.”

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