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Chevron’s Solar-Powered Oil Extraction Begins in California

Oct. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Chevron Corp., the second-largest U.S. oil company, began extracting crude from a southern California field using steam produced by a 29-megawatt solar-thermal power plant.

BrightSource Energy Inc.’s system uses mirrors to focus sunlight on a boiler at Chevron’s Coalinga, California, enhanced oil recovery project, the solar company said in a statement after extraction began today.

Solar-thermal technology companies such as BrightSource are targeting industrial users in the oil-recovery and food-processing industries as customers as well as power generation.

Mining and metals processing are also very promising, especially in remote areas where power can also be generated along with heat, Charlie Ricker, BrightSource senior vice president of business development, said today in an interview.

The company is exploring the possibility of more plants with Chevron and others, Ricker said.

“This technology has the potential to augment gas-powered steam generation and may provide an additional resource in areas of the world where natural gas is expensive or not readily available,” Chevron Technology Ventures President Desmond King said today in a company statement. The project produces about the same amount of steam as one gas-fired steam generator, Chevron said.

7,644 Mirrors

The Coalinga plant consists of 3,822 mirror systems, or heliostats, each with two 10-foot (3-meter) by 7-foot mirrors mounted on a 6-foot steel pole focusing light on a 327-foot solar tower. Steam created by the heat is fed into the oil reservoir, making it easier to bring to the surface. The system began generating steam in August, Kristin Hunter, a spokeswoman for Oakland, California-based BrightSource, said today in an e-mail.

Areva SA’s Areva Solar, Seville, Spain-based Abengoa SA, Erlangen, Germany-based Solar Millennium AG and Burbank, California-based eSolar Inc. are competing with BrightSource with their own solar-thermal technology.

Glasspoint Solar Inc., based in Fremont, California, makes solar steam generators for the oil and gas industry using mirrored troughs inside of glasshouse enclosures to protect the mirrors.

$16.3 Billion Market

Enhanced oil recovery, or EOR, fits very well with solar temperatures, Glasspoint Vice President John O’Donnell, said today in an interview.

Some 32 percent of California’s industrial and commercial gas use is for EOR as its use grows in the U.S. and all over the world, O’Donnell said. The state produces about 40% of its oil using EOR and in a few years that will grow to 60%, he said.

The company can produce heat for EOR for about $3 per million British thermal units, compared with about $4 for a comparable natural-gas plant in the U.S. and between $10 to $12 for other conventional solar thermal technologies, O’Donnell said. “We are the only ones below natural gas right now in the U.S.”

According to BCC Research, the global market for enhanced-oil-recovery technologies was $4.7 billion in 2009 and is expected to grow at a 5-year compound annual rate of 28 percent, reaching $16.3 billion in 2014, BrightSource said in its statement.

Exxon Mobil Corp., based in Irving, Texas, is the largest U.S. oil company.

To contact the reporter on this story: {Ehren Goossens} in New York at egoossens1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at landberg@bloomberg.net

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