Solar energy developers may be able to earn $100 billion or more by selling equipment to the oil industry for extracting heavy grades of crude, the head of the company that is developing the world’s biggest solar heat plant said.
Rod MacGregor, chief executive officer of GlassPoint Solar Inc., said the oil industry’s demand for energy is growing rapidly, and solar can supply much of that power.
His company, based in Fremont, California, won a contract on Wednesday to supply 1 gigawatt of power at the Amal oilfield in Oman, where the government and Royal Dutch Shell Plc are injecting steam to extract heavy oil. The plant will be the biggest delivering heat from the sun, a landmark for both the oil and solar industries.
“Its value is way over $100 billion, but that’s just a snapshot, and it’s growing very quickly,” MacGregor said by phone. “A lot of solar companies have viewed oil and gas as an evil empire. What’s going to bring the two together is fundamental economics.”
The company will install rows of parabolic mirrors that focus the sun’s energy to heat fluid that will make steam for injecting into underground rock formations. That will reduce the viscosity of the crude and help lift more supplies to the surface.
Traditionally, fossil fuels fed the boilers that make steam for such processes, consuming energy equivalent to a 20 percent of every barrel recovered. Using solar power cuts that energy need and frees up more supplies for export.
GlassPoint’s innovation is in installing agricultural greenhouses over the fragile mirrors, protecting the units from the Middle East’s violent sandstorms.
The company is targeting deals for further large-scale sites. MacGregor said that areas where the technology could be used include western China, Madagascar, parts of Venezuela, California and the Gulf region.
“These giant deals generally take some time to mature,” he said. “We have a very healthy pipeline of giant projects. We’re in discussions with pretty much every producer of heavy oil in the world.”
The company may eventually move beyond using solar in enhanced oil recovery.
“We’ve picked our own beachhead in oil and gas, but it’s by no means our end destination,” he said. “It’s our launchpad.”
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