Energy

One of world's largest solar plants to be used to produce ... oil

One of world's largest solar p...
A rendering of the 36 glass modules containing the solar-powered steam flooding system being built in Oman.
A rendering of the 36 glass modules containing the solar-powered steam flooding system being built in Oman.
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Once completed the finished solar power plant in Oman will generate an average of 6,000 tons (5,443 tonnes) of solar-produced steam daily
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Once completed the finished solar power plant in Oman will generate an average of 6,000 tons (5,443 tonnes) of solar-produced steam daily
The finished solar energy plant will produce steam to be used in oil extraction
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The finished solar energy plant will produce steam to be used in oil extraction
A rendering of the 36 glass modules containing the solar-powered steam flooding system being built in Oman.
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A rendering of the 36 glass modules containing the solar-powered steam flooding system being built in Oman.
The completed project will cost US$600 million
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The completed project will cost US$600 million
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In a real case of strange bedfellows, one of the largest solar plants in the world is being built in Oman to boil water for use in oil production rather than to generate electricity. The plant, dubbed Miraah and created by GlassPoint for Petroleum Development Oman, will eventually produce the equivalent of 1 GW of power and will replace a less energy efficient natural gas method currently in use.

The Miraah project will feature rows of curved mirrors that will be focused on a boiler tube containing water. Unlike conventional concentrated solar plants that use heat to produce steam to drive a turbine and generate electricity, the steam created by the Mirraah plant will be used in nearby oil fields to loosen heavy oil so it can be more easily pumped to the surface.

The finished solar energy plant will produce steam to be used in oil extraction
The finished solar energy plant will produce steam to be used in oil extraction

Since much of the easily extracted oil has already been pumped, companies are resorting to more complex and expensive processes called Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) to access the more difficult to extract heavier oil that now makes up the majority of the world's remaining oil reserves.

The leading EOR method to help extract the heavier oil is called steam flooding, whereby steam is injected into an oil reservoir to heat the oil and reduce its viscosity making it easier to pump to the surface. But that method currently requires large amounts of natural gas to produce the steam, which is also increasing the demand for that energy source. According to GlassPoint, it can take the equivalent of one barrel of oil to produce every five.

The primary benefit of the Miraah solar plant will be that it will replace the less efficient and more environmentally impactful natural gas method. The plant is expected to save 5.6 trillion British Thermal Units (BTUs) of natural gas each year, or about the amount of gas it takes to provide residential electricity to over 209,000 people in Oman.

The completed project will cost US$600 million
The completed project will cost US$600 million

GlassPoint said the Miraah project will generate an average of 6,000 tons (5,443 tonnes) of solar-produced steam daily, which will also make it the largest solar EOR installation in the world. Once completed, Miraah will reduce gas consumption by a significant but as yet undetermined amount.

Once completed, the project will include 36 self-cleaning glass house modules enclosing the solar mirrors to protect them from dust and the elements. The timeline for completion of the entire Miraah project is yet to be determined, but the first steam generation is expected by the end of 2017. The project will cover more than 3 sq km (1.2 sq mi) at a cost of US$600 million.

The video below provides an overview of the design and construction of Miraah.

Source: GlassPoint

This article was updated on 5/23/16 to correct errors from the project's original press release, including project completion date and reduction in gas consumption.

Meet Miraah - One of the World's Largest Solar Plants

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11 comments
Craig Jennings
And of course can be used for electricity once the recoverable oil is gone.
VincentWolf
Why not just freeze the oil instead and then drill down a mine shaft and mine it like coal?
Derek Howe
Seems like a good move...but when its cloudy...does that mean they shut down all oil pumping operations?
JamesJensen
The plant will be very productive, in Oman there's very little precipitation and cloud cover, with only a few days of rain each year.
CarolynR
Ironic at a number of levels, I think, that novel solar technology is being used to extract more fossil fuel from the ground, whose burning enhances global warming of an area already amongst the hottest in the world. Oman has the solar and financial resources to generate massive amounts of renewable energy, without recourse to damaging greenhouse gas emissions. But the mindset is hard to change.
Daishi
Oil refineries aren't going away and it seems like an interesting enough idea. Natural gas may have been an import for them and now they are less dependent on it too.
I like how people talk about electric cars as "coal burners" comparing grid power generation to ICE's themselves but in order for that comparison to be apples to apples you would need to measure energy used to refine the oil before burning it in the combustion engine too. I'm not sure how much energy that is exactly but looking at this solar power plant it's apparently not trivial.
People make this oversight all the time and are rarely called on it.
windykites
I wonder what the pay-back time is? It looks hugely expensive. Will they extract and re-cycle the heat from the hot oil? This oil may cost more to extract than it is worth.
habakak
I see the irony. But it makes a lot of sense and is just temporary. Once oil demand drops to electrification of transportation over the next decade, these solar plants can still be used, but now to generate electricity.
At this point oil producers are producing the product that is in demand, oil. To produce oil you need a lot of energy. Using renewable energy for that purpose is a good move and also sets them up for an easier transition in many respects. But this is just a short-term or stop-gap measure. Oil demand will start to drop dramatically in 5 years and drop off a cliff in 10 years. We will always use oil. And a lot of it. Oil is not just used to lubricate and power internal combustion engines in personal vehicles. It will still be needed for powering ships, planes and big trucks (trucks not for too long though, but powering ships and planes won't change soon). And off course there we use tens of millions of barrels per day world wide for purposes other than transportation.
But dropping demand from 95 mbpd to 60 mbpd or less due to electrification of transportation over the next 2 decades will send prices to the floor in short order.
Nostromo47
Of course any effort to extract fossil fuels to burn is nuts. Doing so by use of solar energy is just a cleaner method. It's probably too late to save mankind from the destructive effects of climate change. What this plant does is to simply delay the inevitable.
Larry Pines
Hopefully they'll be using deionized water as the heat transfer medium. Anything less will leave mineral residue in the pipes which will lead to more frequent down-time for cleaning. I used to do that myself - crawling into the boiling chamber of a steam heating system to scrape-off the mineral build-up.
Maybe they could use mineral oil in the pipes to transfer the heat to a boiling chamber (where the oil passes through a coil immersed in the water) which is easier to access for cleaning?
They might want to consider microwaves for heating the water at the point of use too. Pump water through a ceramic coil inside a shielded chamber. Inside the coil use ferrite coated refractory ceramic honeycomb (identical to that used in exhaust system catalytic converters). Focus the microwave magnetrons on the coil. The microwaves are absorbed by the honeycomb which heats-up the water to the boiling point. The power for the magnetrons could come from an array of solar panels. I imagine they get plenty of sunshine ;-)