Solar power is being promoted all around us as being cheap and super efficient. Newsfeeds are full of stories that tell us how the price of solar has never been closer to that of fossil fuels. Everyone is rushing to get those solar panels for their home or business, knowing that this is an investment that can only bring benefits. And by everyone, I mean everyone- even the oil industry.
Currently under construction in Oman, Miraah Project, one of the future world’s largest solar power plants, will serve the sole purpose to power the process of oil extraction. The plant is owned by Petroleum Development, Oman, and it will produce the equivalent of 1GW of power. Once complete, the plant will consist of 36 self-cleaning glass house modules, which will protect the solar mirrors from pollutants, and will spread over 3 square kilometers. First steam generation is expected in 2017.
Most power plants around the world use heat to produce steam, which then powers a turbine to produce electricity. Miraah Project will also be producing steam, but this will then be used to ease up the process of pumping heavy oil to the surface- a process known as Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR).
Apparently, this is something that the industry is currently investing a lot into. Since most easily accessible oil is already extracted, oil giants are finding ways to tap into the reserves of difficult to pump out heavy oil. Currently, this process uses huge amounts of natural gas to produce this steam.
According to GlassPoint, as it stands right now, in order to extract five barrels of oil, the energy and financial investment equals the price of one barrel. So instead of wasting energy from this resource, the company decided to build themselves a super efficient solar power plant. GlassPoint expects that Miraah will save 5.6 trillion British Thermal Units (BTUs) of natural gas each year, the amount of gas that could be used to provide residential electricity to 209,000 people in Oman.
With this technology, and the steam produced by Miraah project, the company will not only save money, but they will also have the world’s largest EOR installation.
But is this good or bad news for the environment? On one hand, Miraah project will reduce the environmental impact of natural gas, but on the other hand, it will help the extraction of larger amounts of polluting oil. I cannot decide, can you?
Image (c) GlassPoint