Why an Oil Company Plans to Build California’s Biggest Solar Energy Project

The Belridge oil field in the San Joaquin Valley of California has produced about 1.7 billion barrels of heavy crude since its discovery in 1911. Thanks to advances in solar power, its next 500 million barrels will be a little bit greener.

Here in the middle of the 22-mile long oilfield Aera Energy is set to spend something on the order of $250 million (they won’t say exactly) to build California’s largest solar energy project. The centerpiece will be 630 acres of glass houses, like the greenhouses you see on farms. Hung inside the glass boxes will be solar collectors — basically flimsy mirrors made from sheets of aluminum foil and suspended by wires. As the sun moves across the sky, small motors pull the wires to adjust the mirrors’ pitch. The reflected rays are concentrated on a network of pipes carrying water throughout the glass block, creating the steam equivalent of a power plant operating at 850 megawatts. (By comparison, the Ivanpah solar complex in the Mojave Desert generates 370mw.) The plan at Belridge is to use the sun’s power to make 12 million barrels of steam per year.

What’s the steam for? Well Belridge is what you’d call a geriatric oil field. Its oil no longer flows under its own natural pressure, so its operator, Aera Energy, is continuously injecting steam into the reservoir rock in order to loosen up and coax out more oil. The so-called steam floods have been going on so long at old fields throughout the region around Bakersfield, Calif., that oftentimes more than 95% of the fluid that comes out of the ground is water. After the oil is skimmed off, the water is repressurized and injected right back down into the reservoir.

Production at Belridge peaked at 160,000 barrels per day in 1986, and today it is still doing 76,000 bpd — a rate that Christina Sistrunk, CEO of Aera Energy, thinks it can keep up for the next 20 years. That long life expectancy is why is makes economic sense for Aera to invest an estimated $250 million with GlassPoint to build its solar technology.

Read more by clicking the link below.

Why an Oil Company Plans to Build California’s Biggest Solar Energy Project, by Christopher Helman, Forbes, December 4, 2017.

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