The heavy oil extraction leaves a large carbon footprint because the oil must be extracted from the ground with steam. In Kern County, California, where oil fields account for 9% of natural gas consumed in the state, the start-up GlassPoint Solar is testing an alternative: a greenhouse in a full acre of solar heat collectors. The firm expects the method to generate a steam cleaner and cheaper than natural gas.
GlassPoint technology is a cheap version of the commercial solar thermal plants that use mirrors to focus sunlight onto pipes and then convert the captured heat to steam to drive turbines that generate energy. GlassPoint system is cheaper because you do not need turbines and because it has redesigned its mirrors and pipes to pump vapor at 250 ° C to 300 ° C (while the steam needed to power turbines should reach 350 ° C and 400 ° C) .
Also, instead of building steel structures to support large precision mirrors in all weather, GlassPoint uses mirrors that are comparatively thin as paper in greenhouses. Simultaneously, their heat-absorbing tubes are lined with steel instead of glass tubes of power plants.
The result, predicts John O’Donnell, vice president of business development GlassPoint should be steam at a cost of $ 3 to $ 3.50 per million BTUs (a basic unit of transmission in the acronym). Compare that with an estimated $ 11 to $ 12 per million BTU with conventional solar panels, and about $ 4 for natural gas.
O’Donnell says the idea is that the pilot plant presented in a property operated by Berry Petroleum, the independent oil producer in California’s largest, provides a quick test of system performance and operating costs.
BrightSource Energy expects to complete a solar steam power plant this year in a reservoir in Coalinga, California, operated by Chevron. Spanish company Abengoa Solar, which has built solar plants that supply steam to a potato chips factory in California, a federal prison in Colorado and a water treatment plant in Arizona, says the sites are a possible market for their systems Industrial steam.