Times of Oman
Glasspoint: Replacing fuel with sunshine
November 12, 2017 | 7:14 PM
by Syed Haitham Hasan
At the Amal West site, 36 glasshouses are spread across an area of three square kilometres.

In the breezy desert of Southern Oman lies the Amal West oilfield, some 700km south of the glimmering capital city of Muscat. In an unprecedented move from 2000 onwards, PDO decided to implement its long term goal of producing black gold using Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) at the Amal West site. Boasting its pioneering enclosed trough technology, Glasspoint built a 7MW pilot project in 2012 to provide steam for thermal EOR. This revolutionary project would turn out to be one of the largest solar EOR development in the world and create synergy by merging two opposing camps; the environment champions renewables and power packed hydrocarbons. While several EOR techniques are used in fields worldwide including gas, thermal and chemical injections, Gulf states have often resorted to using abundant natural gas reserves to produce steam that is injected into an oil well to loosen and pump up the gunky crude. Glasspoint on the other hand will achieve this steam by harvesting sun’s heat. At the Amal West site, 36 glasshouses are spread across an area of three square kilometres. These massive 6m high glasshouses are home to Glasspoint’s ‘enclosed trough technology,’ a Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) facility that uses large curved mirrors to harvest sun’s heat. The same phenomenon that sets a piece of paper ablaze if sunlight from an open window is converged on it using a mirror. The mirrors at Miraah, translated as mirror in Arabic, will focus sunlight on a boiler tube containing water. The converged sun’s energy boils the water to produce steam that is fed into the existing steam distribution network made up of multiple steam injector wells. These curved mirrors will be suspended from the glasshouse ceiling using wires and will align themselves to the position of the sun using small actuators to ensure maximum solar energy is gathered. Hanging the mirrors means that surface area required is much lesser than solar panel installation.
“The steam produced will be of the same quality as produced by conventional methods and can nearly replace natural gas generated steam. Under full scale deployment, the technology will be able to produce up to 6,000 tons of steam,” Siddiqa Al Lawatia, Project Analyst at Glasspoint Miraah said. Glasshouses stand much higher when compared to convention CSP systems, therefore reducing soiling rate by 50%. Each glasshouse can generate 28MW of steam at peak capacity. Being enclosed in a glasshouse, these mirrors are guarded against dust, wind and other unforgiving conditions of oilfields. This transparent encapsulation also reduces need for stronger and heavier equipment inside. “The mirrors are made thin and very light. Materials used inside the glasshouse do not have to protect themselves against the atmosphere outside due to the glasshouse. This allows us to be more innovative inside,” Al Lawatia explained. As renewables, especially solar energy is often considered unreliable source of power due to its vulnerability to atmospheric conditions like cloudy weather, Glasspoint has decided to digitise its systems that enable remotely controlled operations and real-time feedback by control systems is given on performance and steam production. Since glasshouses remain at the vanguard against atmospheric conditions, they are fitted with automatic washers which operate every morning.
With a special focus on environment, the water used in this system is completely recyclable, eliminating the need to procure water supply for this. Miraah also takes into consideration the wildlife around the area. While the CSP technology reaches optimal efficiency during EOR, it can also be used in the future to produce electricity. Al Lawatia said that Amal oilfield can produce oil for the next 25 years, after which the project can be used for producing steam to drive a turbine for power generation. Although this remains more than a couple of decades away, it highlights that the potential solar energy can have after a high initial capital investment. Steam production from the first phase of this 1GW facility has already begun and is expected to both increase the rate of production and life of the wells, an arrangement the Sultanate can’t afford to part from. The Glasspoint Miraah project is expected to have gas savings of up to 5.6 TBtus per year that can be displaced for use in other areas of industry and domestic use. As Al Lawatia, rightly said, “We don’t want to use (exhaustible) energy to produce energy.” The displaced natural gas savings can provide residential electricity to nearly 209,000 people and offset 300,000 tons of carbon emissions every year. With Miraah commitment to a sustainable energy development has only begun and we can certainly expect more role of sun and wind in Oman’s power sector in the years to come.

The rationale

Around 40 per cent of Oman’s proven reserves are of heavy oil, a viscous liquid with an API gravity around 20 that is tedious to pump to the surface from the wells. This combined with a difficult topography of a mix of challenging rock formations and given the maturity of the wells, EOR techniques can provide a comfortable buffer while delaying the onset of a post oil future.

Moreover, demand for natural gas in Oman has been rising at exponential levels; 168 per cent rise in a 10-year period of 2002-2011, according to a report published by consulting giant Ernst and Young. Citing publicly available sources, the study further enunciates that the Sultanate is likely to divert all its natural gas supply to domestic consumption by 2024. Natural gas powered EOR methods alone consume nearly 20 per cent of gas produced by Oman. Therefore, given the increasing dependence on natural gas, utilising solar energy for energy production is an obvious choice.

Mubeen Khan, a Muscat based economist, in a recent story suggested that Oman must focus on natural gas driven industrial revolution. The article pointed out that cost of natural gas in Oman remains less than half of global average and even with full scale logistical development at rudimentary stages, Oman’s location makes it a logistics hub naturally. Industries, which are conventionally powered by natural gas, can thrive best in this part of in the world. Foreign investment especially the $10 billion plus Sino-Oman industrial park in the Duqm is a sign of this as pollution ridden Chinese industries look towards Omani shores. This can create employment, GDP growth and aid Oman to shift to a tax based economy. Moreover, the same report from EY predicts that if Oman goes for a full fledge Solar EOR, it could result in creation of around 200,000 direct and indirect jobs in the country due to renewable energy adoption and natural gas displacement.

— haitham@timesofoman.com

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