Oman to build giant solar thermal plant to extract oil
July 8, 2015 | 1:18 PM
by A. E. JAMES
An artist’s impression of the gigantic solar project planned in Amal oilfield in South Oman. - Supplied

Muscat: Plans to build a 1,021-megawatt solar thermal facility – one of the world’s largest solar plants – to extract heavy and viscous oil from Amal oilfield in South Oman was jointly announced by the majority state-owned Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) and US-based GlassPoint Solar on Wednesday.

The solar thermal facility, named Miraah (meaning mirror in Arabic), will be built in a three-square-kilometre area to harness the sun rays to produce steam with a capital expenditure of $600 million in three phases.

The first phase will be commissioned by 2017 and the last phase slated for commissioning few years later.

The steam will be used in thermal enhanced oil recovery (EOR) to extract heavy and viscous oil at the Amal oilfield. Miraah will deliver the largest peak energy output of any solar plant in the world and the scope of this landmark project underscores the massive market for deploying solar in the oil and gas industry.

The plant will provide a sustainable solution for EOR steam, which is currently produced by burning natural gas. Once complete, 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.

Raoul Restucci, managing director of PDO, and Rod MacGregor, president and chief executive officer of GlassPoint Solar, signed an agreement to build the project, which is coming up close to its pilot venture in Amal oilfield.

Addressing the media, Restucci said the company’s key priority is to deliver oil and gas with an increasingly efficient and sustainable manner.

“The PDO has been a pioneering force in EOR for a number of years and it will play an increasingly important part in the company’s portfolio, accounting for around a third of our production by 2023,” noted Restucci.

The project will provide a significant portion of the steam demand at Amal and is an important part of the PDO’s production plans.

“The use of solar for oil recovery is a long-term strategic solution to develop the PDO’s viscous oil portfolio and reduce the consumption of valuable natural gas, which is needed elsewhere to diversify Oman’s economy and create economic growth. It will also displace diesel and higher carbon intensive power generation and oil burning in future thermal projects.

Around 60 per cent of the material needed for the project will be procured locally, which will create new opportunities in supply chain development.

The PDO has been working with GlassPoint since 2010 on a successful pilot scheme at Amal to test the commercial viability of solar steam, which produced 50 tonnes of steam a day. The seven megawatt solar steam pilot will continue to operate at Amal alongside the full-scale development.

“The PDO awarded GlassPoint the contract based on the strength of our successful solar steam pilot, which has exceeded expectations for reliable operations and steam delivery for the past two years. GlassPoint’s proven track record propelled us toward this historic project that will be over 100 times larger,” added Restucci.

The project will generate an average of 6,000 tonnes of solar steam per day for oil production, dwarfing all other solar EOR installations. The system will deliver steam to Amal’s existing thermal EOR operations, meeting a sizeable portion of the field’s steam demand. The full-scale project will comprise 36 glasshouse modules, built and commissioned in succession in groups of four.

The total project area, including all supporting infrastructure, will span three square kilometres, an area equivalent to more than 360 football pitches. The actual solar field will span less than two-square kilometres.

The project will break ground this year with steam generation from the first glasshouse module in 2017. Once complete, Miraah will deliver more energy to the customer than any other solar plant in the world. The project is expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by over 300,000 tonnes annually, the equivalent of taking 63,000 cars off the road.

“The oil and gas industry is the next major market for solar energy. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to produce heavy and viscous oil, with a typical oil field consuming the same amount of energy as a small city,” said MacGregor.

Much of the world’s easy oil has already been recovered. To maintain production, oil companies are increasingly moving from primary and secondary methods to tertiary oil recovery processes as well as unconventional resources, which are more complex and expensive to produce.

Recovering heavy oil, which represents the major proportion of the world’s remaining reserves, is energy intensive. Typically, for every five barrels of heavy oil, the energy equivalent to one barrel is consumed in the production process.

The leading method of producing heavy oil is steam flooding, a thermal EOR process that injects steam into a reservoir to heat the oil and reduce viscosity, making it easier to extract and pump to the surface. Steam for thermal EOR is typically produced by burning large volumes of natural gas. Gas demand will continue to rise alongside EOR projects.

GlassPoint’s solar EOR solution generates steam from solar energy, reducing an oilfield’s gas consumption by up to 80 per cent. Oman can redirect the gas saved to meet rising demand for power generation, desalination, industrial development and liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports.

Miraah has the potential to generate significant value for Oman, creating new opportunities in supply chain development, manufacturing capability, and employment and training. Plans to localise the supply chain are currently under development, including establishing a local manufacturing factory in Oman.

PDO has a comprehensive programme to address energy management, installing combined cycle, waste heat recovery, and reduced loss distribution systems, along with gas breakthrough controllers, more efficient turbines and electrical submersible pumps, low pressure and atmospheric gas recovery systems, and solar along with LED lighting.

“This project has the potential to make Oman a world centre of excellence for solar EOR with obvious benefits in terms of job and training opportunities for Omanis, building a robust Omani supply chain and attracting further foreign investment, whilst building a reliable and sustainable proposition for solar EOR worldwide,” added Restucci.


To get in touch with the reporter: [email protected]

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