Chevron will tap sunlight to help it get more oil out of the ground in California. The company will partner with BrightSource Energy—a solar start-up that Chevron helps fund—to develop 29 megawatts of thermal power from the sun’s rays.
The idea is simple (and ancient): use mirrors to concentrate the sun’s rays onto a water tank, turning said water to steam. The steam can then be used to turn a turbine and produce electricity or, in this case, pumped down a well to loosen heavy oils.
The plant slated for the Coalinga Oil Field near Fresno will employ at least 3,000 mirrors to concentrate light on a more than 300-foot tower with water inside. Chevron hopes it will be fully operational by the end of next year. “The only problem we have is when it’s cloudy,” said Sergio Hoyos, a business developer at Chevron Technology Ventures, at the city council meeting last week where the plan was unveiled, according to Reuters.
As it stands, oil companies typically burn natural gas to produce the steam necessary to get the oil flowing, and that method will still likely be the case at night and for most of the day. But this trial plant will enable Chevron to determine whether such solar thermal projects might be appropriate for other oil fields.
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