GlassPoint greenhouse uses sun to pump more oil

Steam generated in a glass house by mirrors will be used for enhanced oil recovery in California, where steam is pumped underground to draw more from existing wells.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica
2 min read
GlassPoint Solar's glass buildings are about 20 feet high and have mirrors inside which makes steam.
GlassPoint's glass buildings are about 20 feet high and have mirrors inside which makes steam. GlassPoint

In a meeting of solar energy and oil and gas drilling, California start-up GlassPoint yesterday hosted the ribbon-cutting of an oil field partially run by solar-generated steam.

The company claims it's the only operation that uses solar power for enhanced oil recovery, where steam is pumped into wells to draw more oil from existing wells. The commissioning was in Kern County, California and construction of the facility took six weeks.

Right now, oil fields use natural gas steam generators whereas GlassPoint's system uses a series of mirrors in a greenhouse to generate heat. The mirrors reflect the light onto tubes carrying water, which turn into steam.

Solar generators for enhanced oil recovery were tried in the 1980s. GlassPoint says that it has driven down the cost to the point where oil drillers will use the technology for economic, not environmental, reasons.

With lower-cost options for making steam, oil drillers can get more from existing facilities rather than start new ones, GlassPoint CEO Rod MacGregor said yesterday, according to a report in the Bakersfield Californian. "If you move the economics, you can extract more oil," he said.

One of the company's executives is John O'Donnell, who was founder and former president of solar thermal company Ausra, which was acquired by energy company Areva. Concentrating solar power companies typically use mirrors to generate heat for making steam. To make electricity, that steam is passed through a turbine, but the steam has other industrial uses.

In a similar test, BrightSource Energy has been contracted by investor Chevron to build a solar thermal array to test the effectiveness in replacing natural gas for making steam.