First-of-its-Kind Solar Installation to Power California Heavy Oil Project 274

One of California’s largest oil and gas producers is preparing to build the state’s biggest solar energy project at an oilfield near Bakersfield.

Aera Energy is teaming up with GlassPoint Solar to build the project at the Belridge oil field. Once complete, it will be the first installation of its kind in the world to use solar steam and solar electricity to power oilfield operations. The installation is expected to save more than 376,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, offsetting the equivalent of 80,000 cars, more than one-third of the cars in Bakersfield today.

“Our partnership with Aera demonstrates the growing energy convergence where renewables and traditional energy leaders are working together to address some of the biggest challenges of our time,” said Sanjeev Kumar, senior vice president of Americas for GlassPoint.

Once complete, Aera says the Belridge Solar project will deliver the largest peak energy output of any solar plant in California.

The installation will consist of an 850 MWt solar thermal facility that will produce 12 million barrels of steam per year and a 26.5 MWe photovoltaic facility to generate electricity. The combined solar-generated steam and electricity will reduce the amount of natural gas now being used onsite for oilfield operations.

“Aera is committed to safe, responsible operations and is thrilled to extend our environmental leadership by using solar to power our production. Adding solar energy at Belridge allows us to continue to lead the way in the safest, most environmentally responsible energy extraction there is,” said Aera Energy President and Chief Executive Officer Christina Sistrunk.

Belridge is a heavy oil field which requires the injection of steam into the reservoir to heat the oil so that it can be pumped to the surface. This process, known as thermal enhanced oil recovery (EOR), typically generates steam using natural gas. By using the thermal energy of the sun to replace the combustion of natural gas, GlassPoint’s technology will allow Area to reduce its energy consumption and carbon footprint at Belridge.

The planned facility at Belridge will reduce NOx and other local pollutants, improving air quality in the San Joaquin Valley, one of California’s most challenged air districts.

California is the third-largest oil producing state in the US, with 2016 output of 510,000 barrels of oil per day, according to data from the US Energy Information Administration. Heavy oil fields like Belridge account for half of the state’s crude oil production.

Aera is one of California’s largest producers, and it is responsible for 25 percent of the state’s oil and gas production. The company expects to break ground on the Belridge Solar plant in the first half of 2019. The project is slated to start producing steam and electricity as early as 2020.

Glass Point says the oil and gas industry is a prime market for renewables because it consumes up to 10% of its own energy projection. Glass Point unveiled its first commercial solar oilfield project in 2011 with Berry Petroleum in California’s Kern County and now has more than 1 gigawatt of solar oilfield projects under construction around the globe. Last year, the company was recognized by the World Economic Forum as a 2016 Technology Pioneer for its role in enabling more economical and sustainable oil production.

“By harnessing the power of the sun to produce oil, oil operators can efficiently reduce emissions using advanced technology, creating long-term benefits for the local economy and environment,” senior vice president Kumar said.

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