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Oman to build 1GW solar plant to aid oil extraction

Oil and gas group Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) unveiled plans for a 1.02GW solar-thermal plant to aid oil extraction in the Middle East nation.

PDO has linked with US-based solar-thermal specialist GlassPoint for the Miraah project, which it said will deliver the world’s largest solar output when up and running at its Amal field from 2017.

GlassPoint’s thermal enhanced oil recovery (EOR) system is designed to produce the steam needed to help get at heavy oil that is too thick to be pumped to the surface using conventional techniques.

GlassPoint – which counts Shell among its investors – already operates a 7MW pilot at Amal, which the partners said had “exceeded expectations for reliable operations and steam delivery for the past two years”.

The GlassPoint technology is based on parabolic troughs enclosed in a glass structure and sealed from harsh environmental factors such as extreme humidity and sand.

Heat from the collectors is used to generate high-pressure steam, which is injected underground to raise the oil’s temperature and thin it out to the consistency of water.

PDO said the steam for EOR is currently gas-generated, with the Miraah plant set to save 5.6 trillion BTUs of gas each year.

It described the solar technology as “a long-term strategic solution to develop PDO’s viscous oil portfolio”.

Miraah, which means mirror in Arabic, is the most significant solar-thermal project announced for some years.

The technology has seen a number of ambitious projects scaled back or abandoned over the past three years as developers turned to far less expensive PV modules for their solar requirements.

Miraah would dwarf the world's current largest solar-thermal facility, the 377MW Ivanpah in California.

Rod MacGregor, CEO of GlassPoint, said: “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.

“PDO is the global leader in oil and gas innovation and the first to realise the value of using solar to replace traditional fuel sources to generate steam for EOR.”