The Belridge solar thermal facility is being built on a 770-acre site. Credit: GlassPoint.
The Belridge plant will include solar thermal and photovoltaic facilities. Credit: GlassPoint.
The solar plant will use GlassPoint’s enclosed trough technology to generate steam. Credit: GlassPoint.

Aera Energy has collaborated with GlassPoint to develop the Belridge solar thermal power plant in California, US.

Located at the Belridge oil field located in Kern County on the outskirts of Bakersfield, the solar energy project is touted to be the world’s first such plant as well as California’s largest. It will deliver both steam and electricity to power the operations at the Belridge oil field.

Aera Energy and GlassPoint plan to break ground on the project during the first half of 2019, with operations expected to commence in 2020.

Belridge solar thermal project background

One of the biggest onshore oil fields in the US, the Belridge oil field produces more than 80,000 barrels of oil a day. The field largely produces heavy oil, which is recovered using steam injection technology.

The technology separates and boils the produced water along with the oil into steam and reinjects it into the ground to enable easier recovery of the heavy oil to the surface. The process requires the use of large amounts of natural gas to heat and boil the water into steam. It also results in carbon emissions from the burning of natural gas.

Jointly owned by Shell and ExxonMobil, Aera Energy is undertaking the Belridge solar project to reduce the consumption of natural gas and carbon footprint at its operations.

Plant make-up

The Belridge solar thermal project will be built on a 770 acre site near the Belridge oil field. It will consist of an 850MW solar thermal facility, which will deliver 12 million barrels of steam a year, and a 26.5MW photovoltaic (PV) facility, which will deliver electricity.

The solar thermal facility will use GlassPoint’s enclosed trough technology, which uses a curved solar panels set-up enclosed in a greenhouse. The photovoltaic (PV) facility will use PV panels to generate renewable electricity, which will be used for oilfield operations.

Enclosed trough technology at Belridge

GlassPoint’s trough technology was developed specifically for the oil and gas industry and can be seamlessly integrated with existing operations. It includes thinly curved mirrors that are installed inside a greenhouse enclosure, which protects them from high winds and dust.

The mirrors track the sun throughout the day and focus the sunlight onto pipes containing water. The concentrated sunlight boils the water to generate high-pressure steam, which can be fed into the existing steam distribution network at the oil field and directly injected into the oil reservoir.

An automated washing system is incorporated into the system to remove dust and dirt, ensuring the system maintains optimal performance even in harsh conditions. The system is highly efficient and designed to conserve water by recycling 90% of the water used for washing.

Belridge solar thermal project benefits

The solar thermal plant will enable Aera Energy to save approximately 4.87 billion cubic feet (bcf) of natural gas a year that is currently being used at the Belridge oil field for producing steam. It will provide a sustainable solution for energy generation and conserve natural gas resources, which are currently imported from outside the state of California.

The enclosed trough technology used for the project is expected to reduce the plant’s overall cost. The system uses three to five times lesser land and half the amount of steel. Further, the technology utilises water produced from the field, thereby reducing the need for fresh water.

The project will also improve air quality by curbing 376,000t of carbon dioxide emissions a year, which is equal to offsetting emissions from 80,000 cars.

Further, the plant is expected to create 500 jobs during the construction phase, in addition to hundreds of indirect jobs, as well as tax revenue generation.

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