BrightSource strikes deal with Chevron to build solar plant – to extract oil

This is an interesting news. On 21 Aug 2009, Chevron Corp announced plans to build a solar plant in Coalinga, CA, to create the steam that boosts production at an aging California oilfield, in a pioneering project the company aims to replicate elsewhere if it works, Reuters reported.

BrightSource Energy has been tapped by Chevron to build the 29-MW thermal plant. It is BrightSource’s first project to use its solar thermal technology for steam generation. BrightSource is better known as the startup that has inked 2.6 GW worth of deals with California utilities to sell them electricity by building solar thermal power plants.

The 2nd-largest US oil company said the solar thermal plant, which collects reflected sunlight from thousands of mirrors at a 323-foot (98-meter) tower where the water boils, will replace some steam production now powered by natural gas. Steam is injected into wells to heat up heavier oil and thus lower its viscosity to make it easier to extract.

The construction of the Coalinga plant would begin this year, with production slated to start by the end of 2010. The plant will not produce electricity. Chevron will continue to rely on natural gas to power steam production, however. The solar steam project is meant to demonstrate the technology. Chevron also has invested in BrightSource via its Chevron Technology Ventures.

Just 2 weeks ago, the first US solar power towers had produced electricity for residential and commercial use. Dubbed Sierra SunTower, the power plant can produce 5 MW, enough to power roughly 4,000 local homes at full capacity—and provide the modular blueprint for larger plants in California and New Mexico, according to eSolar, the Pasadena start-up behind the power plant.

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