The Solar-Powered Oil Field… An Adjustocene Fable

This post is sort of a sequel to Charles the Moderator’s “Climate impacts of super-giant oilfields go up with age, Stanford scientists say.

This section, in particular caught my attention, as did a comment by my friend Griff…


How to stop this harmful cycle? One way is through tougher government regulations that force companies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions or risk having to lower production. This has been shown to work at two Canadian offshore fields, Hibernia and Terra Nova, where regulations have sharply lowered greenhouse gas emissions by limiting oil production in fields where gas is wasted through flaring and venting.

“Better regulation is certainly part of the answer, but a more progressive solution is to encourage energy companies to draw the energy they need to operate their aging oilfields from renewable sources such as solar, wind or geothermal,” Masnadi said.

He cites the example of the California-based company GlassPoint Solar, which uses solar-powered steam generators to reduce the gas consumption and carbon emissions of its oilfields by up to 80 percent.

Done right, such solutions could end up being a win-win for industry and the environment, the Stanford scientists said, by helping oil companies drive down energy costs while simultaneously reducing their climate impacts.

The GlassPoint Solar project in Oman doesn’t reduce any “GHG” emissions.  It actually leads to much greater “GHG” emissions.  So, it’s a win-win-win…

Oman has pioneered Enhanced Oil Recovery in the Middle East

The Sultanate of Oman is widely recognized as a global leader in Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) technologies. Since 2007, Oman has steadily increased its oil production back to near record levels through steam injection and other advanced EOR solutions. The country is now exploring large-scale solar EOR projects to save valuable gas resources needed to fuel economic growth.

According to the National Centre of Statistics and Information (NCSI), gas used at Oman’s oilfields account for more than 20% of the country’s total gas use, with fuel for EOR representing a significant portion of that. This will continue to increase as EOR expands to contribute a third of the country’s crude oil production by 2020. At the same time, more gas is needed for power generation, desalination and industrial development.

Solar EOR will free gas for economic growth

GlassPoint partnered with Petroleum Development Oman, the country’s largest oil and gas producer, to build the Middle East’s first solar EOR project. The pilot system has been operating successfully since late 2012, proving GlassPoint’s solar EOR solution is a viable alternative to burning natural gas for steam in Oman.

By using solar to generate steam, Oman can save up to 80% of the gas currently used for EOR. The gas saved can be exported as LNG, boosting Oman’s export revenue, or as power and feedstock for new factories, generating jobs and diversifying the local economy.

GlassPoint Solar

Instead of burning the gas steam injection in Oman, they are exporting it or burning it in Oman for other purposes.

This is one of the few actually logical uses of solar power I have ever seen, outside of the space program.  Unfortunately, it’s unlikely to be workable anywhere where there isn’t a whole lot of land available…


Oman = Desert = Lots of space for solar panels.

I haven’t found a source stating the area that the solar panels cover; but a 7 MW natural gas-fired power plant would take up a fraction of the space.

In places like the desert, this is a good idea. Glasspoint is also working on a 1 GW thermal solar plant in Oman… Enabling the sultanate to produce and sell more oil and natural gas… An actual win-win-win.

  1. More crude oil produced… Win.
  2. More natural gas sales… Win.
  3. More GHG emissions… Win.

Funny thing… I Googled solar powered drilling rig and it returned a lot of bizarre links.

A $235.84 solar-powered model of a drilling rig from Walmart


Solar Made OD-8 Oil Derrick… A $235.84 bargain from Walmart!

“The Solar Powered Oil Rig” from Breaking Energy… An article that had nothing to do with oil rigs.  It was about the GlassPoint Solar project in Oman.

“Offshore Solar Energy” from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management… The Sun actually shines during the day over the oceans.  Who would have guessed?

A Quartz article about the GlassPoint Solar project in Oman.

“Using solar power to drill for…oil?” from CNBC also had nothing to do with drilling for oil.  It was another article about the GlassPoint Solar project in Oman.

A serious link about the actual utility of using solar power in oilfields for meters, pumps, remote telemetry, valve control and lots of other ancillary functions.

“Dallas firm uses solar to power West Texas oil rigs” from the Dallas Business Journal… An article that has nothing to do with drilling rigs.  It’s about using solar panels for meters, pumps, remote telemetry, valve control and lots of other ancillary functions “at remote locations where electric utility service is unavailable.”

“THE SOLAR POWERED OIL RIG”… A basically blank webpage from GlassPoint Solar.

“Solar Powered Oil Rigs” from A Moment in Science… Using solar panels and rechargeable batteries for hazard lights on offshore platforms.

That’s what was on the first page of the Google search.  I didn’t bother to look beyond the first page.  I decided to check with a reliable source: The American Association of Petroleum Geologists… Lo and behold, I found this 2017 AAPG Search and Discovery paper:

Solar Power for Sustainable Offshore Petroleum Exploration and Production in Africa*

Samuel Tawiah 1, Solomon Adjei Marfo 2, and Daniel Benah Jnr 2

Search and Discovery Article #42027 (2017)**
Posted March 20, 2017

*Adapted from extended abstract prepared in conjunction with oral presentation given at AAPG/SPE 2016 Africa Energy and Technology Conference, Nairobi City, Kenya,
December 5-7, 2016
**Datapages © 2017 Serial rights given by author. For all other rights contact author directly.
1 Department of Petroleum Engineering, University of Mines and Technology, Tarkwa, Western Region, Ghana (
2 Department of Petroleum Engineering, University of Mines and Technology, Tarkwa, Western Region, Ghana

A substantial percentage of Africa’s upstream petroleum activity occurs offshore in high risk environments with attendant environmental concerns. Power demands on offshore rigs are met principally through the use of diesel engines and gas turbines. This adds to the already high safety hazards and environmental threat through greenhouse gas emissions, heat, and noise generation. Additionally, petroleum generated power is an expensive venture that can have significant impact on oil and gas project economics. Moreover, some of these offshore locations are so remote that accessibility to petroleum fuel may be challenging.


AAPG Search and Discovery

Tawiah et al., evaluated the possibility of using solar power on an FPSO (Floating Production Storage and Offloading) Vessel.  An FPSO is basically a large ship-shaped vessel used to produce oil in deepwater where pipeline access is infeasible.


FPSO (RigZone)

Due to the vast area required and low output of solar panels, they only evaluated the possibility of powering the living quarters of an FPSO…

Solar Panels Required to Replace Fossil Fuels

To be able to estimate the possibility of replacing fossil fuels with solar power, the number of panels required was calculated. Due to the low outputs of solar PV cells, the calculation was made for only the living quarters.


Thus at least 5542 solar panels will be required to produce the power needed for the living quarters assuming no losses.

The dimensions of solar panels vary but most are in the range of 1.6 m by 0.9 m giving an area of 1.44 m2.  Thus for 5542 modules;

Space required = 5542 * 1.44 m2= 7980 m2

Therefore 7980 m2 will be required for the PV modules alone without spacing between them.

Nearly 8,000 m2 of solar panels would be required just to power the living quarters.  That’s just under 2 acres.  The flight deck of a Nimitz class aircraft carrier covers about 4.5 acres.  Most FPSO’s have about 2 acres of deck space; but almost all of it is occupied by essential equipment, machinery and modules…


FPSO (RigZone)


While solar power may have some utility in oilfield operations, the net impact of solar power on oil and gas production would inevitably lead to higher “GHG” emissions because:

  1. Any oil or gas not consumed in operations would be sold and consumed elsewhere.
  2. It would be only used to the extent that it saved money, enabling more oil & gas production.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: