Shell Invests In Solar Power-Based Enhanced Oil Recovery Technology

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Talk about irony! Solar power being used to boost fossil fuel production. The idea may sound pretty weird to some, but to Shell, this is an idea worth investing millions.

Solar-based enhanced oil recovery by Glasspoint Inc.
Solar field deployed by Glasspoint Solar to generate steam for enhanced oil recovery

Royal Dutch Shell has teamed with a sovereign investment fund from Oman to invest $53 million in a company that manufactures solar power equipment designed for increasing oil production. Glasspoint Solar Inc. installs aluminium mirrors near oil fields that concentrate solar radiation on insulated tubes containing water.

The steam generated from heating the water is injected into oil fields to recover heavy crude oil. This concept of enhanced oil recovery involves high pressure injection of hot fluids to recover heavy crude oil. The use of renewable energy like solar power makes great economic sense, as the fuel cost associated with this enhanced oil recovery technology is practically zero.

Shell hopes to employ this technology in its oil fields in Oman. The company hopes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with enhanced oil recovery operations. A large-scale successful implementation of this technology could be a game changer for major consumers like India and the US. Both have substantial oil reserves, but are unable to tap them due to high costs involved in heavy oil recovery.

Glasspoint Solar has been running a demonstration project in California since 2011, and now plans to participate in a large-scale commercial project in Oman. Solar power steam generators can reduce gas consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 80% each, the company claims.

While the financial implications of solar-powered enhanced oil recovery are attractive, with prospective output at internationally competitive prices, there could be some serious environmental issues as well. Cost-free solar power will drive down price of oil production from fields currently seen as financially unsustainable. This may further boost the production of a fossil fuel like oil.

UPDATE: A representative from Glasspoint has pointed out that:

  • “This technology is tailored for regions with high solar irradiation, so the global impact is not going to be strong enough to drive down the price of oil.”
  • “Although the impact on the O&G industry is significant, it’s more of a win for the solar industry.”

Image: Glasspoint Solar Inc.

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Mridul Chadha

Mridul currently works as Head-News & Data at Climate Connect Limited, a market research and analytics firm in the renewable energy and carbon markets domain. He earned his Master’s in Technology degree from The Energy & Resources Institute in Renewable Energy Engineering and Management. He also has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering. Mridul has a keen interest in renewable energy sector in India and emerging carbon markets like China and Australia.

Mridul Chadha has 425 posts and counting. See all posts by Mridul Chadha

13 thoughts on “Shell Invests In Solar Power-Based Enhanced Oil Recovery Technology

  • That’s a very interesting development. But is it cost-effective?

    I would be interested to know how substantial is India’s oil reserves as stated in the article?

    • It’s cost effective. At the moment solar heat might cost a couple of cents a kilowatt-hour and is coming down in price. At international prices I think heat from natural gas would be over 4 cents a kilowatt-hour. And the less natural gas Oman uses, the more LPG they can export. And maybe they are thinking of exporting natural gas as well, but that particular future is unclear. Major import markets are likely to massively reduce demand for natural gas before their exports can get started. Middle-east gas producers seem to be counting on continuing growing demand locally as oil use in electricity generation is substituted away, but I’m not sure how realistic that is given the current low and decreasing cost of solar in those areas and also the low cost of wind.

      • Ronald
        Read all your posts
        That particular future is not unclear.
        Solar and Wind take over.
        benefit for all. The renewable industry takes over fossil.
        that is the clear future.

        • I don’t think the people who are currently about to build a gas pipeline from Iran to Oman read my posts.

      • Most of the water/steam actually enters the grain boundaries and remains trapped down there in the old field (PLAY ) this is very good news for environmentalists but it is also the bad news there ARE places where oil gas exploration is collapsing the lifetime of needed Aquifers by hundreds of years, some of it the best farmland in the U. S.

    • take a look at India Solar and Wind Power reserves.
      clean local cheap. and a lot of it, everywhere.
      forget oil.

      • yes i know there are ample of solar and wind reserves, but have not heard of “substantial” oil reserves as mentioned by the author. Also in India solar and wind first need to power the rural areas without electricity, then replace coal …. replacing oil in India is decades away

    • Is it cost-effective? Only if externalities are not accounted for.

  • Terrible news. Enhanced recovery is the opposite of what we need to be doing–and it is a sickening irony that renewable energy could be used to worsen the climate crisis.

    • forget oil.
      oil prices are going down, Brent oil under a hundred dollar.
      oil priced out by cheap, clean, money making Solar and Wind.
      Terrible news for Shell, it is.
      Shell cannot survive this way.
      Time is NOW to divest out Shell oil.
      Solar and Wind take over clean and easy.

  • Kind of like a solar powered furnace in Auschwitz….

  • This seems… perverse.

    • We’ve seen other examples of the fossil fuel industry turning to renewables.

      Chevron has a solar thermal system that creates steam for oil extraction. Some coal mines in Australia have installed renewables to save on diesel costs.

Comments are closed.