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October 04, 2011

They Go Together Like Oil and Solar

Oil with sun2 It's a yin-and-yang, all-in-one kind of energy project. Oil giant Chevron unveiled a "solar oilfield" in Fresno County, California yesterday through its partnership with BrightSource Energy, a solar thermal company.

The 65-acre site will use 29 megawatts of solar thermal to "enhance" and improve its oil extraction. Conventional oil extraction usually relies on natural gas and routinely leaves most of the underground oil in the reservoir. This project is designed to use the renewable energy of the sun to generate steam needed to extract the non-renewable energy of oil more efficiently.

For the half-glass-full crowd, this method reduces the emissions associated with the process. But on the other hand, we're still talking about oil. Oil companies have long considered solar thermal as an alternative -- and now it's being put into practice. Earlier this year, GlassPoint Solar launched a similar -- but more modest -- project in Kern County, with an ultimate goal of reducing dependency of natural gas by 80 percent during oil production.

BrightSource's project at the Fresno County site is the biggest of its kind and may set a precedent for future oil extraction. Technologies behind this method had a global market of $4.7 billion in 2009 and is expected to grow 28 percent annually over the next five years, BrightSource said in its announcement (pdf). Click here for pictures and video of this oil-solar operation.

-- Brian Foley

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