Business Interview: Oman boasts huge potential for solar power growth

Muscat - 

In an exclusive interview with Muscat Daily , Marwan Chaar, vice president of project development at GlassPoint Solar, spoke about the potential of solar power in heavy oil production. He said the increasing use of solar power in oil exploration in Oman could make additional gas available for commercial utilisations and make production more feasible.

Can you briefly explain GlassPoint’s role in oil industry and what are the main technologies it uses?

Our path-breaking technology uses large mirrors to concentrate sunlight and boil water into steam to facilitate oil production. The innovation that we did was to bring the mirrors and other system components indoors, using a greenhouse structure to protect the mirrors from wind and sand. It helps in improving performance and also protect the plant from wear and tear.

I look after all the new business opportunities in the region. We are basically looking at expanding GlassPoint’s application of technologies to other oilfields as well as other countries in the region.

Oman is aiming to utilise solar energy in various areas. What growth potential do you see for GlassPoint in the sultanate?

There are enormous opportunities for solar energy deployment in heavy oil production in the sultanate. As the country is planning to spend more on the development of difficult oil projects, many of such projects will use thermal energy to generate steam, which is an important activity in heavy oil production.

Solar energy is a good option to reduce costs. So, wherever there is a need to generate steam by using natural gas or other means, we would have the potential business opportunity. It makes perfect sense to deploy solar technologies to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels. The use of solar energy makes additional gas available for commercial utilisations and makes the production more feasible. I believe there are a number of oil-fields still using natural gas for steam generation and all these oil-fields could become potential customers for us going forward.

GlassPoint recently announced its partnership with PDO for launching SolaRISE project. Can you elaborate more on this project?

GlassPoint’s partnership with PDO began over seven years ago. After a successful pilot programme, we began building Miraah project, one of the world’s largest solar plants. Building on success of Miraah project, GlassPoint and PDO has come together to launch a platform with the name SolaRISE, which stands for Solar Research, Innovation and Sustainability in Energy. It is a joint initiative formed with our partner PDO. PDO has a leadership position when it comes to finding innovative solutions for heavy oil, to develop and test next generation solar technologies in oilfield environment.

GlassPoint has been relentlessly working in research and development projects with a primary aim to reduce the cost of generating steam. As one must be aware that if you could lower the cost of generating steam, it helps in extracting profitable oil from difficult oil-fields. SolaRISE has a sole aim to work towards innovative technologies for generating steam with the help of solar energy. This project would also help in reducing emissions and makes exploration and production more feasible. Besides this, it also makes additional natural gas available for other commercial applications.

What will be the role of this solar technology centre and where will it be located?

The centre will focus on continuous cost reductions, including new concepts and designs to reduce material costs, ease oilfield integration and automate operations. It will also pilot and evaluate solutions for using solar energy for other industrial processes in Oman and around the world. As a part of this cooperation, Glasspoint will be setting up a facility at Amal inside the PDO field. This facility will be used for testing these technologies. This centre will also work with local suppliers to increase their capacity by making them qualified in the usage of these new technologies. Thus it will increase in-country value. In fact, we are already using local supplies in a significant quantity.

Apart from Oman, are you looking to expand operations to other GCC countries?

We are interested in expanding business in other countries in GCC region. We have an office in Kuwait. There are large heavy oil developments taking place in Kuwait. There is Ratqa oil field in northern Kuwait and there is a Wafra oil field in the south of the country. These oil fields will require hundreds of thousands of barrels of steam. When these fields would be fully developed, they will be larger than all of the combined steam demands in Oman.

Kuwait needs natural gas to generate steam but they don’t have enough natural gas. So, there will be a massive demand for steam in Kuwait in future. The Kuwaiti government is looking specifically at solar power to generate steam as a means to produce heavy oil. Moreover, the Emir of Kuwait has set specific targets for renewable energy and as a part of that solar power-generated steam can help them in achieving those targets.

 

How do you plan to approach potential clients or make them aware about benefits of switching to solar power from natural gas?

The clients are already aware about solar power. Oman is a small country and everybody from hydrocarbon sector is aware about the GlassPoint technology and we are also talking to them for quiet some time. Our focus is limited to using solar power for generating steam. We are not focusing on power generation from solar energy as it required completely different technology using photovoltaic (PV) cells. We have a well-thought strategy to focus on thermal applications only.

Since GlassPoint has expertise in harnessing solar power, why are you not keen in power generation through solar energy?

Steam production and power generation are two entirely different technologies, one produces steam harnessing thermal energy while other uses solar rays with the help of PV cells. However, we are looking to expand our offerings to the industries other than hydrocarbon sector. Moreover, there are other usages of heat in oil-fields, and GlassPoint is looking at applying its solar technology to other heating applications. In the future we may think in applying our technology in other industries, which require heating.

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