The conventional wisdom is that the oil and solar industries go together like, well, oil and water. Think again. In Oman a solar firm called Glasspoint Energy is set to install a solar system to help create more oil. It works like this; oil fields in Oman have a large amount of “heavy” oil, which requires more effort to get it out of the ground, usually from steam generated by natural gas. Glasspoint’s system will use a solar greenhouse design to create steam that gets injected into the oil fields as part of the extraction process.
At first glance this whole endeavor seems counterproductive right? You install environmentally superior solar power to displace the use of fossil fuels. So why use solar power to help pump out more oil from the ground? Well from a resource reduction standpoint this does make a lot of sense. Realistically we aren’t going to stop using oil any time soon. Even if tomorrow all new cars sold had to be electric or some other alternative fuel, there are still millions of existing cars on the road. Not to mention the need for oil in other industries such as chemical and plastic. So we still need it today, and every bit of natural gas saved and oil extracted via clean energy is a reduction in emissions.
Also remember the problem with fossil fuels is not just that they impact the environment, we are also running out of them. Think back a few years ago to the time when everyone started demanding higher efficiency vehicles. It wasn’t because we suddenly became aware of the harmful emissions from gasoline; it was because the price at the pump skyrocketed. For many people switching to renewable and alternative sources of energy is as much about reducing dependence on scarce and costly resources as it is decreasing their carbon footprint.
The fact remains that by using solar, there is still a displacement of fossil fuels. Ideally this is the model for extraction of fossil fuels in the future. Rather than having to burn some fuel to extract more, you are able to get it for free so to speak. The long term goal is to power the world completely from renewable and/or environmentally benign sources, but that goal is still decades away. In the mean time we should try to be efficient as possible with our resources… even the oil companies have learned this!