As California continues to push its sustainability goals to be 50% renewable by 2030, private energy companies are searching new frontiers to contribute. Solar farms in California generate about 10% of the state electricity as more plans to increase solar capacity are being drafted by large scale installers. Subsidies and incentives from the state and federal government has helped launch initiatives for these installers to build and expand solar as a renewable energy resource. California currently has a total of 38 solar farms spread throughout the state. One of the largest is called Solar Star – a 759 megawatt system using 1.7 million Sunpower solar pv panels.
The Next Big Thing In Solar
There’s no question – energy companies will be capitalizing on California’s land, climate, and incentives to install huge megawatt size systems. So where will the state’s next solar farm be located? Aera Energy and Glasspoint Solar have teamed up and targeted Kern County to build the state’s biggest solar system. The intent is to replace natural gas that’s imported from outside California. Such a power station will be capable of reducing…..drum roll, please…376,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually – equivalent to removing 80,000 cars from the roads every year. The system also has the capacity to offset the annual energy consumption of a third of the homes in Bakersfield. With the state’s push for clean renewables, this project is a great opportunity to introduce sustainability and job growth to the Kern Valley.
Image Credit: Aera Energy
What makes Belridge Solar different than other large scale systems is how it incorporates both solar pv and solar steam to power oilfield production. The Belridge oil field is one of California’s largest oil and gas producing plants located 45 miles northwest of Bakersfield. The plant, operated by Aera Energy, covers a 22 mile long / 2.5 mile wide area that produces close to 75,000 barrels of oil per day. When the oil is pumped, the raw material is sold on site to refineries in California. The refineries then process the oil for gasoline and other fuels. Belridge Solar is designed to only offset the energy consumption of the oilfield.
What is Solar Steam?
Glasspoint’s solar steam technology will be the core energy producer for the project producing 850 megawatts of the system’s 876.5 megawatt capacity. Their power generators are designed specifically to meet the energy demand of oil and gas extraction. The system works with curved aluminum mirrors encased inside a greenhouse. The mirrors track the sun’s path during the day, collecting heat that boils water. The water is contained in pipes that are attached to the mirrors. When the water boils, the steam is injected into the oil reservoir underground. Why is steam used for oil excavation? Pumping oil from underground take extreme amounts of force, especially with Crude oil. In the Kern Valley, the oil reservoirs are heavy in viscosity making it difficult to pump. Steam injection is a method to smooth the thickness of the oil underground and soften it enough so that oil can be collected with less effort.