On a small plot of land amid the barren sand dunes of the Arab state of Oman, you’ll find rows of glass houses containing six-meter high curved mirrors. Some day before the end of this month, the mirrors will start focusing the area’s abundant sunlight and begin putting it to work generating steam that will go to a nearby oil field and boost its production.
The 7 MW pilot project is built by Fremont, Calif-based GlassPoint Solar, and will be crucial for the four-year-old GlassPoint to validate its concentrating solar thermal technology, says Rod MacGregor, CEO of GlassPoint Solar.
The company is building the project for Petroleum Development Oman, which is a joint venture between the government of Oman, Royal Dutch Shell, Total and Partex. On Tuesday GlassPoint plans to announce a $26 million round of investment from Shell, RockPort Capital, Nth Power and Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital.
The project is only the second for GlassPoint, which built a 300 KW system for Berry Petroleum in central California in early 2011. But the Middle East is where GlassPoint wants to be. It’s the mother lode of oil production and where natural gas, which has historically been used to produce steam for oil extraction, remains expensive. Natural gas in the U.S., on the other hand, is too cheap right now to make solar steam production an attractive option, MacGregor said.