Chevron Embraces Solar, But Only to Extract More Oil

Photo: johnny choura / cc

Let's say you're hooked on donuts, and your health and waistline are suffering as a result of that tasty vice. Your friends and family are concerned; your doctor is too -- they all tell you to shape up, start exercising. You hum and haw, but know they're right; this donut addiction can't last. So, you break out the running shorts, lace up some sneakers and head out for a run. That's great, right? Well, then you decide to use your newfound energy to jog back to the bakery for an assorted dozen donuts. That doesn't make much sense, does it? Now, on a completely unrelated note, let's talk about Chevron's new method of extracting crude oil by tapping into solar energy. Today, the oil giant's subsidiary, Chevron Technology Ventures, unveiled an impressive 29-megawatt solar-thermal power plant they plan on using to -- wait for it -- increase oil production at their extraction fields in Coalinga, California. Almost got you, didn't I?

The facility is made up of 7,600 mirrors that will focus sunlight on a boiler tower to generate steam which, when introduced into the extraction system, makes it easier to pump the thickest crude from the ground. Before this new system was put in place, other fossil fuels, like natural gas, were needed to facilitate this process to heat the oil. In other words, the new technology will allow Chevron to extract more oil from the ground in a "cleaner" way.

The only problem is, there's really nothing "clean" about more oil.

"Through this demonstration, we want to determine the feasibility of using solar power for enhanced oil recovery," says Chevron Technology President Desmond King, via United Press International. "This technology has the potential to augment gas-powered steam generation and may provide an additional resource in areas of the world where natural gas is expensive or not readily available."

Chevron's push towards renewable energy solutions to meet their oil extraction needs, however, is less about being eco-minded and more about improving their bottom line. According to a report from Bloomberg, using solar-thermal systems to improve production can actually be more cost effective than burning natural gas -- and the project in Coalinga aims to test its viability.

Despite the irony behind hailing a renewable energy source as a solution to increase production of non-renewable sources, it is nice to see that oil companies like Chevron have it in them to build such facilities.

And who knows, maybe one day they'll decide to jog past the donut shop before the've become too fat to fit through the door.

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Tags: Oil | Renewable Energy

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