Oil giant Petroleum Development Oman plans huge solar farm to extract oil

Clara Guibourg
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The planned solar farm will have capacity for over a gigawatt of energy (Source: Glasspoint)

It sounds like the opening line of a gag: an oil giant is set to built the world’s largest solar project.

An unexpected alliance will have Petroleum Development Oman, the country's state oil company, teaming up with Californian solar power startup Glasspoint to build a solar plant with capacity for more than a gigawatt of energy.

Named Miraah, Arabic for "mirror", the plant will cover three square kilometres, or 360 football pitches, of Omani desert. Rows and rows of glass houses containing sheets of aluminium will trap sunlight and convert it to energy.

Green energy isn't always the first thing associated with oil extraction, but the huge solar farm will be used to help pump oil, producing steam steam to be used in Petroleum Development Oman’s oil production. The company extracts oil from fields containing heavy oil, which needs to be loosened with steam injections.

The solar project will be twice as large as the world's biggest farm.

The oil giant currently uses natural gas for this, but as reserves are running low, it’s looking to find a more sustainable way of producing the necessary steam.

Raoul Restucci, managing director of the oil company, said in a statement:

The use of solar for oil recovery is a long-term strategic solution to develop Petroleum Development Oman’s viscous oil portfolio and reduce consumption of valuable natural gas, which is needed elsewhere to diversify Oman’s economy and create economic growth. It also will displace diesel and higher carbon intensive power generation and oil burning in future thermal projects.

Construction of the solar farm is set to start before the end of the year, with steam production expected to begin by 2017.

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