In a vast area on the western edge of Kern County oil derrick’s dot the land.
A network of pipes and production plants fill the backdrop of snowcapped mountains. And in the middle of those familiar signs of oil production, a building that may look out of place, but one that is promising to pump new life into a struggling oil industry.
“We’re about an hour west of Bakersfield just outside the small town of McKittrick where they’ve been producing oil for more than 100 years and in the heart of that oil producing region something new is happening, something revolutionary -- harnessing the power of the sun through solar, and a special facility that all started here in Kern County.
The once booming oil businesses in Kern, slowing in recent years, now with hope for a turn-around thanks in part to this large glass house, appropriately part of a company founded in 2009 called GlassPoint Solar an experiential project paving a new way to extract crude oil from the ground.
On our visit to GlassPoint Solar we meet Tunde Deru, a native of Nigeria who is now spearheading the newest the project at GlassPoint that began in 2011.
”GlassPoint is one of the fastest growing solar companies in the world,” said Deru. “Because of the success in Kern County we’ve been able to replicate that overseas.”
The success in the oil industry all centered around the sun and steam. Engineers harness the power of the sun controlled by a specialized weather station. Large solar mirrors capture enough energy to boil recycled water from the oil fields, turning that into steam. “So the water comes in here from the oil fields and we pump it into our facility,” Deru shows us.
That process of using the sun to heat water into steam, is replacing the need to use natural gas in the oil extraction process, an often expensive and less environmentally friendly way to extract heavy crude from below the earth. Because Kern County’s crude oil is considered “heavy” it takes a lot of energy to get that crude out of the ground. ”So this is with zero emissions, so this is very environmentally friendly,” Deru says.
Friendly to the environment and desirable to oil companies.
In 2016, crude oil prices were slashed to their lowest levels in recent memory. Companies are using the technology at GlassPoint to cut production costs, and help save the environment. “This facility we’ve been able to scale up, we’ve built another pilot that is 27 times this, and currently are being one that is 3,000 times the size of this,” Deru tells us as we walk around the Kern County pilot glass house.
Those massive replicas of the Kern County GlassPoint facility are currently located in Oman, and several other Middle Eastern countries with plans on a possible large scale project in California. “We want to scale it up in California and offer the California oil producers an innovative solution in this challenging times, where by they can reduce their operating cost,” Deru said of possible plans for grown in the United States.
With more than half of California’s oil is produced by steam injection, if just a third of that steam demand was supplied by solar, instead of burning natural gas, the California Independent Petroleum Association estimates more than 35,000 high value jobs, and 4-billion dollars in revenue could be added to our state’s oil industry.
With Kern County leading the state in oil and natural gas production, that could dramatically change the jobs outlook for local oil companies. “They’ve seen the need to reduce their emissions, and they’ve seen the need to reduce their dependence on natural gas,” said Deru.
Heavy crude oil accounts for 70 percent of remaining reserves around the world, and in Kern County, Deru and the engineers at GlassPoint say it only makes sense that this technology be used locally. ”We’ve scaled it up since that time in other locations, and we are ready and it’s ready for scale up in California.”
Harnessing the power of the sun, to help to fight climate change and job loss in the oil industry…and it all started right here in Kern County.