Glasspoint Solar, a technology provider that has developed a solar thermal system used for enhanced oil recovery (EOR), recently closed a $26 million series B financing round. Royal Dutch Shell was the newest investor, along with RockPort Capital, Nth Power, and Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital. Glasspoint uses a parabolic trough concentrating solar power (CSP) system enclosed in a greenhouse to generate steam that can be used in steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) to recover heavy oil. SAGD pumps pressurized steam into heavy oil reserves that are too viscous to pump using traditional techniques; typically natural gas is used to produce the steam.
Glasspoint claims it can save the cost of natural gas used to produce steam for SAGD in areas where natural gas is expensive or non-existent. However, heavy oil reserves are primarily in Canada and Venezuela; both of these areas have large reserves of natural gas as well. Oil reserves in these areas will generally have natural gas pockets that companies often flare to save costs from collecting and transporting gas. Needless to say, there is an abundance of natural gas near most heavy oil reserves, making Glasspoint’s technology uncompetitive in the EOR market. Companies like Glasspoint may find niche markets away from most heavy oil reserves in Canada and Venezuela, where there is in fact little natural gas to burn, but do not expect CSP to take significant market share in the broader EOR market.