Kern County produces more renewable energy than any other county in California.
In 2011, the Kern County Board of Supervisors established a goal to have 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy permitted by 2015.
According to the county’s reporting last year, the county had exceeded that goal by permitting more than 11,000 megawatts of all types and sizes of renewable energy resources. More than $28 billion has been invested in the county by companies that are developing renewable energy projects.
The California Energy Commission reported in December 2016 that both incorporated and unincorporated areas of Kern County had 142 wholesale renewable projects online, with a total generating capacity of 5,293 megawatts. In addition, there are more than 24,000 distributed generation systems, such as rooftop solar systems that are capable of providing up to 305 megawatts of capacity, installed at homes and buildings in the county.
Also, there are 25 solar PV projects, with a combined capacity of 1,540 megawatts, and 12 wind energy projects, with a combined capacity of 1,519 megawatts, with environmental permits in the county that could become operational in the future.
Just a few years ago, solar was barely a blip on the screen when it came to computing California’s energy production. In 2010, only about 15 percent of the state’s power plants generated electricity from renewable sources. And those sources were mostly wind and geothermal. Solar generated less than one-half of 1 percent.
Today, renewable energy sources generate about 27 percent, with solar accounting for 10 percent. The solar figure does not include the hundreds of thousands of rooftop solar systems that produce an additional 4 percent. The contribution of solar continues to grow mainly because its production costs are plummeting as the result of the declining cost of solar panels. The efficiency of converting sunlight into electricity also is increasing.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average cost of using solar to power residential, commercial and utility-scale projects declined 73 percent between 2010 and 2016. The cost today is about 5 to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is the amount needed to light a 100-watt bulb for 10 hours.
In the midst of the state’s solar energy boom comes word that Bakersfield-based Aera Energy, one of California’s largest oil and gas producers, and GlassPoint Solar, the leading supplier of solar energy for the oil and gas industry, are combining forces to build California’s largest solar energy project.
Located in the Belridge oilfield, about 35 miles west of Bakersfield, the integrated solar project will be the first of its kind in the world to use solar steam and solar electricity to power oil field operations, while reducing the field’s air polluting carbon emissions. Ground will be broken on the 770-acre project in 2019, with production of steam and energy expected to begin in 2020.
According to the project’s proponents, the Belridge Solar project will deliver the largest peak energy output of any solar plant in California.
“Aera is committed to safe, responsible operations and is thrilled to extend our environmental leadership by using solar to power our production. Adding solar energy at Belridge allows us to continue to lead the way in the safest, most environmentally responsible energy extraction there is,” said Aera Energy President and CEO Christina Sistrunk in a news release last fall.
Belridge Solar will consist of an 850-megawatt solar thermal facility, producing 12 million barrels of steam per year, and a 26.5-megawatt photovoltaic facility that will generate electricity. The solar-generated steam and electricity will reduce the use of natural gas in the oilfield’s operations.
The facility is projected to save more than 376,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, offsetting the equivalent of 80,000 cars, or more than one-third of the cars on the road in Bakersfield today. The project is also expected to create hundreds of direct and indirect jobs in California’s oil and gas supply chain and supporting industries. An estimated 500 jobs alone are expected to be created during the plant’s construction.
“GlassPoint is thrilled to partner with Aera to scale our solar oilfield technology in California and deliver meaningful carbon reductions. By harnessing the power of the sun to produce oil, oil operators can efficiently reduce emissions using advanced technology, creating long-term benefits for the local economy and environment,” said Sanjeev Kumar, GlassPoint senior vice president, Americas. “Our partnership with Aera demonstrates the growing energy convergence where renewables and traditional energy leaders are working together to address some of the biggest challenges of our time.”
GlassPoint’s enclosed-trough solar technology provides low-cost renewable energy for extracting heavy oil, which accounts for half of California’s crude oil production. Heavy oil is produced by injecting steam into the reservoir to heat the oil so it can be pumped to the surface.
The process, known as thermal-enhanced oil recovery, typically generates steam using natural gas. By harnessing the sun’s thermal energy to replace the combustion of natural gas, GlassPoint is enabling Aera to reduce its energy consumption and carbon footprint at Belridge, according to a company news release.
In 2011, GlassPoint unveiled its first commercial project with Berry Petroleum in Kern County. Following the success of the pilot project, GlassPoint built a project in Oman and currently is building Miraah, a project with Petroleum Development Oman that will produce more than 1 gigawatt of peak thermal energy. It is expected to be one of the world’s largest solar plants of any kind.
The World Economic Forum recently recognized GlassPoint as a 2016 Technology Pioneer for its role in enabling more economical and sustainable oil production.