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100-year-old oil well converts to solar power

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A start-up has built an indoor solar power generator, which produces steam to pump oil. The lower cost steam could reduce the financial need for oil companies to drill new wells.

(Photo Credit:) GlassPoint

After a century of pumping crude, an oil well in Bakersfield, Calif. has a slightly greener outlook. A start-up called GlassPoint has converted the well's steam powered pumping system to solar power.

The solar cells are housed indoors, and are positioned to catch optimal rays through an elaborate system of motors and movable aluminum coated mirrors.

The sun's energy is captured to generate steam, which is then pumped into the ground to extract oil. In doing so, GlassPoint has eliminated the need for well owner Berry Petroleum to continuously burn up natural gas to generate steam.

GlassPoint calls its system "solar enhanced oil recovery." The company is led by a team of engineering and business veterans. It received US$3.5 million in financing from Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital in Sept. 2010.

Lower cost steam will help oil drillers to extract more crude from existing facilities, disrupting the cost structure enough that drilling new wells could become less economical, GlassPoint CEO Rod MacGregor told the Bakersfield Californian newspaper.

GlassPoint's indoor solar setup has also shed some of the costs associated with building arrays outdoors, Forbes reports. The solar generators do not include the rare metals that are found in photovoltaic panels, and unlike panels, do not require hydraulic actuators for positioning.

The metals used to manufacture solar cells have become subject to international trade disputes, and some scientists are lobbying for more government funding to research alternative materials.

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David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure