The project utilises 3,822 mirror systems, or heliostats, each consisting of two 10 by 7 foot (approximately 3 by 2 meter) mirrors mounted to a 6 foot (approximately 1.8 meters) steel pole. There are 7,644 mirrors in total focused on a 327-foot-tall solar tower (approximately 99 meters). The mirrors track the sun, reflect the rays onto the solar tower receiver and the solar tower system produces steam that is distributed throughout the oil field and then injected underground.
Chevron sees this as an opportunity to enhance the oil production at the site by injecting steam to heat the crude, thereby reducing its viscosity and making it easier to produce. This steam is currently generated by burning natural gas. The solar option generates about the same amount of steam as one gas-fired steam generator.
The project is the largest of its kind in the world. One of the oldest oil fields in the US, the Coalinga Field is the test site. "Through this demonstration, we want to determine the feasibility of using solar power for enhanced oil recovery," says Desmond King, president of Chevron Technology Ventures. "This technology has the potential to augment gas-powered steam generation and may provide an additional resource in areas of the world where natural gas is expensive or not readily available".