PROCESSWEST Magazine Online
News

Technology Profile: Solar-powered Solution


January 31, 2016  


Print this page

Uncertain times can breed unprecedented innovation. In the case of Calgary-based energy company Imaginea Energy Corp., however, thinking outside of the box is just part of doing business.

The two-year-old company, in collaboration with solar EPC firm SkyFire Energy, has installed a solar PV system as a renewable and clean power solution for its pump jacks located 20 kilometres east of Brooks in southern Alberta. The 50-kW grid-tied solar PV system, represented by two 100-metre-long rows of solar panels, generates more than 60 MWh of clean green power in a year.

Imaginea says the grid generates enough power on sunny days to operate all of the equipment on site, which includes a pump jack and progressive cavity pump that produces an average of 315 barrels of oil and water and about 18,000 cubic feet per day of natural gas. Imaginea says the solar grid generates enough to power more than nine Alberta residences, and offsetting 38 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, per year.

The site will only draw from the grid once its exhausted the solar PV system — typically on cloudy days or at night. So can fossil fuels and renewable energy actually work together? “Quite often, we operate by a narrative in which it’s either fossil fuels or renewables — that their separate entities,” said CEO Suzanne West, who founded Imaginea in 2013 after selling Black Shire Energy Ltd. in 2013 for $358-million. “So we said, ‘let’s smash together two things that people don’t think belong together,’ which is a pumping well and solar panels. And in this case, they absolutely benefit each other — they make each other better.

“Our greatest contribution to this industry will be when we are able to change the paradigm — that you can make great profits and not wreak the planet at the same time.” West expects the system, which cost about $200,000 to construct and install to pay for itself in about 10 years. “The way we look at it the reserves on these well are going to last more than 10 years — probably in the world of 15 to 20 years,” she says. “And the times your reserves need the best cost structure are at the end when it’s not producing as much so you can extend the lifespan.

After 10 years, I produce free power — and power can be up to 20 per cent of operating costs. “Even after reserves end, solar panels have a 30-year lifespan. So I will be producing revenue past when my reserves end.” Imaginea approached Calgary-based SkyFire Energy to design and install the system. SkyFire’s president Tim Schulhauser is also a director on a new solar co-operative called Alberta Solar Co-op. The venture made headlines earlier this month when it announced a crowd-funding campaign to build and operate solar-panel farms in the province where the government has announced a climate-change framework that will favour a lot more renewable power generation.

“It is very exciting to establish this synergy of energy technologies, which demonstrates the viability of sustainably developing our resources here in Alberta,” says SkyFire Energy project manager Brodie Yyelland of the Imaginea project in southern Alberta. “We have discovered that sites such as this, which have historically been overlooked in regards to alternative or renewable energy, are in fact perfectly suited for it.

This system will continue to produce clean renewable energy for decades to come, adding a new and profitable asset to Imaginea’s operations.” SkyFire also helped create a “made in Alberta” mounting system, which allows for deployment and redeployment in even the most remote locations. “Normally, you would piles in the ground and, using brackets, lay the solar panels down,” says West.

“In this case, we did not disturb the soil in that way. Instead, we created these ‘buckets’ that are filled with gravel so that they have the structural integrity for the panels to sit on.” Backed by American investment fund Lime Rock Partners, Imaginea produces about 2,300 barrels of oil equivalent per day.

The solar PV system is currently operating at just the one site, but West says there is plans to expand it throughout its fleet in the province.

About the author: Jamie Zachary is the editor of PROCESSWest.