Power and Renewables

Finding Common Ground: Solar Projects Near O&G Operations

byKatherine Paton-Ilse

As solar generation continues to dominate the renewable energy industry, siting projects is becoming increasingly difficult. With new projects entering the interconnection queue every day, available land for solar development is rapidly diminishing. Traditional sites, such as flat, open parcels, have already been thoroughly explored and developed. Solar developers are finding out they need to get innovative to find their next project site.

An unlikely solution may lie within the oil and gas industry – operational oil and gas sites. Although a solar farm being built around oil and gas infrastructure may seem far-fetched, solar developers are able to solve a significant energy problem for energy-hungry, remote oil and gas assets. For example, the Lost Hills Solar Project in Kern County, California has been providing power exclusively to Chevron’s Lost Hills oil field facilities for almost four years. As developers look to replicate this successful partnership, there are several things to consider when evaluating potential site options: congestion, capacity factor, high energy prices/power purchase agreement securement and infrastructure limitations.

Congestion in Texas

West Texas is home to the Permian Basin, one of the most prolific oil fields in the world, and activity is expected to increase both for the upstream and midstream aspects. Increased activity means more electricity demand, leading to an increase in the required load in an area where congestion and constraint problems already exist. Oil and gas wells, pipelines, and surface facilities in West Texas will require a substantial amount of electricity to continue running as the activity in the basin increases. However, renewable developers must know where these assets are located to make them part of their land selection process as exclusion layers. Renewable developers eyeing areas with existing oil and gas operations must exclude these assets when assessing the viability of solar project sites.

Capacity Factor in West Texas

Why is West Texas an interesting place for solar development around oil and gas assets? Because of high-capacity factor. Capacitor factor is the ratio of the electrical energy produced by a power plant compared to the electrical energy that could have been produced at continuous full power operation during the same period. The capacity factor can vary greatly for solar projects and is especially dependent on where they are located. Solar projects in an area with high solar radiation are more efficient than solar projects of the same design in a lower radiation area. West Texas has the highest global horizontal irradiance (GHI) in the state, making it the ideal area for solar production.

A Potential Win-Win Relationship

Despite the challenge posed by numerous oil and gas facilities in identifying optimal sites for solar projects in Texas, they can serve as strategic assets for creative project placement, enhancing the prospects of success. These facilities, including wells and surface installations, demand significant electricity, particularly in regions where congestion drives up energy prices. This high demand makes oil and gas companies eager to secure power purchase agreements (PPAs) with renewable energy providers early in the development process, streamlining project timelines. Moreover, utilizing solar-generated electricity to power oil and gas operations not only reduces energy expenses but also mitigates emissions, potentially aligning with the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals of oil and gas companies seeking to bolster their sustainability initiatives.

Lack of Infrastructure

Oil and gas production is growing at a rate that cannot be sustained by the electric grid, especially if operators want to meet their emissions targets. The existing power generation capacity falls short of meeting the demands of transitioning facilities moving to grid power, new facilities coming online, and the retirement of outdated power plants. When oil and gas operators try to connect to the grid, they are met with insufficient capacity. To combat this problem, oil and gas producers have had to take drastic action, like building their own infrastructure. Diamondback Energy recently developed their own microgrid to support operations in the Midland area. New solar generation in the heart of oil and gas territory is not only wanted, but desperately needed.

Customizable Buildable Acreage Analysis

Choosing to site a solar project near oil and gas operations can help narrow down the search for a project site, but it is important to further analyze the area to find the most buildable land for the project. The Enverus Customizable Buildable Acres (CBA) tool can be used to refine the search and navigate land buildability in areas with oil and gas infrastructure.

In West Texas, there are several planned transmission lines that are attractive for solar developers to site their projects close to. Although there are planned lines in the very popular Midland area, a little bit further southwest is Oncor and LCRA’s North McCamey – Sand Lake planned line. This line is still deep into oil and gas territory but should yield more options for siting as it is not directly in the Midland area.

The western portion of the North McCamey – Sand Lake line has two operating projects within 3 miles with a total capacity of about 100 megawatts. This is an appealing area for a new solar project. Zooming in on this portion of the line will narrow down the potential parcels for easier analysis using the CBA tool.

Enverus Power & Renewables Suitable Land Analytics | Numerous filterable options in CBA can help narrow down the best project sites

CBA settings can be tailored to a developer’s exact needs and interests. Slope, canopy and wetlands are some of the more commonly used features, but analysis in areas heavy with oil and gas facilities is supported by specialized information, like Oil and Gas Wells. The Oil and Gas Wells feature in CBA uses data directly from Enverus.

After running CBA on the area, developers can zoom into each parcel to examine the specifics and select the parcel that is perfect for their project. Yellow areas are buildable;other colors designate reasons why land is not buildable, for example, an oil and gas well or pipeline is located on the buildable land.

Conclusion

With less prime land available for solar development, developers must get creative to find their next location for their solar projects. Although siting the next project near oil and gas operations may seem strange at first, it solves a need for oil and gas operators. The CBA tool can help uncover opportunities for solar projects within oil and gas assets. It is a tool that can be used for general analysis of land buildability as well as for specialized analysis, like siting at oil and gas operations.  

Interested in learning how CBA can help you identify your next solar project? Reach out to our experts below and we will be glad to show you.


Katherine Paton-Ilse

Katherine Paton-Ilse

Katherine has been with Enverus for more than three years, working on the Power and Renewables Research team as a team lead. Her work encompasses power generation, power delivery and power pricing in all U.S. markets, although her primary focus is the ERCOT region. She graduated from Colorado State University with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental and Natural Resource Economics.

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