GlassPoint Pulls in $53M from Oman to Pump Oil With Solar Power

It’s not often that a solar energy startup makes its name in the fossil fuel industry, but that’s exactly where Fremont, CA-based GlassPoint wants to be.

The company today said it has raised $53 million in an equity investment from a sovereign wealth fund run by Oman as well as Shell and existing investors. The money will be used to deploy GlassPoint’s concentrating solar systems, one of which has been operating in Oman for two years.

Concentrating solar power systems use lenses, mirrors, or long, curved metal troughs to concentrate light to make heat and produce steam. They are typically used to generate electricity, like a gigantic plant in the California desert operated by Oakland,CA-based BrightSource Energy.

GlassPoint does something different. Its concentrator is designed for enhanced oil recovery, a process of pumping high-pressure steam into wells to remove more of the remaining oil. Normally, drillers use natural gas to produce the steam. Instead, GlassPoint builds glass houses filled with reflective troughs that produce steam from the sun, saving on natural gas and reducing emissions.

On the surface, the pairing of renewable energy with oil extraction may seem odd, given that people often pit these industries against each other. But incumbent fossil-fuel providers spend massive amounts of money and many startups—whether they call themselves cleantech companies or not—have chosen to target those customers.

For instance, Hayward, CA-based Alphabet Energy is making what could be considered a cleantech product: a generator that produces electricity from excess heat. But its first products are designed for some of the dirtiest industries around, including mining and oil and gas drilling.

A number of cleantech investors also have shifted their focus toward fossil-fuel industries, driving in part by the renaissance in oil and gas from the spread of fracking in the U.S.

A prime example is Vancouver-based Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital, an investor in GlassPoint. Last year, it brought on a former oil and gas executive based in Calgary to work in unconventional oil and mining, a reflection of how it intends to sell products designed to reduce the environmental footprint of energy providers.

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