Author Archives: J Watson

Using Solar Power to Extract Oil

A California company has begun using solar power to squeeze oilout of an old oil field, flooding the underground rock with steam that comes from the sun’s heat instead of from burning natural gas.

The technique was tried in the 1980s by the Atlantic Richfield Company, butGlassPoint Solar, of Fremont, Calif., which cut the ribbon on a pilot project Thursday, says its plant is the only one of its kind now operating. Other companies have discussed such projects.

The process is cheaper than using natural gas, even at today’s depressed prices for that fuel, and trims the carbon footprint of the gasoline, according to GlassPoint. The pilot plant, completed in January in Kern County, is very modest, occupying less than an acre and producing only about a million B.T.U.’s per hour. But the company says it could quickly be replicated on a larger scale and could eventually displace 80 percent of the natural gas used to produce a barrel of oil.

GlassPoint said that at a full-size plant, its technology could produce steam at a cost of $3 per million B.T.U., compared with a market price of gas today of around $4 per million B.T.U.

Whether GlassPoint can get that far remains unclear. The company has no track record in the oil industry and has had three different business strategies in less than two years. Formerly known as CleanBoard, GlassPoint changed its name in October 2009 when it abandoned plans to use a solar-powered factory to make gypsum-based wallboard and said it would work with other wallboard manufacturers. Last year, it refocused its business yet again on using solar power to extract oil.

Rod MacGregor, GlassPoint’s chairman, said that burning natural gas to make steam for oil recovery was the largest single use of natural gas in California. About 40 percent of California’s oil is produced through such “enhanced oil recovery,” and the steam can account for as much as two-thirds of the production cost of such oil, according to GlassPoint.

The amount of steam needed to produce a barrel of oil varies according to the age of the field, but two million B.T.U. per barrel is typical.

Several companies use curved mirrors to focus the sun’s light to make steam, but on Thursday, GlassPoint unveiled a radically different design, one it says could also be used to make steam for electricity production.

In existing steam-electric solar plants with curved mirrors, the mirrors sit on heavy, rigid frames so that they will not be deformed by wind and can survive storms.

GlassPoint has built a greenhouse and suspended extremely lightweight mirrors from the skeleton of the building. The greenhouse is kept at higher air pressure than the outside environment, so no dust can come in, reducing the problem of cleaning the mirrors. A robot crawls across the glass roof to wash it. The wash water is collected for reuse, an important point since many old oil fields are in deserts.

A different solar energy company, BrightSource Energy, is building a solar steam system at a Chevron oil field project in Coalinga, Calif. It is supposed to go into service in the second half of this year.

Using solar power for oil recovery makes moot one of solar’s most difficult characteristics, its intermittency, according to John O’Donnell, vice president of GlassPoint. “You’re heating a cubic mile of rock,’’ he said. “It doesn’t matter if you heat it up a little higher in the day.’’

In the pilot project, the greenhouse is too far from the wellhead to send the steam by pipeline, so it is preheating the water, which will then be boiled by natural gas, reducing natural gas use but not as much as in a mature production facility.

Another advantage, according to Mr. MacGregor, is that the well is not fussy about steam quality, in contrast to a steam turbine that makes electricity, which demands constant temperature and pressure. “If there are hot water droplets in the steam stream, the rock won’t care, but a turbine certainly would,’’ he said.


Global Studio

Global Studio

Global Studio Emergence in Istanbul, Turkey 2005

Global Studio is an international think-tank composed of a network of architects and planners, collaborating from 20 countries across the globe, that contribute to the UN’s efforts to improve slums, one of the UN’s 2000 Millennium Development Goals. Global Studio began as a pilot project, initiated by members of the United Nations Millennium Project’s Task Force and developed by a consortium of universities. The consortium was composed of 3 groups embedded within the Architecture Schools at the following universities; University of Sydney, Colombia University and The University of Rome, La Sapienza. The launched of the Studio was developed to coincide with the UIA (International Union of Architects) Congress, held in Istanbul in 2005. A site was chosen for the Studio at Zeyrek, in Istanbul and the competition working sessions were held during the duration of the Conference.

Studio Program

The Studio ran in three stages as:

i) an international design studio ‘A Home in the City: Urban Acupuncture in Zeyrek

  • all participants were architecture and planning students

ii) a stream within the UIA Congress ‘People Building Better Cities

  • participants included educators, practitioners and community leaders whom presented their individual work and engaged in dialogue with the UIA Congress participants about the contribution which design and planning professionals working with communities can make to improving the lives of the urban poor, and promoting environmental sustainability.

iii) a Future Directions Forum

Working Platform

The working platform for Global Studio aims to mobilise architects and designers to become involved with this kind of work, through marketing and implementation within a more generalized conference platform. This setting had advantages which were taken advantage of through the design of the program.

  • Running the Studio in unison with the Conference took advantage of the intellectual and networking pool.
  • Allowed an extending marketing and working platform
  • Removed logistical onus from the Studio organisers to provide platform ie. venue, sponsors etc.
  • The unique platform provided a chance to pool invaluable talent which streamed directly into a Conference Forum
  • The project also helped strengthen the Global Studio from a loose network of like-minded souls into a formal group
  • Furthered the debate about what architects can do and what lies outside their influenc

global-studio_participants.jpg istanbul-image-site.jpg

Project Proposal Development

Five teams from 20 countries, developed separate but complementary strategies for improving Zeyrek, a world heritage listed site, which is a low income housing neighbourhood in the heart of Istanbul’s “historic peninsula”. The proposals were developed in collaboration with the local population, with the aim being to improve the economic, social and environmental sustainability of the community.

  • At the largest scale, one proposal sought to improve the connections between Zeyrek and the rest of the city and boost the area’s economy. By revitalising old routes into Zeyrek and enlivening spaces leading to the mosque, the proposal sought to draw people into the area in a way that would benefit the local community.
  • Another solution sought to provide facilities such as a childcare centre, a skills training centre and a women’s health centre.
  • And a third looked at spatial strategies that would anticipate the impact of an earthquake, using open land as gathering places and aid drop-off points.
  • The ancient system of underground water channels and bostans, Zeyrek’s market gardens which used to pepper the area, provided inspiration for another proposal that would green the many wastelands to produce a chain of gardens and gathering places.
  • And at a small scale, one group mobilised the local children to clear a neglected site create a swing and paint a mural.

Global Studio, Johannesburg, South AfricaJune/July 2007

Building on Global Studio, Istanbul (2005) and Vancouver (2006), is Global Studio Johannesburg 2007, a four day forum with international speakers and local presenters, hosted by the University of Witwatersrand. The forum will offer two events:

  • People Building Better Cities, an interdisciplinary forum which is open to attendance
  • A hands-on studio

To view a short movie of the project:

Nairobi, Kenya

Eco-Build Africa
Beverly court,Marcus Garvey Road, Hurlingham,PO Box, 22746 – 00100 GPO, Nairobi , KenyaTel .254 (0)20 300 4983, Cell. +254-(0)723-883-912E-mail:

Planning System Services
Contact: Alfred Omenya

Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI)

Composed of members: Arthur Adeya, Patrick Curran, Ellen Schneider, Jen Toy, Chelina Odbert and Kotchakorn Voraakhom.KDI is affiliated with the Center for Environment and Technology in the Department of Landscape Architecture at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.


kibera PS (KPS) – Pilot

the k.p.s. project is made up of several groups collaborating to create a practical, alternative model for improving the environment in Kibera. The group is united by a common understanding that there is tremendous potential for positive change in Kibera – but – such improvement need not drastically alter the physical and social composition of Kibera (unlike, for example, a traditional hi-rise upgrading model). At the same time, the problems are so vast that small projects need to be able to leverage more systemic change. The project approach enabled starting from the “bottom-up,” but also thinking from the “top-down.” The associated project blog offers a platform for the different actors interested in digging deeper into this unconventional model for physical upgrading – from community groups, residents, and ngos, to designers, academics, humanitarians,and other professionals – to discuss, debate, and ultimately get active.

For a recent update on the projects progress over Summer 07

Tecta Consultants
Erastus Abonyo, principal architect at Tecta Consultants, acts as consultant and local liaison for KDI.

Mike Davis

Planet of Slums

Teddy Cruz




Leading authority on slums in Mexico City

The UN-Habitat’s Strategy for the Implementation of the Millennium Development Goal 7, Target 11


The United Nations Millennium Declaration recognizes the dire circumstances of the world’s urban poor. It articulates the commitment of member States to improve the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by the year 2020 (Target 11, Millennium Development Goal No. 7). As large as 100 million may seem, however, it is only 10 per cent of the present worldwide slum population, which, left unchecked, will multiply threefold to 3 billion by the year 2050 (see Figure 1). Target 10 calls for the reduction by half of the number without sustainable access to safe drinking water.

The work of UN-HABITAT, as the focal point for implementation of the Habitat Agenda, the Declaration on Cities and other Human Settlements in the New Millennium and the Millennium Development Goal 7, targets 10 and 11, has drawn the agency and its partners in government, regional and local authorities, civil society, and the private sector increasingly closer to the lives of the urban poor. And although UN-HABITAT’s beneficiaries are the urban poor, its key audience remains the policy-maker at every level with the power and authority to tackle urban poverty by providing resources, by removing barriers and by ensuring their human and civil rights.