Chevron Corporation is one of the biggies. The California-based company has over 60,000 employees and revenues around $200 billion. They supply a lot of the gasoline that Californians burn in their automobiles.
Much of the crude oil that Chevron refines into gasoline comes from their holdings in Southern California, in particular the Lost Hills Oil Field in Kern County. Many Californians are not aware of the long oil history in their home state. Vast deposits of petroleum remain underground, as well as offshore, despite decades of extraction.
Pump jacks are a familiar sight in the Central Valley and Los Angeles Basin. Those big bobbing levers run all day and all night, sucking up the oil and sending it to pipelines. They are machines, so they require energy to run.
Chevron has the solution: solar panels!
Funny, but in a good way. Southern California is a good place for solar. Lots of sunshine and lots of flat ground and open space. So, it is smart of Chevron to do this. Not to mention they’re likely getting carbon credits for doing it! See, that’s how to make pumping oil “carbon-neutral,” just use solar energy.
Economics and politics aside, it’s a good illustration of A Really Important Idea In Physics, namely, it takes energy to make energy. In fact, that may be the most important physics concept for everyone to understand.
It takes energy to make energy. The energy we actually use, from the food we eat to the diesel that powers the delivery trucks to the gas turbines that generate electricity, is refined, in a sense, from another form of energy. And every step in the conversion process is wasteful. Energy is lost in the sense that it can’t do any more useful work. It just becomes waste heat.
We know the solution to the climate crisis is to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions. But we know the only way to do this is to reduce our use of fossil fuels. That’s not going to happen fast enough. Alternative energy sources can’t replace many applications of fossil fuels, unless of course you include nuclear fission. That may be high on the energy density chart but it is low on the public acceptance chart.
So, solar panels pumping oil is not a bad notion. It may seem perverse, or ironic, that Chevron can improve its “green rep” by doing this, but since it takes energy to make energy, I’m all for it.