Chevron and BrightSource are not the only companies pursuing the technology. GlassPoint aims to create even cheaper solar steam by placing the mirrors inside a greenhouse. They can then be lighter because they are protected from the wind and need to be cleaned less often. The company has its own demonstration project with Berry Petroleum Company near McKittrick, Calif.
But it will be "challenging" for any solar steam to compete with falling natural gas prices, Lomax says, which suggests the technology may only find a future in places where natural gas is either unavailable or expensive. Regardless, Chevron sees the solar steam technology as another tool to cope with rising energy demand globally. In the end, petroleum prices killed the first and second solar revolutions, but now solar may help extend the reign of oil.