By Mandy Ellis

Roberto Casso, CEO of Talco Holdings, LLC, in Houston, Texas, has worked in the oil and gas industry for most of his life, with more than 35 years of experience. In 2017, he made the switch to solar energy, and recently spoke with SolarStory about how he’s now using solar power in Milam County to extract oil, reduce costs and help the environment.

Roberto Casso uses solar energy to power his oil business
Roberto Casso uses solar energy to power his Texas-based oil business, Talco Holdings, LLC (Credit: Roberto Casso)

Q: Why did you decide to switch to solar energy?

The biggest thing about the oil business is it’s about how much you spend, and every dollar I save is a dollar earned. When I drill an oil well, I spend money on a rig, the casing, perforating gun, a pump and tubing.

Up to a certain point in drilling the well, the costs are a wash. But once I put in the tubing and pump, working with solar is different. In my 2,000-foot well, if I use traditional 2.5-inch tubing, I need a big, expensive rig that can cost me $10,000 a day. With a solar installation, I use lighter one-inch tubing so I don’t need that costly rig.

I have two solar panels in my solar system, and they power the pump at the bottom of the well. I have cable going from the solar panels to the boxes and down 1,800ft into the well to the pump, and powering the pump that forces the oil of the well.

The savings on solar and the lack of maintenance are considerable

With solar oil wells, I save about $8,000 on tubing, $7,500 by using a pull truck over a big rig, $10,000 by not having to swab the well, $10,000 by avoiding renting a jack pump and $5,000 on polishing rods, sucker rods and maintenance. That’s $35,000 to $40,000 saved per well just by using solar. That’s why I started looking at solar where I could avoid costly steps and maintenance, and get a good monitoring system ($60 per month).

The traditional wells also need electricity run to them, which could cost $10,000, but I don’t have to do that with solar. And it’s best to run the well pumps on a timer where they’re pumping for a few hours then stopping to let oil come back in, but that’s a natural byproduct with solar because we’re only pumping during sunlight hours.

The savings on solar and the lack of maintenance are considerable, from completing the well to the ongoing operations. Once I pay off the pump and everything else, costs go down to almost zero.

Switching his oil business to solar energy saved Casso lots of money
By switching to solar energy, Casso was able to slash the cost of setting up and operating oil wells (Credit: Roberto Casso)

Q: What are the benefits to using renewable energy to extract fossil fuels?

If it’s a shallow well, that means I could put a well anywhere. I could go to a ranch with no power and put a well in that remote location and still monitor it. When I put the pump in, I place sensors at the bottom of the hole so I can monitor telemetry, temperature, pressure, motor speed and flow rate from my desk in Houston and see how my solar wells are doing.

If I run 2 miles of power lines for one well that does eight barrels per day, it’s not cost-effective. Solar saves me money everywhere, and lets me do wells that I wouldn’t have been able to do before because I didn’t have power lines.

Q: Why do you feel it’s important to make use of renewable energy?

It was mostly about cost for me, and just like any business, you try to get your costs down. Solar gives me an opportunity to operate certain wells, which will go for 10 to 20 years, lowers my operation costs and allows me to monitor from my Houston office; it just makes sense. When it made economic sense and was good for the environment, it was a win-win.

Plus, the land I’m on, the owner prefers the quieter solar well so it doesn’t upset his cows.

Before switching to solar energy, Casso was limited in where he could establish new oil wells
Before switching to solar energy, Casso was limited in where he could establish new oil wells as he had to remain close to the grid (Credit: Roberto Casso)

Q: What have the benefits been for your company and what other solar applications do you see?

Mostly cost reduction, it’s easier and less maintenance. It also means I can put wells anywhere without running electricity out, which is expensive. Plus the installation is simpler, and only took a day. I got a turnkey solar system, and it was a matter of connecting the solar system to the flow lines, and I think a traditional installation with a jack pump is much harder. Next time, I’ll do the entire installation myself; it was that easy.

When it made economic sense and was good for the environment, it was a win-win

A lot of people are starting to use solar panels in the oil industry for monitoring and I think there’s more to come. Now that I see I can do solar, one thing we can do in ranching, for example, is put a solar-powered pumping system in rather than windmills to fill water tanks for cows in remote areas.