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Oil, Gas and Wind: offshore harmony?


George Marsh

Part 1. The UK has extensive offshore expertise through its oil & gas heritage. But how the wind industry can take advantage of this remains the million dollar question…

IN THE UK there are two energy sectors with a problem. Offshore O&G activity in the North and Celtic Seas has peaked and will decline, leaving a skills and resources base in search of new outlets. At the same time, the emergent (only a decade old) offshore wind sector will encounter resource and experience deficits as wind farms proliferate in UK waters. Would it not be pleasing if the problems of both could be eased by bringing the two entities closer together, the surfeit of one reducing as it decreases the deficit in the other?

A body which believes that something of this sort can be achieved is Scottish Enterprise, an organisation having within its purview the highest concentration of O&G expertise in Europe as well as burgeoning wind energy activity. Adrian Gillespie, Director Energy and Low Carbon Technologies at the agency, has in a recent report identified opportunities for the O&G supply chain in design, fabrication and installation of offshore structures.

The O&G sector has, he points out, extensive experience in heavy steel and concrete fabrication, the movement and placing of large structures on the sea bed, sub-sea engineering, trenching and cabling, marinisation of offshore plant and working in a hazardous environment within health and safety (HSE) guidelines. Much of this hard-won experience could be of benefit, both immediately and on-going, to contractors working on Rounds 2 and 3 offshore wind farms.

Equally valuable should be the experience that O&G interests have in the operation and maintenance of offshore structures, both above and below the sea surface. There is vast specialist knowledge in such matters as corrosion protection, remote monitoring, transfer and support of O&M personnel, mitigation of adverse weather and sea conditions, and diving operations. In addition, the O&G sector has access to much onshore infrastructure, some of which could be shared.

So, for example, port facilities currently set aside for O&G purposes could be freed up for offshore wind or joint use. Much of the equipment developed for offshore work, from general service vessels to jack-up rigs to accommodation vessels and from geophysical survey kit to sea trenching plant, could potentially be used across both sectors.

In terms of the ‘softer’ skills, the O&G sector has huge experience of managing large complex projects, surmounting planning and consenting hurdles, undertaking environmental audits and site assessments, managing logistics, training and so on. There are experts in business models and operational methods, reliability and availability enhancement, contractual arrangements, compliance procedures, safety management, cost and pricing structures, funding mechanisms, etc.

Gillespie believes that transferring O&G know-how to the offshore wind industry could reduce the development and operational costs of offshore wind farms by a fifth. He suggests that there is an “awful lot of expertise” within the O&G sector in many areas relevant to offshore wind, which could be useful at a time when “the wind industry is struggling with issues to do with the move offshore”. Gillespie told the publication Rigzone: “Expertise that offshore wind needs already exists in spades, but there hasn't really been the dialogue going on that would allow that expertise to transfer. At the same time, the oil and gas companies have not fully understood the potential offered by the offshore renewables market.”

Scottish Enterprise is far from being a lone voice in this matter, with many others arguing the same case for the entire UK and, indeed, for Europe as a whole. RenewableUK, for one, says that skills present in the O&G sector would be highly pertinent for offshore renewables. It suggests that offshore wind is currently repeating mistakes made in the early days of the UK O&G sector with delays, cost overruns and extra expense due to lack of standardisation. Much of this could, it believes, be avoided, if offshore wind would tap more effectively into the O&G experience pool.

Part 2 of this article looks at some areas where the oil and gas industry can play a role in offshore wind development.

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Policy, investment and markets  •  Wind power

 

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