Oil, Gas and Wind: offshore harmony?

George Marsh

Part 2. 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…

See part 1 of the article here.

Conscious of protestations that a golden opportunity might be in danger of being missed, a number of commercial interests are determined to step up to the plate and make sure that this will not happen.

One trailblazer is subsea engineering firm Subsea7 which early last year launched an offshore renewables division. Based in Aberdeen, that epicentre of North Sea O&G activity, the new division offers project management, engineering and construction capability. The company's CEO, Jean Cahuzac, says: “Our proven seabed-to-surface expertise plus strong safety and risk management processes are fully transferable to support this emerging market. We can help clients deliver offshore developments in a safe and timely manner.”

The new division is currently working within an alliance whose aim is to reduce the costs of offshore wind power, its own sphere of responsibility being marine operations and offshore construction. An early involvement is with Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE), helping in the construction of offshore wind farms.

Another company to have taken the plunge is French provider of project management, engineering and consultancy services to the O&G industry, the Technip Group. Stephane His, Technip's Vice President Biofuels and Renewable Energies, first began to appreciate the potential for transferring knowledge into a new market in 2008 when Technip contributed to Statoil's Hywind project to place a floating turbine off the coast of Norway.

The firm has since been working with Vattenfall Wind Power and the Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group (AREG) in establishing the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre in Aberdeen Bay, as a facility for trialling advanced offshore wind turbines. AREG is a promotional body whose mission specifically includes facilitating the transfer of O&G expertise to the offshore wind sector.

Technip's His asserts that there are numerous activities involved in installing offshore wind that are very familiar to oilfield services firms. By way of example he points out: “When you think about the internal cables to the wind farm, this is pretty much what we do on a daily basis with umbilicals. The kinds of cable that oilfields use for communications and to transmit power are similar to the power cables that connect up wind farms.”

Technip is part of a bigger cross-sector picture, being now owned by Petrofac, an oilfield services business that is actively targeting offshore wind business. To this end, Petrofac also acquired a couple of years ago the UK renewable engineering consultancy TNEI.

Another supplier to Norway's Statoil that is targeting offshore wind business is Scandpower Risk Management, which specialises in HSE and emergency response. At an All-Energy show in Aberdeen, Windpower Team Leader Arne Sandve argued that a customised approach is required for wind energy and cited a new procedure his company has developed for rescuing injured personnel by helicopter from turbines. Scandpower will, he indicated, use new insights developed as a result of the Hywind programme to further improve safety in wind farm logistics.

Statoil is itself an energy company that has interests in both camps. Synnøve Helland, Vice President Wind Operations, sees synergies relating to project execution, servicing and maintenance. She claims that maintaining offshore oil platforms, for example, and training of personnel for oil rigs, closely resemble the skills and operations needed on offshore wind turbine platforms.

Several other energy companies are leveraging offshore O&G experience to advance their wind energy interests. One topical example is DONG Energy which, with joint venture partners SSE and OPV, recently opened the Walney Offshore Wind farm – at 374 MW capacity said to be the world's largest – off the coast of Cumbria. The fact that the second phase of this project was constructed in record time no doubt owed much to the partners’ accumulated offshore experience gained across both sectors. DONG has extensive O&G interest and is active in a number of UK fields, principally to the west of Shetland.

Another energy company, Centrica, has highlighted a further strand of cross-sector collaboration by suggesting that fabrication yards used for years by O&G interests could now be used for offshore wind construction. Many of the resident skills, it points out, would be transferable. Construction standards taken from the O&G industry could be applied and the same classification societies – Lloyds, DNV, Bureau Veritas, etc. – could provide the necessary approvals.

Part 3 looks at the role Aberdeen could play.

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Policy, investment and markets  •  Wind power