Oil, Gas and Wind: offshore harmony?

George Marsh

Part 3. 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 and part 2 of the article here.

A natural hub

Aberdeen, the Scottish east coast ‘granite city’ that has long been pivotal to O&G activity in the North Sea, is now also becoming a base for companies having a foot in both camps. In 2009 one of these, Ramco Energy, re-branded itself SeaEnergy in a bid to capitalise on the UK's boom in wind energy. While retaining petrochemical interests, the firm is also establishing an offshore services business aimed at expanding service to the offshore wind industry.

With the same aim in mind, several companies have established a presence in Aberdeen. Mwaves, for instance, a London-based consultancy with strong offshore O&G involvement, has opened an office there in order to exploit the perceived synergies. This consultancy and engineering services company has recently been acting as marine warranty surveyor for the Thornton Bank Phase II and III projects off Belgium.

Another outfit seeking, from an Aberdeen office, to bridge the gap between O&G and offshore wind is RPS Group, a specialist in planning support and associated front-end services. RPS is clear that as offshore wind and O&G extraction both require large structures attached to the sea bed, there is generically similar expertise involved. Its formula for beating down the boundaries between the two sectors is to take experience it has garnered during 30 years of O&G involvement into offshore wind by seconding expert staff into clients’ engineering teams.

Established offshore safety training providers can serve wind energy interests too. Norwich-based Petans Safety Training, for instance, provides a combination of courses, some that are compulsory – typically in personal survival techniques – and training requested by clients in such topics as confined space access, firefighting and helicopter transfer.

General Manager Michael Wilder advises offshore wind developers to make full use of the experience and knowledge available in the O&G sector, says: “We take best practice from the oil and gas sector and adapt it to the offshore wind sector.”

Major wind energy companies that command extensive resources of their own are not averse to building bridges with established energy players. It is interesting that Ditlev Engel, CEO of Vestas Wind, for instance, thinks it important to work hand-in-hand with the fossil fuel industry. As he has previously told Renewable Energy Focus:

“We need the support of the fossil fuel industry. We need to learn from them. I'll give you an example. Vestas has an R&D centre in Houston, Texas. People in this region, a big oil region, have a fantastic knowledge of the grid, and there's a lot of broad knowledge about the energy sector. So building this bridge between the renewable/future energy sector and established energy players is very much what is happening.”

NOGEPA (North Sea Oil & Gas Exploration and Production), the body that is the voice of O&G in the Netherlands, says that cross-sector transfer need not be all one way. It believes that O&G can benefit from it as well as offshore wind and has suggested that residual gas in almost depleted fields could come to the rescue when wind farms are not producing due to lack of wind, if used to generate electricity that is fed to the grid instead. Conversely, when the wind does blow, electricity from wind farms could be used to help extract gas from low-pressure fields.

The final part of this article concludes with some of the ways that co-operation could start with (and also finish with).

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Energy infrastructure  •  Policy, investment and markets  •  Wind power