I have seen two different worlds of energy finance. The first half of my career was spent in the Canadian oil patch working as a petroleum engineer and investment banker, before crossing over into the offshore wind sector in Europe with utility Orsted, now developing advanced wind investment and strategy tools at Aegir Insights.
Today, we face an impending climate catastrophe. And we know that the best way to head it off is to build more renewable energy plant at as fast as possible – and that will, as we know from forecasts from the International Energy Agency and others, involve a huge expansion offshore wind around the globe, a build-out that could reach 1.4TW by 2050. Though it may sound counter-intuitive, there is a page to be taken from Big Oil’s book here to help us.
The offshore wind industry’s ‘old’ approach of looking at project investments in isolation – much like oil companies realised in the 2000s – is no longer fit for purpose. Digitally supercharged, highly industrialised, lowest levellised cost of energy (LCOE) ‘mega projects’ and many (many) of them is the way forward.
With developments such as the UK’s record-setting Dogger Bank megaproject, multi-gigawatt Hornsea complex and giant East Anglia cluster, we are on our way. But the hyper-competitive nature of offshore wind auction bidding and tactical market entries means that the industry needs smarter tools, and much faster ways to do project assessment if we are to continue at this scale and growth trajectory.
And the oil industry can here provide inspiration and direction here, as it has already made a similar journey. When I started as a petroleum engineering in 2003, we were still using paper maps and colouring pencils to communicate opportunities – although there is a romantic aspect to this manual process, it ultimately became digital which allowed for much faster opportunity identification and better investment decisions.
Companies learned that there was large value to be discovered by automating intelligence, technical and financial analysis, and we saw data groups like WoodMackenzie and IHS Markit build business around this – and are now used widely by operators and energy finance professionals to make better, faster decisions.
Now let’s turn to the offshore wind sector. Developers and investors commonly feedback to me that they have ‘more opportunities than they have time to deal with’, and this is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ considering our industry’s growth forecasts. They are struggling with managing bids, opportunity screenings, and numerous technology scenarios of their own project pipelines. Commercial managers and investment analysts were spending an inordinate amount of time managing information flow and executive communication of results – both of which could be automated.
Accelerating this process will not only accelerate development of offshore wind resource around the world, it will also democratise it. Substantial knowledge and capability barriers that new entrants face when coming to the offshore wind industry can be removed if there are off-the-shelf tools available to get them started.
At Aegir Insights, we are taking a first shot at bringing these types of smart tools to the offshore wind industry – integrating intelligence, technical and investment modelling under a single platform. Tools like this are not a replacement for smart people, but they should help commercial project managers and investment analysts rapidly get to a 90% answer, so they can instead focus their effort on finding new value on future wind power developments.
Speed is off the essence if we are to build enough renewable energy plant capacity around the world to achieve a transition away from fossil fuel in time to meet the Paris Agreement’s climate-stablising targets. Offshore wind is going to be a big part of the solution. What sweet irony if smart ideas from the oil & gas industry can be tapped to make it happen.
· Scott Urquhart is founder of Copenhagen-based Aegir Insights, founded to develop next-generation software for strategy and investment decision-making in offshore wind