Seaborne gusts among the strongest and steadiest on the globe, a world-leading offshore oil & gas supply chain forged in a half-century of hostile Northern Seas weather and waves, a maritime nation rich with petroleum wealth, and a government-pledged carbon neutrality target looming ever larger: with only two wind turbines turning in its waters, Norway has in recent years emerged as one the energy transition’s most puzzling industrial prospects.
Against this backdrop, the latest iteration of the Offshore Northern Seas (ONS) conference and exhibition, launched in 1974 and held biannually in Stavanger on the country’s west coast, returned from its Covid hiatus aiming to fashion a forum for the great debate of how – or indeed how soon – Norway could at last begin shaping its so-called North Sea 3.0 future in earnest.
The paradoxical keynote was struck on the morning of day one, when Tesla founder and self-anointed ‘techno-king’, Elon Musk, declared offshore wind power to be presenting the planet with a disruptively massive untapped potential, but that Norway and the wider world, faced by the unprecedented current energy crisis, must see oil and gas as “necessary right now if civilisation is going to function … in the near-term”.
That potential is hardly in doubt – whether it be in the form of national champion energy giant Equinor’s pioneering Hywind Tampen floating wind-powered offshore oil & gas decarbonisation project, just about to be brought online, or – as reported exclusively in Recharge – in brave new technologies such local hero World Wide Wind’s eye-catching twin-rotored deep-sea turbine design.
Nonetheless, even the formal target set by Oslo of having a 30GW sea-based fleet off its coasts by 2040 is still reckoned by some observers as more talk than walk, given that Prime Minster Jonas Gahr Støre had originally announced the objective as being guaranteed by Norway “having all the prerequisites of success” – even while its down-scaled first offshore wind auction has yet to get oars in the water.
An uncomfortable relativism could be found in the fact that Norway’s Nordic neighbour, Sweden, was this week forecast by developer OX2’s CEO – speaking exclusively to Recharge fresh from signing a deal with home furniture giant Ikea’s owner Ingka for 49% of 9GW of in-development Baltic Sea wind farms – as being set to be “home to some of the world's largest wind farms” by decade’s-end.
Green and blue colour energy's world
Hydrogen – the heady much-hyped hope of the energy transition in most of the world – had a high profile in the exhibition corridors and conference halls at ONS, though even it couldn’t magic away the murmurings that its ‘blue’ version – made from fossil gas with carbon capture and storage – wouldn’t persist in being cheaper to produce in Norway for another two decades than renewables-fuelled ‘green’, as was opined by a senior executive at Equinor. “Everybody loves hydrogen until you put a terms sheet in front of them," concurred Paul Bogers, vice president of hydrogen at Shell, later in the week, as Recharge sister title Upstream reported.
What could be truly transformative for Norway in the end might be far bigger than offshore wind or hydrogen alone – and in many ways as old as humanity itself – or at least since that first man or woman looked out to sea and wondered what lay beneath the waters and beyond the horizon: the Blue Economy.
Sustainable development of the seas around the northern nation, from wind and wave power, through green shipping and aquaculture, to deepwater mining, was a major theme on many ONS stands – and the topic of a Recharge thought-leaders roundtable – view a recording of the live-stream here. Indeed, for a people that “have always explored and lived off the sea”, as one panellist put it, the ocean economy ahead, empowered and powered by winds that once sped Viking ships out to sea, could finally “change the sector’s mind-set” and make Norway’s long-promised clean energy-driven economic boom a reality.