The North Sea’s offshore wind and hydrogen-led energy transition will be built on the legacy of its declining oil & gas sector in an epic-scale illustration of the circular economy in action, according to a high-level roundtable of industry executives convened by Recharge.

Equipment, skills, facilities, materials and even data from decades of hydrocarbons production will all be tapped to help usher in the region’s new era of transformational technologies such as floating wind and large-scale hydrogen storage, the roundtable, held as part of the annual summit Accelerating the Global Energy Transition.

Opening the panel, the second of a two-day event held by Recharge with sister title Upstream, Recharge Editor-in-Chief Darius Snieckus said: “The energy transition now taking shape in the northern seas is bringing with it an industrial transformation that will be an engine for far-reaching economic development and job creation as well as decarbonisation.

“Offshore wind – and in particular, floating wind – is going to have to become something of a ‘Swiss army knife’ in this,” he said, “not only churning out electricity to flow through a massive meshed offshore grid, but also playing handmaiden to highly ambitious offshore oil operation emissions reduction plans, and serving to power thousands of electrolysers that will generate huge volumes of green hydrogen, to decarbonise coastal industry, refuel green shipping vessels, and help feed a global commoditised market for the new-age gas in the years to come.”

Paul de la Guérivière, CEO of floating wind pioneer BW Ideol, said its plans in the North Sea could involve manufacturing platforms using materials such as steel recycled from decommissioned oil & gas platforms, with a base in former fossil fuel-focused fabrication yard Ardersier in Scotland.

“This is probably an excellent illustration... of the circular economy. The end of life of the oil & gas industry will serve the birth of the new floating wind [sector].”

'Fantastic opportunity for oil & gas repositioning'

John O’Sullivan, chief operations officer of dCarbonX, which aims to develop large-scale subsurface hydrogen storage facilities off the UK and Ireland, said the region has “all the ingredients for a geological system that can facilitate the balancing of intermittency” in future energy systems, aided by the legacy of the outgoing fossil sector.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for repositioning and retooling oil & gas expertise around storage,” Sullivan told the roundtable, adding that the fossil sector has a chance to “repurpose its mindset and philosophy”.

He pointed to the geophysical data, “tens of billions of dollars of data required by the oil & gas industry… now available to be reused and repurposed for the energy transition”.

Johan de Villiers, global vice president of the oil & gas division of technology and engineering giant ABB, said clean generation sectors such as offshore wind were already tapping innovations used to enable huge hydrocarbons projects.

“Whether you’re trying to decarbonise an offshore platform by removing a gas turbine or evacuate a large amount of power from an offshore substation that connects a wind farm, [there are] essentially similar technologies and similar skills that you need.”

De Villiers said advances in technology are transforming the way renewable and fossil-based projects alike are designed an executed. He cited examples of the shift to un-crewed assets, and simulation technology that means you can “test and commission software and automation systems before you even procure the hardware”.

'Closer integration essential'

Another major player in power technology, cable group Prysmian, told the roundtable it too was evolving its capabilities to meet the fast expanding requirements of sectors such as floating wind, and the wider need to link nations and even continents.

“The big target of being CO2 neutral by 2050 is only possible by closer integration of countries,” said Detlev Waimann, Prysmian’s chief commercial officer.

For the cable industry that means gearing up for the “complexity and opportunity” of hugely ambitious projects seeking to link Europe with low-cost African solar, and for the longer cables further from shore needed for floating wind.

Prysmian has already launched a record-sized cable laying vessel to meet demand, said Waimann.

Communities can have plentiful green energy where now there might not be much energy at all.

The “off grid” potential to bring entire regions into the energy transition was stressed by Mark Dixon, co-founder of Cerulean Winds, which hopes to deploy 3GW of floating wind to decarbonise oil & gas platforms in the UK North Sea, with excess output going to green hydrogen production.

“There are many segments of this energy transition that are starting to come to the fore,” Dixon said.

“Coastal communities can have plentiful green energy where now there might not be much energy at all.”

A full replay of the digital roundtable is available to view here