A new era of floating wind, green fuels and transformatively scaled-up cross-sector ports will drive the evolution of ‘North Sea 3.0’ over the next decade, a major energy transition conference organised by Recharge was told.

A combination of rapidly advancing technologies, decarbonisation and growing demands for regional energy security will between them take the North Sea into a third phase of development beyond its initial oil and gas boom and more recent role as host to the first large-scale fixed-bottom offshore wind projects, delegates told the Energy Transition Forum held in London today (Thursday).

“We think that in order to solve the energy transition in a way that provides power that is reliable, sustainable and affordable… no single energy source will be sufficient,” Matei Negrescu, vice president for North Sea renewables at Norwegian energy giant Equinor told the event. “We’ll need a combination of energy sources and vectors to achieve that.”

Negrescu said initiatives such as integrated offshore wind with storage, hydrogen, and decarbonising oil & gas production using floating wind are the start of “building blocks for North Sea 3.0 – now what we need to do is scale up and accelerate”, he told a panel on industrial transformation moderated by Recharge editor-in-chief Darius Snieckus, who described the shift underway as “better termed a revolution than a transition”.

Tapping wind power to help green offshore hydrocarbons production emerged as a key theme of the in-person forum, organised by Recharge in conjunction with its sister title Upstream.

Dan Jackson, founding director of Cerulean Winds, which is looking to build gigawatt-scale floating wind under Scotland’s pioneering INTOG leasing round focused on offshore oil
& gas decarbonisation, told the event that its plans set out a far wider agenda than only providing power to oil & gas production facilities.

Jackson explained that reliably supplying an offshore fossils platform from wind requires having “a lot of excess power”, saying: “Actually, the economics are driven not by the oil and gas end, but by markets two, three and four. What do you do with that excess power?”

With the UK grid not set to be in a fit shape to accommodate the surplus power flow for a decade or more, Jackson said “as you get bigger, it’s all about the ammonia, the methanol, the other market opportunities.

“Let’s also not forget the direct applications. The tech industry is very focused right now on direct green power.”

The potential for green fuels to play a massive role in the coming transformation was flagged by Tim Cornelius, head of corporate development in Europe for Proman, the world’s second largest producer of methanol.

Cornelius said the energy transition is creating new opportunities for companies such as his own, as utility giants such as Iberdrola increasingly look to “turn electrons into molecules” that can then be turned into “high value products” by the likes of Proman.

Ports' future green day

Andy Reay, head of offshore wind at Associated British Ports, told the forum that flourishing offshore wind and green fuels sectors would change the face of ports in the UK and beyond.

“Large industrial port complexes... will become the aggregators of all these different technologies. You’ll have import of green fuels from around the globe being aggregated and transferred into the road transport system.

“You might have huge amounts of offshore wind being brought onshore into green refinery-type facilities.

“You’ll see aggregation on a huge scale of industrial activity in and around ports,” said Reay.

Jonathan Carpenter, vice president for new energy services at Petrofac, said the transitioning oil & gas contractor had seen big new opportunities since making an early move to embrace offshore wind and other emerging technologies.

Referencing work on Seawind and other innovative renewables technologies, he said “our engineers are like kids in a candy shop”.