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Floating Wind and the Future Energy in the North Sea

Ahead of Floating Offshore Wind UK, RenewableUK's Chief Economist Marina Valls looks at the opportunity for this innovative technology to build on existing UK oil and gas expertise, and what this might mean for the future of energy extractives.

On the 31 October, the world’s floating wind sector will be in Aberdeen. Rapid cost reduction in fixed offshore wind, coupled with rising ambition about the role of offshore wind to deliver a greater share of renewable power mean increased interest in the technology.

Aberdeen is a great place to be talking floating wind, as it’s long been home to the best of international energy expertise. Traditionally the city’s energy professionals cut their teeth in the oil and gas industry. But in a net zero world, we will need to use their skills and expertise to help the world shift rapidly to low carbon. Floating wind provides an opportunity not just for renewable electricity generation, but as a power source for clean hydrogen production to deliver heat and transport fuel.

With COP26 coming to Glasgow, school strikes across the world and Extinction Rebellion grabbing headlines and putting people on the streets, the conversation about whether we are doing enough or going fast enough is growing louder. Of course, it’s obvious we aren’t, so need to look at ways to speed this up. The root of the problem is the continuing demand for heat, power and transport fuel and the inertia in our economy that slows down the seismic shift that’s needed.

In the power sector, however, we have shown that monumental change can happen. Some of the UK’s leading renewable power companies were once wedded to coal but are now champions for action on climate change. The oil and gas sector needs to undertake a similar journey but in an even more rapid time frame. Floating offshore shows how this can happen, and its no coincidence that many of the companies and individuals leading efforts to scale floating offshore wind are from oil and gas.

The oil and gas sector itself is starting to grapple with the energy transition. The Oil and Gas Authority has a specific brief to look at transition, and groups like the Oil and Gas Technology Centre are supporting cross industry research to speed the pace of the transition. But these initiatives can only be the start of the process; the oil and gas industry needs to rapidly ramp up action and make the switch to clean forms of energy.

Hywind floating turbine en route to generation site. Credit: Øyvind Gravås

Our interest as a renewable member body is looking at how we can speed up adoption of vital technologies like floating offshore wind. The turbines are the same as for fixed offshore and so use a similar supply chain, but the platforms and undersea components are built on oil and gas knowhow. Our industry is getting to grips with moorings, anchors, dynamic positioning ships, subsea operations and far from shore operation. To deliver quickly, safely and cost effectively, we need to leverage oil and gas expertise, and in return we hopefully provide these companies with new markets, a clearer path in the energy transition and future employment for a skilled workforce that wants a just transition of its own.

Economist and commentator Michael Liebreich was recently asked about the role of extractives in a low carbon world. His point was that they have to be facing in the direction of travel. That seems a sensible position to take. Net zero and urgency to turn ourselves round need to be a given, but so too is the need to make use of expertise where we find it, and not slow ourselves down by refusing to learn from others. The quicker we can chart a route to mass deployment of floating offshore wind, and in turn grow sectors like green hydrogen production, then the more quickly we can shift out of a world where our oil and gas companies remain trapped by their current economics – their value and the demands of customers stuck around the existing supply of high carbon fuels.

In Aberdeen at Floating Offshore Wind 2019, we’ll be looking at how we can accelerate the delivery of floating offshore wind. There is a lot of excitement at the role of floating wind as a future power source. It is not absurd to imagine a future where what were once oil and gas platforms are not there for extraction but as hubs to support a field of floating turbines generating electricity and hydrogen for shipping back to shore. We can realise this more quickly if we help make clear how the energy transition is going to work in practice. And if you want to be a part of this transition, Floating Offshore Wind UK needs to be in your diary.



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