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Transitioning to a greener future for traditional energy supply through the electrification of the Oil & Gas industry

Tuesday 25th May 2021

Across the globe, major economies are in the midst of a green energy transition, and leading the way is the UK, with ambitious environmental targets including a commitment to net zero by 2050.

These large-scale objectives for carbon reduction have had wide-reaching effects on the financial viability and future growth of the oil & gas industry. For many operators, the electrification of oil & gas platforms is seen as the key to cutting emissions and supporting the industry’s social license to operate.

Reviewing the figures, it’s easy to understand why.

The oil and gas sector is responsible for 3% of the UK’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and power currently accounts for around 70% of these emissions. This is particularly significant when you consider that the UK Oil & Gas authority believes offshore oil & gas installations emit approximately 10MtCO2 per annum to generate power, equating to almost 10% of the UK’s total energy supply emissions.

Reducing the impact of traditional energy generation through electrification

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) set a target in 2019 of 500,000 tonnes of CO2e in 2050, requiring a six-fold reduction over the next 30 years.

Oil & Gas UK estimated that a 75% reduction will be required by 2035, with 50% coming from the natural decline in production and decommissioning of inefficient assets, and the remaining 25% must result from operator behavioural changes and increased electrification.

As a leading provider of subsea power cable installation, trenching, maintenance, and repairs, with deep roots in the oil & gas industry, and significant experience in fixed-bottom and floating offshore wind projects, Global Offshore is uniquely positioned to supply green solutions to oil & gas companies.

“By replacing thermal generation with offshore renewables or power from shore, we could see significant reductions in the sector’s GHG emissions. In addition, where some operators are currently burning 5% or more of their product for platform power generation, they could instead be utilising other power sources, meaning more product for the market, and more income for the operators.”


Electrification of Oil & Gas Platforms using Floating Offshore Wind

Ideally designed for installation in areas of vast open ocean and deep water, where oil and gas platforms are traditionally found, floating offshore wind turbines could be the solution to lowering oil & gas industry emissions.

The burgeoning floating offshore wind market has seen significant growth in its pipeline over the last 18 months, however very few companies have the practical experience to install or maintain floating structures at present. With extensive experience in the oil & gas industry, a proven track record in floating wind, and the specialist skills and equipment required to support the installation of floating offshore wind turbines, Global Offshore are acutely aware of the challenges associated with a project like this.

Choosing the right subsea cable installation provider for the project

Utilising their transferable skills gained in traditional energy, their Q1400 trenching system, and the Global Symphony, a vessel well versed in projects for oil and gas majors, Global Offshore installed export cables at a floating offshore wind farm off the coast of Scotland. The project involved pre-installation surveys, grapnel work, cable installation, including the use of dynamic risers to allow for movement of the platform, and trenching of an 18km export cable from shore to the floating turbine.

Currently in the process of a second phase of installation and burial works at the same floating offshore wind farm, Global Offshore applied their tried-and-tested techniques from the oil & gas industry to successfully install and connect the export and array cables to the complex floating offshore structures. This includes using their pre-lay plough, PLP240, which offers unrivalled single pass capability, delivering boulder clearance and pre-trenching up to 1.7m in a single run.

The company’s success in projects such as this one can be attributed to the cost savings they offer their customers. Their methods involve utilising a single vessel to mobilise assets and carry out trenching, cable lay and burials. The versatility of their assets and the flexible approach of their teams and packages, means Global Offshore can provide a more commercially efficient offering to their customers.

Driving growth in floating offshore wind through electrification of the oil & gas industry

Due to the limited number of floating sites currently installed, the levelised cost of energy (LCOE) from floating offshore wind is significantly higher than other forms of energy generation.

Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult undertook a feasibility study for the powering of oil & gas platforms through floating offshore wind. As part of this study, ORE Catapult assumed a number of factors, including that technology for larger floating turbines would be available, and that the LCOE for floating offshore wind would reduce as deployment increases, leading to commercially-viable sites within the next few years.

Most offshore energy reports anticipate floating wind will be cost-competitive with fixed-bottom sites by the early 2030s. Rob believes these cost reductions will be, in part, thanks to the deployment of floating turbines in the oil & gas industry.

He explains, “For this cost reduction to occur, a number of floating offshore wind projects will need to be deployed within the next decade, requiring significant investment in the market, despite floating projects providing power at higher prices than fixed-bottom sites.”

“That is where the oil and gas sector can be a game changer. Many installations are ideal candidates to support this deployment as they’re paying high fuel bills for diesel or gas imports already. In addition, as they seek to reduce carbon emissions, oil & gas operators could fuel the demand for floating technology, and thus play a significant part in reducing the cost of floating offshore wind.”


Electrification of Oil & Gas Platforms using Power from Shore

It is well-known that offshore oil & gas production is energy intensive, with demand for energy production increasing as the facility reaches the latter stages of asset lifetime. Demand on a single platform often exceeds 100 MW and therefore the need to implement a reliable, high volume supply of energy to platforms becomes clear.

Despite floating offshore wind being a very valid option for electrification, it may not produce enough energy to power the platforms alone. Thus, an alternative method of electrification is to run power from shore.

Although there are costs of connecting the platform to shore, this is offset by lower operating cost and greater efficiency of shore-based generation. It is also significantly more reliable than traditional methods, as offshore gas turbines operate at around 35-40% efficiency.

In addition, choosing power from shore increases space on the rig which would usually be occupied by generators and reduces the weight of the platform.

Connecting platform to platform for carbon reduction

Another option for carbon reduction is to distribute power from platform to platform utilising subsea cables.

Global Offshore recently completed the burial of a 22km cable between two platforms in the Norwegian sector, using their Q1400 trenching system and versatile trenching support vessel, Normand Cutter, in order to transfer power between the platforms.

This project required Global Offshore to utilise techniques from their extensive experience in the offshore wind industry, to safely and reliably install subsea connector cables.

Having worked in both traditional energy and offshore renewables markets for decades, the company has a strong understanding of the required health & safety standards to carry out offshore oil & gas projects.

Now complete, the project enables the efficient and reliable transfer of power from one platform to another, providing a more environmentally friendly solution for the customer.

Reducing the risk of subsea cable failures during the installation phase

As with any subsea cable installations, there are potential risks of cable failures through environmental factors, human error, such as damage created by fishing trawlers, and inadequate burial or protection during the installation phase.

On average there is one cable fault reported per 1000km of export cable, and in fact, though cables only account for less than 10% of the cost of a wind farm, cable failures make up more than 80% of wind farm insurance claims.

Rob has worked in the offshore energy industry for over a decade, and has seen how customers can reduce the risk of power cable faults and minimise the financial impact if they do occur.

He explains, “it is vital that adequate protection of the cable is ensured during the installation phase, which involves route planning, adequate trenching to achieve a suitable depth of burial, reliably installed cable protection systems, and mattressing or stabilisation methods as required.”

Reducing costs with the right partner for your oil & gas cable installation and maintenance needs

Though powering platforms from shore is a relatively new concept to the industry, Global Offshore has the required experience to carry out safe and efficient power cable installation, with a proven track record in oil and gas projects, working within the 500m+ zone and utilising their fleet of Dynamic Positioning (DP2) vessels.

“Choosing the right installation partner is absolutely critical, which is why so many of our customers use Global Offshore time and time again for their projects – they recognise that we have decades of experience and a strong track record of success, even in the most challenging environments.”


Relevant project experience includes their framework agreement with Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN), which required the installation and commission of a 10.5km electricity cable between Rousay and Westray, as well as their work for another customer, installing 74.157 km of fibreoptic cable, with a cable spur for the second platform laid to allow for platform connection at a later date.

By utilising their experience carrying out complex installations and trenching, Global Offshore can provide bespoke solutions utilising tried and tested methods.

Maintaining subsea cables to prevent disruption to operations

Once installed, proactive maintenance and continuous monitoring of the cable can mitigate the risk of platform downtime, potentially saving millions in financial losses. Rob explains, “Our Complete Cable Care service provides a turnkey cable maintenance and repair package, with our dedicated fleet of cable ships, crew transfer vessels, specialist assets, stock of cable joints, and team of expert technicians.”

Power from shore provides an eco-friendly solution using significantly higher energy efficiency from onshore power generation or renewables, whilst reducing carbon emissions. Additionally, power from shore provides reliability and continued supply if the power connection is part of the national grid.

“We created this service to provide peace of mind for our clients, and so far, we’ve reduced their transmission outage durations by 60% under our Complete Cable Care framework agreements.”


Has oil & gas platform electrification been successful so far?

With significant North Sea oil reserves, Norway is recognised as a pioneer in offshore power solutions, having utilised subsea cables to revolutionise their power sources through subsea cables in the Utsira High region, requiring subsea cables up to 200km from shore.

Leading the way in platform electrification is Equinor, which utilises direct current (DC) power from shore for their Johan Sverdrup field.

As the field holds an estimated 3.2 billion barrels of oil and is expected to produce for more than 50 years, ensuring it has a low carbon footprint is crucial. By powering Johan Sverdrup by shore, emissions could be reduced by 460,000 metric tons of CO2 per year.

Johan Sverdrup phase 2 will commence in late 2022, increasing the power from shore capacity to 300MW. This will enable power from shore to reach the adjacent fields – Edvard Grieg, Gina Krog and Ivar Aasen.

What are the benefits of oil & gas platform electrification?

A report by the Oil & Gas Authority calculated that electrification could abate UKCS oil and gas operational emissions by 2-3MtCO2 p.a. by 2030, which is the equivalent of reducing 20% of today’s production emissions, rising to 40% by 2030.

The advantages of electrification extend beyond the environmental benefits though, as Rob explains, “as oil & gas operators move to reduce their carbon emissions, they will also see the financial benefits. Utilising power from other sources instead of 5-10% of their product means they can add 5-10% to their pipeline whilst also avoiding financial penalties imposed by Governments across the globe in relation to environmental targets.”

According to a Wood Mackenzie report, platform operators could also cut their electricity bill in half by utilising offshore renewables to power their operations.

Whichever method of electrification is chosen by our customers, Global Offshore has the relevant experience and expertise to carry out these vital cable installation, trenching, burial, maintenance, and repair projects in order to reduce emissions for the future.

About Rob Lindsay

Rob has more than a decade of experience working within both the oil & gas and offshore renewables industries, building relationships with a variety of customers across these sectors as well as within cable manufacturing. His specialisms lie in subsea cable, umbilical and pipeline burial and protection, including trenching as well as other sea bed preparation techniques. Rob was heavily involved in the development, launch and ongoing utilisation of Global Offshore’s key asset the PLP240.