What should we do with the oil and gas production platforms in the North Sea? As the transition to renewable energy becomes a reality and these installations slide into obsolescence, we are faced with the challenge of how to dispose of them. But wouldn’t it be much smarter to put them to good use? There are opportunities aplenty: from transporting electricity from wind farms, to energy storage or producing raw materials for the industrial sector. North Sea Energy is exploring this untapped potential.
North Sea Energy is a consortium that brings together Dutch knowledge institutes and businesses. René Peters is Business Director of Gas Technology at TNO, the initiator of the consortium: “Our idea is simple. We are creating links between the North Sea oil and gas industry and offshore wind farms. At present they are two separate worlds, but they have so much to offer each other.”
As René explains, things are moving fast: “We started by developing ideas, but that stage is already behind us. We are currently exploring practical opportunities and selecting promising sites for pilot projects.”
“You can use the power generated by the wind turbines to enable obsolete platforms to produce hydrogen, for example.”
René’s primary focus at present is on delivering clean energy from wind farms to operational oil and gas platforms. “But it doesn’t stop there,” he quickly points out. “You can go on to use the power generated by the wind turbines to enable obsolete platforms to produce hydrogen for example. Existing pipelines can be used to transport hydrogen ashore, or empty gas fields can be used for temporary storage. Hydrogen has many applications, not least as an energy source and a raw material for industry. Developments of this kind can make a significant contribution to energy transition and to ensuring a stable energy supply.”
North Sea Energy consortium
Jo Peters, Secretary General of NOGEPA, the oil and gas industry association, is thinking along similar lines: “NOGEPA was one of the driving forces behind North Sea Energy. The oil and gas industry has an obligation to clean up installations that are surplus to requirements. If that is our only option, we will certainly step up to the plate, but we would rather focus our efforts on finding alternative uses. At present we are operating on the idea is that fossil fuel from the North Sea is still indispensable, and so are the installations. At the same time we acknowledge that we will make steadily less use of them, not least because North Sea deposits of oil and gas are running out.”
“The Dutch waters in the North Sea are an ideal testing ground, especially due to the favourable locations of platforms, wind farms and transport pipelines.”
As a result, production platforms and the associated infrastructure will lose their function. René Peters takes up the story: “But dismantling them would mean destruction of capital, which is why we are eager to give them a new lease of life. The Dutch waters of the North Sea are an ideal testing ground, especially due to the favourable locations of platforms, wind farms and transport pipelines. Moreover, it is more efficient to transport gases such as hydrogen over long distances than it is to transport electricity. This makes it an attractive proposition to use wind energy to power the production of such gases in the North Sea, close to the wind farms.”
Emission-free energy recovery
It is a vision shared by Jo Peters of NOGEPA: “The ultimate goal is emission-free energy recovery in the North Sea, and to make it happen we need to integrate existing systems for oil and gas extraction wherever possible with the systems that generate wind energy. It’s an approach that is innovative and, above all, logical.”
“The ultimate goal is emission-free energy recovery in the North Sea.”
With this broad vision in place, North Sea Energy is focusing on practical developments. As René Peters reveals, “In addition to the operators of the wind farms and the platforms, we are getting other parties involved: Dutch SMEs, for example, who have an important part to play as suppliers of equipment and expertise. We have also set up an advisory board with input from many sides, including environmental organizations.”
Jo Peters emphasizes that the Netherlands possesses valuable knowledge in the field of maritime energy extraction and transportation. “Thanks to North Sea Energy, we can continue to find practical applications for that knowledge and turn it into a marketable commodity abroad. There is no time to waste. The Norwegians are already making good headway with a similar programme.”
And then comes the leap from theory to practice. Jo Peters mentions a pilot project which may be launched on the island of Ameland shortly. While still a far cry from offshore, it does present an opportunity to gain valuable experience with a gas location run completely on emission-free power. Meanwhile, René Peters is calling for further research into the legislative and regulatory changes needed to realize North Sea Energy’s plans: “Those plans are going to become reality, I am convinced of it.”
In the North Sea Energy project, knowledge institutes TNO, ECN, EDI and EAE have joined forces with a range of partners: NOGEPA, Shell, Total, Taqa, EBN, Siemens, VBMS, NAM, Gasunie, Gasterra and Huisman. The project is co-financed by Topsector Energy and TKI Gas.