Six ways our oil and gas expertise is energising renewables
In Equinor, we often talk about how our expertise from five decades of offshore operations is helping us to shape the future of energy. But what does that mean in practice? Here are six examples of cutting-edge technologies that are powered by our expertise from oil and gas.
1. From oil platform to wind platform. New kit, same wrapping.
Building offshore wind farms not only requires good technology for the foundations of the wind turbines, but also transformer and inverter stations to bring the power ashore and to the national grid. Our suppliers Heerema and Aibel had built oil and gas platforms for us before, so we thought – why not let them build wind platforms too?
In our major wind farm developments on the British continental shelf, Heerema built two inverter platforms for us for use at Sheringham Shoal, while Aibel will build two platforms for Dogger Bank.
Although their size is smaller and the contents rather different from previous platforms, the projects are surprisingly like an oil project. And after many years of experience from building solid, efficient platforms for oil and gas, we know that both we and our suppliers have a wealth of experience to bring to wind power.
2. Monica switches between building oil platforms and wind turbines.
For Monica Pettersen, there’s no contradiction in terms between building oil platforms the one day and wind turbines the next. The main difference is that wind turbines take less time and have more standardised components — but as a project, the various pieces of the puzzle are quite similar.
Monica has been alternating between oil and wind for several years, including the major Mariner and Hywind Scotland projects. Probably the biggest similarity between Hywind Scotland and oil industry solutions are the giant floating spar buoys used as the underpinnings for both the Aasta Hansteen platform, and the Hywind turbines. Monica is now back building oil platforms – this time the upper process module for Johan Sverdrup phase two.
3. We were actually hoping for a dry well. Here’s why.
If you’d told the drillers and roughnecks of the 1960s that one day, we’d be drilling wells in the North Sea hoping not to find oil, many of them would probably have thought you were mad.
But that’s exactly what we did in 2020, when the first well of the Northern Lights project was drilled.
Why? Because when you want to store CO2 under the seabed you need a "dry" reservoir with great capacity. After analysing the results, data from the drilling was shared with all interested parties.
The goal is to capture CO2 emissions from the industry and transport it by ship to the west coast. There, the gas will be pumped via pipeline to a subsea structure at the seabed and injected via the dry well into a geological formation some 2,500 metres below the seabed in the North Sea for permanent storage.
The Northern Lights project is part of the Norwegian full-scale CCS project called "Longship".
4. Steinar wants to make natural gas emissions-free. Using hydrogen.
Steinar Eikaas and his team in our department for Low-Carbon Solutions are working to chart the possibilities that arise from replacing natural gas with hydrogen.
It’s a solution that means all greenhouse gases are captured well in advance of combustion and then piped offshore for permanent storage in the bedrock beneath the North Sea.
In the UK, natural gas is piped to homes and industry across the country for cooking, heating and manufacturing. Now we’re exploring the possibilities of replacing the natural gas in Britain’s existing pipeline system with clean-burning hydrogen — which emits only clean water when burned. It’s a radical idea, and Equinor is participating in the H21 North of England pilot project. See the film below.
Equinor is also heavily involved in large-scale hydrogen projects in the planning phase in Germany (for steel production), the Netherlands (for power generation), the UK (for industry and heating) and in Norway (for the maritime sector).
5. Digital solutions for oil that can work even better for wind
The placement and arrangement of wind turbines is crucial in order to ensure that they function optimally. Solutions that make such planning easier are therefore important.
Our IT specialists see great potential in using new software across the business areas, for example when deciding the best possible location for each turbine, ensuring efficient and good maintenance routines.
Equinor has been working on advanced monitoring techniques using machine learning to improve on efficient maintenance solutions. These new techniques allow effective identification of the small variations in sensor signals that can be the early warning signs of larger problems if not addressed in time. The large numbers of identical turbines on wind farms makes them ideal for monitoring with the help of machine learning algorithms, and these methods are showing great promise as the number of wind turbines in our portfolio increases.
This is just one of the opportunities for digitalisation across the energy mix. Read more about digitalisation in Equinor here.
6. The oil engineers who dreamt up floating wind power
The best ideas often happen when you least expect them — and when you’re not at the office. Two becalmed sailors started to doodle on the back of a napkin, and the rest is history.
Engineers Dag Christensen and Knut Solberg were out sailing in the Oslofjord when they came up with a bright idea.
“I was looking at a floating marker buoy on the water, and I thought — if we could make one of those 100 metres high instead of four metres, we’d have a tower for a wind turbine,” says Dag. At the time they were working in Hydro, later merged with Equinor, and their main experience was with offshore structures for oil and gas.
“We sketched it on a serviette, right there and then,” says Knut. “I drew a couple of solutions with a tension leg floater. Then I got hold of the wind data for the Frigg field, and it suddenly struck me that Norway really was a superpower in terms of wind.”
The idea eventually developed into test projects and a demo turbine that was tested off the coast of Karmøy for a decade. The principle is the same as the spar platforms used for many oil projects around the world – and Hywind is now in production offshore Scotland – with more exciting projects to come.