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The innovations that unite past and future

Norway would not have become an energy nation without technology. Innovative solutions have made the impossible possible.

Equinor’s 50-year history is the story of how Norway found oil and transformed it into a source of jobs, growth and welfare to benefit several generations. And what ties this all together is innovation and technology, along with the people who dared to think outside the box, to adopt a long-term perspective and to see the bigger picture in solving seemingly impossible technological challenges. It is the people who have brought their existing knowledge and experience into new frontiers and industries, making new advancements based on specialised knowledge and an unwavering belief in the viability of innovative solutions.

Today the world faces a formidable energy transition that brings Equinor new opportunities to continue its pioneering role. The company’s stated goal is to be a world leader within offshore wind, and a European leader within carbon capture, transport and storage. And not least, to successfully produce oil and gas with the lowest emissions anywhere in the world.

How can technology and innovation help us achieve these goals? Here are some of the projects we are currently working on:

Thanks to the digital field worker initiative, Equinor can boost efficiency and shrink downtime on platforms. Employees can do their work in ways that are both safer, and more sustainable.
Photo Ole Jørgen Bratland

Digital field work

Equipped with specially adapted iPads or iPhones with software for real-time information sharing, employees “in the field” can work just as easily and digitally as those working from an office, quickly performing complicated tasks in rough surroundings. This measure has also been an important step in early identification of weaknesses in existing systems, as well as reducing downtime if an accident does occur. Digital fieldworkers will eventually work throughout the entire production chain, both offshore, at construction sites and refineries.

Field workers using digital tools
Field workers using digital tools

Deepsea charging

Back in the day, Statoil had a network of petrol stations along the roads. In the future, Equinor might have a network of charging stations on the seabed. These charging stations will be important for underwater drones that will live and perform janitorial services on the seabed. Underwater drones represent a vital and essential technology in the future vision for the Norwegian shelf. This is just one of the new drone technologies being developed by Equinor along with Kongsberg Maritime. Equinor has commissioned a charging plate or surface that can be used by all types of underwater drones. The company is currently working to make this a unified industry standard.

The subsea factories consist of individual modules like these. Several components are merged to make a complete subsea system.
Photo: Øyvind Hagen

Subsea plants

A subsea plant is a collection of subsea compressors on the seabed that help optimise production from small fields, and contribute to developing deep-water fields and resources in areas without existing infrastructure. These subsea plants can be as large as football fields. They are unmanned and require little maintenance, which results in improved safety for employees and efficient processes, as all functions are close to the actual well. The subsea compressors on the Åsgard and Gullfaks fields are two world-class examples of this. A bit unfortunate, perhaps, that some of the greatest feats of technology are hidden away on the bottom of the ocean.

Photo: Ole Jørgen Bratland

Unmanned platform

With knowledge gained from subsea compressors, Equinor has developed entire platforms that can be operated with no physical staffing. The Oseberg Vestflanken wellhead platform is already in place as Norway’s first unmanned production platform, providing valuable experience as we move toward totally unmanned platforms. This will yield improved safety for employees and increased value creation, while also paving the way for future platforms in Norway and the rest of the world.

Robotisation is in full swing onshore, with totally unstaffed oil platforms: An unmanned platform is a platform that is operated from land, using a control room and a sea of screens.

Exploration with 4D seismic

4D seismic consists of repeated collections of 3D geological data. 4D seismic is carried out to examine whether any changes have occurred in the reservoir over time that may be due to production or injection. The technology optimises production from the fields and will be crucial in the years to come as regards near-field exploration (link to separate article about near-field/infrastructure-led exploration). Going forward, the tool will also be used in offshore wind developments as 4D seismic enables the mapping of ideal seabed locations for offshore wind farms.

Photo: Øyvind Gravås

AI-solutions within offshore wind

The idea of floating wind turbines came to life when two engineers in Hydro, now Equinor, were out sailing and got inspired by the floating buoys they passed by. Although it is relatively “easy” to make wind turbines float today, it is still challenging to build them so they can withstand natural forces from wind, waves and ocean currents year after year. Using AI-solutions, sensors and algorithms, the rotor blades can be controlled to reduce the strain. It is these types of technology improvements that have increased the lifetime of wind turbines from a measly 20 weeks to a whopping 20 years.

Sensors and computers adjust the turbine blades according to wind speeds. AI solutions can moderate movements of the tower, reduce loads and contribute to higher power generation.

Multiphase transport

What lies behind a somewhat mundane name is nothing less than what Aftenposten (Norwegian newspaper) deemed the best Norwegian invention since 1980. In short, multiphase transport (link to separate article about Multiphase transport) is the technology that enables the transportation of oil and gas in the same pipeline, all the way from the seabed and up to a platform, or to an onshore installation.

The name may not be as exciting as the invention itself, but multiphase transport is the pioneering technology that makes it possible to transport oil and gas in the same pipe, all the way from the seabed and up to a platform, or all the way onshore. The quantum leap was made by SINTEF and the Institute for Energy Technology on assignment for Equinor in the 1980s, but it is every bit as relevant today: This innovation makes it possible to extract oil and gas without building platforms for every discovery. It leaves a smaller climate footprint – and the technology, which is still being refined and further developed, is thus an important contribution toward the ambition of achieving net zero in 2050.

Carbon capture and storage

CCS, also called carbon capture and storage, is a hot topic these days, but Equinor has been doing this for 25 years on Sleipner and Snøhvit. The technology is now being upgraded together with the partners in the Northern Lights project outside Bergen. In many ways, CCS is the very definition of innovation: Taking two things that already exist and joining or reconstructing them in new ways to create new value. Northern Lights has the goal of developing a market for commercial storage of CO₂. And, in combination with hydrogen production from natural gas, carbon capture and storage also presents a new business opportunity. In April, Equinor was awarded a licence to develop the CO₂ storage sites in Smeaheia in the North Sea to accommodate 20 million tonnes per year; a very substantial increase in CO₂ storage capacity on the Norwegian continental shelf. Together with Northern Lights, Equinor’s goal is to contribute to CO₂ reductions equivalent to half of Norway’s annual emissions.

This is one of many stories from our first 50 years. It is also part of the story of how we will succeed with the energy transition.

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