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The British energy revolution

At the end of the 19th century, coal power lit up London’s streetlights. Since then, greenhouse gas emissions from coal, oil and gas have become the biggest challenge of our time. Emissions must be cut drastically.

Holborn, London: This is where it all began 140 years ago. In the area between Soho and the City of London, slums were expanding fast at the end of the 19th century. But Holborn was also where modern industrial history was to be written. Inventor Thomas Edison managed for the first time to create electricity from coal.

From the power plant Holborn Viaduct, also called the Edison Electric Light Station, it became possible to supply the city's streetlights with electricity. With the new power, the industrial revolution entered an entirely new phase. Britain – already a leading industrial nation – also became a leader in coal power development.

This was the beginning of a story about economic growth and prosperity. But it was also the beginning of man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2023, work is in progress to find solutions to reduce emissions. (Story continues below)

The Holborn Viaduct bridge in London has not changed much since the end of the 19th century. However, the traces of coal power's early start has been erased over the years.
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The Holborn Viaduct bridge in London has not changed much since the end of the 19th century. However, the traces of coal power's early start has been erased over the years.
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Today, coal consumption in Great Britain is significantly reduced. The decline started with increased use of oil and gas – and later, the intake of new energy sources and increased CO2 taxes. At the moment, a new energy revolution is unfolding behind the scenes. The nation aims to stay a powerful industrial nation, with net zero emissions of greenhouse gases in 2050.

The job is demanding. And as a significant energy supplier to the UK, Equinor is heavily involved in the journey towards 2050.

From his office close to Paddington Station in central London, Alex Grant keeps a complete overview of Equinor’s activities in the UK. Grant is the country manager for Equinor. He believes cutting emissions in line with the ambitions will be difficult. However, he still believes it is vital.

“The alternative is worse and more expensive. I think society will accept the cost,” he says.

Alex Grant - Equinor UK

There is one way to get to net zero pretty quickly: If you shut down fossil fuels tomorrow. Then 80 per cent of the world's energy supply will be switched off, and we will be hit by energy blackouts. That is not a solution I would recommend. We need to decarbonise quickly, but not so quickly that we send the world into other unintended crises.

Alex GrantUK country manager for Equinor

Oil and gas take over

Aberdeen, Scotland: In the heart of Europe's oil capital, activity is high. Since the first oil discovery in the British sector in the mid-60s, the city has been the natural hub for further developing Britain's and Europe's energy history.

Since Equinor was established more than 50 years ago, the ties to Aberdeen – and Great Britain in general – have been significant. The UK was one of Equinor's first and most important customers and partners.

“We grew as a company while working with some of the UK's industrial champions. We now have our own operation in the UK, where we supply around 30% of the country's oil and gas,” Grant says.

Today, Equinor operates its British oil and gas resources from Aberdeen. Mariner, the oil project discovered at the beginning of the 1980s, is one of the fields. Equinor is also developing its next major offshore project from here: Rosebank.

Rosebank can trigger investments of about GBP 8.1 billion. The oil and gas field is expected to generate about 1,600 jobs in the development phase. In the UK alone, the peak employment of direct, indirect and induced jobs will amount to nearly 1,200.

On top of that, by designing Rosebank as a low-emission installation powered with renewable energy, Equinor believes the field can be developed as a part of the UK Government North Sea Transition deal. This way, Rosebank can bring much-needed energy security and investment to the UK while supporting the UK's net zero targets simultaneously.

But at the same time, something is on the move in Aberdeen. Europe's oil capital is transitioning into Europe's energy capital.

The wind turbines outside the city symbolise that the new industry is on its way. While still relying on oil and gas, the UK and the energy industry are moving from fossil energy to renewable energy and green technology.

In 1967, the first North Sea gas arrived at the Easington terminal in England from the West Sole field off Yorkshire.
Photo: Harald Pettersen
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In 1976 production starts from Britain's first oil field off the coast of Aberdeen.
Photo: Michal Wachucik
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In the 1970s, the first Norwegian gas came from the Frigg field to the St. Fergus terminal in Scotland.
Photo: Oyvind Ellingsen
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Offshore wind to British homes

Port of Tyne: Something is about to happen in the small town of Port of Tyne. Historically, this was an important town for Britain's coal exports. Now the area has an entirely new role in the energy transition. The world's largest offshore wind farm will be operated from here. Equinor and partners are developing Dogger Bank, which will provide electricity to the equivalent of more than five million households.

Felicity Wann, an operations manager for Dogger Bank, Port of Tyne, has a remarkable history. Her family is from the area, and her grandfather worked in the coal industry back in the day. Today, she is a part of shaping the renewable future from the exact same area.

Port of Tyne

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Moving a few hours south to Norfolk, future energy solutions have already begun to appear on the horizon. Together with partners, Equinor has developed two offshore wind farms off the coast of Norfolk. Around 750,000 British households are supplied with renewable power from here. And this is just the beginning.

"Equinor will increasingly deliver more offshore wind, more hydrogen, more carbon capture and storage, power generation and battery storage – more or less the full range of a broad, decarbonised energy – to help the UK on its journey towards net zero emissions," says Alex Grant.

Shaped like a diamond by 88 wind turbines, the Sheringham Shoal wind farm is located outside Norfolk, operated by Equinor and partners. About 280,000 British households are supplied with energy from here.
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From 67 wind turbines about 32 kilometres from Norfolk's coast, Equinor and partners produce renewable energy that supplies 430,000 British households.
Photo: Ole Jørgen Bratland
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In 2026, the plan is for Dogger Bank, the world's largest offshore wind farm, to fully supply renewable energy equivalent to the needs of more than five million British homes. The first deliveries of power are planned already next year.
Illustration: Equinor
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Peterhead: About 40 minutes' drive from Aberdeen is the sleepy fishing town of Peterhead. But the area holds more than fishermen. Just outside the coast, we find something of a revolution.

This is Hywind Scotland. The world's first floating offshore wind farm.

As most of the world's offshore areas are too deep to place wind turbines on the seabed, the turbines must be able to float. At the same time, the cost of floating offshore wind must come down significantly to be profitable. Then, it'll be possible to extract the much-needed power from offshore wind. But someone has to take the first steps.

Humber. UK
Photo: px Group

Low-carbon solutions for the future

Humber: Up from the cornfields a short drive from the city of Hull, an industrial hub emerges. The East Coast Cluster in the Humber region is the UK's largest industrial emission point.

The region houses oil refineries, chemical industry, gas power plants and biofuel plants, to mention some.

Underneath the cornfields, gas pipelines stretch miles to the coast Easington terminal. Norwegian natural gas flows through these lines.

Britain has long been an industrial nation. Heavy industry must be decarbonised if the world is to achieve its ambitions to cut emissions to reach the climate goals. If the UK does not succeed in removing the emissions from the Humber, the climate targets will not be met either.

Can new solutions make Britain's largest industrial cluster emission-free?

Powering the UK energy transition

Around the UK, you can see the breadth of Equinor's activities. We're working across a broad range of products and energy types, with a wide range of partners, to help play our part in turning the net zero ambition into reality.

Read more about our UK activities
London. UK

London, 2023: Traffic moves quickly through the streets in the early morning. The streetlights are still on, and the day has started. The big city's emissions are significant. One of the measures now being considered is whether CO2 from London's rubbish can be stored under the bottom of the North Sea. The British waste management company Cory will look at the possibility of storing 1.5 million tonnes annually in the Northern Lights storage on the Norwegian continental shelf. The CO2 will be captured from waste incineration plants by the River Thames in London, and the aim is for the project to be up and running by 2030. This will result in a significant reduction of CO2 emissions from the multimillion city of London.

"Global warming is a global problem. Everyone depends on each other, and we must work together to reach net zero in 2050", says Alex Grant.

To succeed in this, we must do like Thomas Edison – think new thoughts and develop new industries.

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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