Transitioning from Fossil Fuels to Low-Carbon Energy

Published 12 May 2020

As the demand for green electricity grows, and we transition from fossil fuels towards a low-carbon energy supply, we ask ORE Catapult’s Tom Quinn and Hugh Riddell, who have experience in both the renewables and oil and gas sectors, what lessons can be learned from this transition. 

Hugh and Tom have a combined total of just under 35 years working in the oil and gas sector before taking the leap into offshore renewable energy. “Despite huge investments in oil and gas, the industry was feeling rather sluggish compared to the rapid growth of offshore renewables.” said Tom, “I wanted to play my part in an industry that will become the backbone of our future energy supply.”

But this leap isn’t as daunting or radical as one might think. Despite the apparent differences between the two industries, there is a multitude of similarities that lead to a robust platform from which to foster partnerships and facilitate cross-sector innovation.

Both sectors are heavily reliant on technology innovation to continually improve and become more efficient and cost effective. Therefore, many of the technologies are transferable from one sector to the other,” said Hugh. “This is particularly true with subsea technologies – remotely operated vehicles, autonomous underwater vessels and dynamic cables – essentially the way we inspect, repair or protect a piece of metal in salty water applies to both sectors in the same way.”

Tom added: “There are plenty of crossovers between the supply chain and operations side of the two industries, and this will only intensify with the development of floating offshore wind.”

There is a natural alignment between the two sectors in terms of skills and technology transfer that will inevitably allow the offshore wind industry – particularly floating offshore wind – to grow while aiding the decarbonisation of the oil and gas sector. “We’ve been working closely with the Oil & Gas Technology Centre to find a solution for powering oil and gas platforms using floating wind and help the sector achieve its net zero targets” said Tom. “Oil and gas operators pay high prices for power (often imported diesel or gas), so they are an ideal partner to help deploy floating wind, develop the supply chain and help to drive costs down.”

The two industries can, and should, work together, not only to achieve the ambitious net-zero targets outlined by the UK Government, but also to build relationships, support the development of the supply chain and increase UK content, and ensure diversity in energy sources powering the grid.

In many instances, offshore wind is lucky in that oil and gas has allowed many relevant technologies to participate in their 40-year pilot projects,” Hugh commented. “While mistakes have undoubtedly been made, great improvements and technological breakthroughs have presented offshore renewables with ready-made solutions with which to hit the ground running.”

Offshore wind should not shy away from the oil and gas sector but instead should join forces to decarbonise the offshore energy industry. Hugh noted that: “We have operated as separate industries for quite some time, but if we are to achieve the ambitious net-zero targets set out both by Scottish and UK governments, we can no longer work in isolation”.

For more information on the changing landscape of the offshore energy sector, listen to our latest Re-Energise podcast episode with industry experts from ORE Catapult and Balmoral. Listen now >

About Tom:

I’m the Analysis & Insights Manager here at ORE Catapult, and my role is to understand how the market is developing for offshore renewables and identify trends and opportunities for increasing value to the UK. I’m also supporting start-ups and SMEs with business planning and market forecasting.

I started working in oil and gas in 2011, initially as a Petrophysics Data Manager before joining Wood Mackenzie in 2012. I was a Senior Research Analyst for seven years on the Middle East & North Africa upstream team, where I had to keep clients informed about developments in the (often opaque) upstream oil & gas sector in the region, as well as helping governments and national oil companies with strategic planning.

About Hugh:

I joined ORE Catapult in December 2018 as Regional Partnership Manager after a career spanning over 25 years in various business development roles in the oil and gas industry with a primary focus on subsea supply chain companies. I was engaging with the oil and gas operators daily to gain further understanding of their future developments and subsea maintenance programmes.

My role within the Catapult has been predominantly to engage with the oil and gas supply chain in the north of Scotland and identify ways in which we can help these companies diversify or transition into offshore renewables. However, even in the short time that I have been with the Catapult, I have seen some dramatic changes, none more so than the massive shift towards a greener energy future. In the last six to nine months, talk of net-zero, energy transition and decarbonisation have slipped into common parlance in the Aberdeen area, whether talking to individuals previously interested in offshore renewables or not.