The idea is straightforward to cut offshore carbon emissions: replace the open cycle gas turbines used to generate a platform’s continuous power and heat with an electricity supply. So when is this concept viable?
The world needs answers to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The concept of platform Electrification can reduce the carbon footprint of the oil and gas business. Our recent Report for the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) has shown that by studying operations in UK waters. Electrification is technically possible now. The solutions required, using both AC and DC systems, are mature and relatively low risk.
Other benefits too
Platform electrification could also extend asset and field life, and improve operational economics by simplifying the equipment needed offshore. But these savings alone, compared to using turbines, are unlikely to make the electrification business case. Platform retrofits would typically be high cost, although requirements would vary between assets and locations. Running a cable from land is a major investment. Oil and gas operations tend to be far from shore, between 150–350 kms. Sending continuously stable power over such distances under water will never be cheap to achieve. A longer field life is fundamental to cover the pay-back period for the cable investment. Capex could be reduced by plugging into an existing subsea electrical interconnector or sharing electrical infrastructure with a nearby offshore wind farm. Wherever the circumstances are right, platform electrification should be considered, especially for new projects.
Advances in offshore Norway
The stars aligned in Norwegian waters in the middle of 2018. Oil producer Equinor (ex Statoil) started to lay an electric cable from an onshore converter facility to the Johan Sverdrup oil and gas field.
Johan Sverdrup is the third largest oil field in the North Sea. It came on stream in October 2019, with production set to run for 50-plus years. The business case begins to stack up: a large new development, with the potential for this to be a hub for further electrification in other neighbouring fields. (Once you’ve made the investment to send power offshore, it’s a matter of incremental investments to distribute that power elsewhere in the area.) Add to this a Norwegian government committed to reducing its offshore emissions – about a third of national emissions. By 2020, the Norwegian parliament has decreed that licensees in the Johan Sverdrup field must establish a power-from-land solution in the area. This is all ideal in cutting carbon emissions, especially for a country with a clean-energy mix from hydropower.
Together, longer or larger
Electrification doesn’t stack up for all platforms. Looking at economies of scale, doing this on an individual asset basis may not be the best approach. One way forward is for existing operators to join forces, sharing the investment required over several platforms.
As touched on earlier, fields with a short life span are pretty much ruled out. It could take four to five years to implement electrification, before starting to realise a return on investment. More promising are fields with a longer life, as well as growth areas. In the North Sea, this includes the under-explored area West of Shetland. Where larger fields have less than a 40–50 year lifespan, electrification shouldn’t be ruled out. Offshore wind might make the sums add up. A nearby wind farm (within 50kms or so) could be the answer. An oil and gas facility could leverage low-carbon power from the wind farm when the wind is blowing, while having security of supply from cable to shore when there is no wind. More collaboration between the two sectors is needed, and more wind farms. Floating offshore wind could be the game-changer, placing offshore wind power generation at the heart of oil and gas production in deeper waters.
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