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Interview with JDR: Spotlight on subsea cables’ starring role in oil & gas and renewable plays during transformation to greener energy mix


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Illustration; Source: JDR Cable Systems

In the fast-evolving energy landscape, the subsea industry’s familiarity with the go big or go home philosophy has made its presence known already, as it has risen to the occasion several times on multiple oil, gas, and renewable energy projects. However, subsea cables are expected to remain at the heart of further energy transition moves, according to JDR Cable Systems, the UK-based manufacturer of subsea and power cables, part of TFK Group.

With the decarbonization mission in full swing around the globe, the subsea market is evolving to respond to new demands and assist in propelling the green shift forward. This is driven by the fact that the fossil fuel and renewable energy worlds are constantly changing and reshaping to come to grips with emerging innovations aimed at improving existing conditions in these industries and tackling the growing climate change concerns.

During our interview, Rory Graham, JDR Cable Systems’ Senior Sales Manager of Energy, highlights that the current landscape and vital need for subsea cables, as an essential element of energy transition projects in the UK, which is pursuing a balancing act to shore up different sources of supply and strengthen its energy security, is facing significant overseas competition.

With over 13 years of experience in various roles within JDR, Graham, who holds a MEng degree in Mechanical Engineering from University College London, has been in his current role since October 2021. He began his career at the UK firm in 2010 when he was hired as a Design Engineer. Graham’s extensive background in engineering and sales is perceived to be instrumental in driving growth and innovation in the company’s energy sector offerings.

While pointing out the vital need for a local subsea cable industry, Graham emphasizes the role subsea cables have in the electrification, decarbonization, and even carbon capture and storage (CCS) arenas, explaining that contracts for differences (CfDs) are likely to see the addition of financial incentives for sustainable supply chains, and opportunity for the UK to take the lead.

JDR’s Senior Sales Manager of Energy also provided an update on the construction of what is said to be the only UK facility capable of the full, start-to-finish, manufacturing of subsea cables in Cambois. In addition, Graham discussed innovation in the subsea cable sector from thermoplastic hoses use to the development of 132 kV cables, and underlined how these cables are paving the way for meeting offshore wind targets.

  • OE: The offshore energy industry is redefining itself as it goes through multiple changes in a bid to embrace the energy transition mantle. How does this affect the subsea cable sector?

Rory Graham: Subsea cables will play a critical role in the energy transition over the coming decades, sharing, importing, and exporting power between all aspects of offshore infrastructure. This includes generating green electricity, decarbonizing oil & gas assets, and powering the storage of carbon captured.

While the offshore energy sector is indeed refining itself, it is our expectation that only a mix of technologies will allow us to meet our decarbonization obligations and targets. The impact on the cable sector is decidedly positive.

  • OE: Will the innovations within the subsea cable sector help boost the decarbonization efforts of oil and gas operators, thanks to the growing interest in the electrification of offshore platforms and assets?

Rory Graham: The subsea cable market is mature, and JDR has been delivering cables to power offshore assets for 30 years. The drive for offshore electrification is pushing the boundaries of known technologies, allowing greater power to be imported from offshore wind farms or even onshore grids over greater distances. This is being achieved while increasing the planned electrification percentage of our offshore assets and reducing overall capex.

  • OE: What are some of the challenges the subsea cable sector needs to overcome not just for the electrification of fossil fuel infrastructure but also in general? In your opinion, what is the biggest obstacle to strengthening the subsea cable sector in the UK?

Rory Graham: The greatest challenge we see is in timing. Many of the targets set are to be achieved simultaneously, namely by 2030, resulting in a rush for cable capacity demand. While we are investing heavily in our capacity for the future, including the opening of a brand-new additional UK high-voltage cable manufacturing facility, we still expect demand to outweigh capacity.

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We are seeing manufacturing times being compressed, which makes managing capacity increasingly challenging. These challenges could be mitigated through incentives to encourage earlier financial investment decision (FID) milestones for electrification projects, allowing supply capacity and demand to be better managed.

  • OE: As subsea cables are in high demand in the renewables arena, which type of offshore energy is currently bringing the highest number of orders, and which has the potential to do so in the future?

Rory Graham: Offshore renewables is expected to remain our largest growing market due to the significant global ambitions to add renewables to the energy mix. Fixed bottom array projects are mature and still increasing in demand globally, but floating offshore wind is accelerating from its recent pre-commercial scale deployments through projects such as Equinor’s Hywind Tampen offshore Norway, and the Windfloat Atlantic project in Portugal.

Having provided dynamic cables to the offshore energy sector for over 20 years, JDR has the capability and track record to deliver challenging dynamic cabling for both floating and fixed foundation projects. Our market diversity has been the key to JDR’s success throughout the last 30 years, being one of the first businesses to support the offshore renewable industry over 20 years ago.

Our extensive experience will be of great value to the industry as we continue to support the oil & gas, renewable and offshore umbilical and cable infrastructure markets.

  • OE: Since subsea interconnectors have ushered in new opportunities for sharing renewable energy between countries, they are becoming all the rage. Is further growth on the cards and will this enable the UK to strengthen its position and expand its subsea cable offering?

Rory Graham: Growth is absolutely on the cards as many projects and countries are currently operating in silos. As offshore energy assets increase, the infrastructure will need to grow towards a more collaborative approach, such as power sharing through different energy assets and between countries via the use of grid links and interconnectors. This will provide flexibility, resilience, and security of energy distribution, allowing excess power to be bought and sold across interconnected energy markets.

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We are heavily investing in our facilities and technologies within the UK, enabling UK-manufactured products to support this shift towards higher power transmission. This means higher voltage and larger sized cabling. JDR is not only supporting the North Sea but is also a key exporter to offshore energy projects globally.

  • OE: How is the UK subsea cable sector faring in comparison with other North Sea countries?

Rory Graham: In comparison with other North Sea countries, the UK sector has historically performed well, with significant investment in offshore wind. We expect this trend to continue, alongside further growth in other carbon reduction activities such as platform electrification, carbon capture, and hydrogen. However, other regions are gaining momentum, releasing significant leasing rounds, and promoting a more sustainable future for the offshore energy sector.

  • OE: In light of the increased competition in the subsea cable sector, can the UK place itself in the frontrunner position on the global stage? What does Britain need to do to become the top subsea cable player?

Rory Graham: JDR is already a front runner on the global stage. Just this year we have been recognized for two prestigious export awards. In the past three decades, we have delivered vital power and control infrastructure to countries around the globe – not just across Europe but also to Australia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brazil, United States of America, and Qatar, to name but a few.

With continuous internal investments and technology development, we are doing what we can to maintain that front runner position. As a nation, we need to ensure that we are pushing technological boundaries, turning good ideas into reality. We must refocus our export efforts, supporting our excellent engineering and production facilities with support from the UK government across the offshore industries.

  • OE: You are in the process of building a subsea cable manufacturing facility in Cambois, near Blyth, Northumberland. How far along has the construction of this facility come?

Rory Graham: Correct, we are building a brand new, state-of-the-art facility in Cambois, near Blyth, just a 30-minute drive from Newcastle. This is JDR’s fourth UK facility, and it is being built to accommodate the growth expected in the subsea cabling market going forward.

The build is going well, the foundations are complete, the structure is up, and the majority of the building, roofing, and cladding are complete. Our next task is to get the equipment installed, which is all currently in storage in and around the local area.

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The first machine components have been installed concurrently with the completion of some of the taller building structures needed to house the larger high-technology lines. With any new facility, we will then go through extensive commissioning trials to meet our strict quality and safety standards.

  • OE: What are JDR Cables’ short-term plans and what is the company’s main goal during this decade? How do you plan to achieve this?

Rory Graham: Our focus right now is threefold: completing our new facility, delivering on our recently secured contracts, and supporting new projects. Our goal is to develop global customer partnerships and continue to be the supplier of choice for subsea cables and umbilicals. We are also working on expanding our product range into high voltages and more challenging environments for umbilicals as well as cables.

JDR’s objective is to be the technology leader, bringing new products, innovations, and technologies to benefit our customers, the industry and ultimately the consumer. Our efforts aim to increase renewable energy usage, decarbonize energy production, and optimize the security of energy supply.

  • OE: What can you tell us about the most important innovations in the subsea cable sector and the ones that are on the horizon?

Rory Graham: JDR is currently completing several milestone developments, set to be available to the market in the coming months. We are futureproofing ourselves for the inter-array and electrification requirements, but our ambitions do not stop there as we continue to expand and develop our capabilities. In particular, our array cable product lines are being extended from 66 to 132 kV for both fixed foundation and floating projects.

Additionally, our range of power umbilicals is increasing to incorporate higher power transmission capabilities, along with communications and control functions. We are also investing in additional service capabilities and test equipment across our markets.

  • OE: How is JDR coming to grips with the new demands the offshore industry is making on the subsea sector while it pursues its chosen path or pathways to net zero? What are some of the most challenging projects you and JDR have been working on?

Rory Graham: The demands of the offshore industry are expanding and developing as we engage in our energy transition. We have been using our significant experience in delivering complex cables and umbilicals for the oil & gas market over the last 30 years as a basis for this market change. A notable project we have recently delivered is Equinor’s Hywind Tampen, one of the largest floating wind platform electrification scopes operational to date.

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We delivered multiple dynamic array and export cables, operating in incredibly harsh North Sea conditions. Analyzing and understanding the demands of the system was challenging, and whilst we drew from our extensive experience, the system complexities and project specifications took real care and attention to ensure our product was installable and operational for its lifetime.

  • OE: Thank you for this interview! Would you like to add anything else?

Rory Graham: My pleasure. One thing to add is that the offshore market is evolving. We look forward to accelerating the transition, and we will continue to support our clients in delivering successful projects across all our markets.

We are making significant investments today to support the substantial growth in offshore energy infrastructure, which is essential to achieving society’s net-zero ambitions. JDR plans to be a key part of delivering this for our sustainable and responsible future.

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