Photo: Cygnus Alpha; Source: Neptune Energy

Study uncovers four potential electrification paths for oil & gas assets

A study, undertaken by the Net Zero Technology Centre, the Cygnus JV – comprising Neptune Energy and Spirit Energy – and Sealand Projects Ltd to assess potential routes for electrification of oil and gas platforms, has found four options to make this happen. However, the commercial viability of electrification presents a challenge.  

The Net Zero Technology Centre, together with the Cygnus JV and Sealand Projects announced the findings of their Southern North Sea – Oil & Gas Asset Electrification Study on Thursday, explaining that this explored the potential to electrify an offshore platform with power from offshore wind, using the Neptune-operated Cygnus complex in the UK Southern North Sea as a case study.

The Cygnus field started its first gas production in 2016 and it has a field life of over 20 years. The field hosts two platforms – Cygnus Alpha and Cygnus Bravo –  and the first one consists of three bridge-linked platforms while the second one is an unmanned satellite platform. The Cygnus partners are Neptune Energy (operator, 38.75 per cent) and Spirit Energy (61.25 per cent).

Mungo McLeish, Director of Global Operations and Electrification at Neptune Energy, remarked: “We continue to explore opportunities to reduce emissions as part of our commitment to store more carbon than is emitted by our operations and the use of our sold products by 2030. Collaboration across oil and gas and renewables sectors can improve our understanding of the opportunities and challenges associated with the electrification of assets in the Southern North Sea.”

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According to these industry players, the Southern North Sea is home to numerous planned and existing offshore wind farms, increasing the potential sources of power for platform electrification. Therefore, there will be 6.8GW of wind power within 50 km of Cygnus by 2030, increasing to 14.1GW within 100 km of the asset, making it a suitable case study for the investigation of electrification using offshore wind.

Kenneth Cunningham, Senior project Engineer, Sealand Projects Limited, stated: “In seeking to achieve industry decarbonisation targets, electrification of platforms has a key part to play. Tying into a wind farm is an innovative opportunity which raises challenges, however, the level of engagement across regulatory bodies and industry was hugely encouraging, and we remain thankful for the support and advice. It is through this collaboration that electrification opportunities, and ultimately the route to net-zero, can be delivered.”

Furthermore, four electrification options were identified during this study and an evaluation of each was undertaken using the technical rather than the economic life of the asset. The four examined options that offer a potential pathway to electrification include local offtake with a power purchase agreement; local offtake with an offshore transmission owner; reallocation of turbines; and dedicated offshore wind farms serving a platform.

Graeme Rogerson, Senior Project Manager, Net Zero Technology Centre, commented: “The size of the prize is significant if we can establish a viable way to leverage the existing infrastructure to supply power to offshore oil and gas assets. We have a number of barriers to overcome including regulatory challenges and establishing a way to make one of the four proposed options economically viable. However, the engagement levels from stakeholders have been hugely promising and there is definite appetite to maximise the opportunity for electrification of oil and gas assets.”

As the North Sea Transition Deal (NSTD) set a target to reduce offshore production emissions by 50 per cent by 2030, the majority of these emissions are a result of power generation offshore from open cycle gas turbines (OCGT), thus, providing this power from offshore wind has the potential to deliver a large portion of the emissions savings targeted under the NSTD. Although, “a significant challenge” in the commercial viability of electrification remains based on high CAPEX costs and direct impact on the levelised cost of energy (LCOE).

Malcolm Offord, UK Government Minister for Scotland, said: “The electrification of offshore platforms will help to reduce emissions and facilitate the transition of the North Sea to a net-zero economy. With its wealth of expertise and experience, North East Scotland is leading the world in decarbonising the energy industry while bringing in new jobs and investment. The UK government is investing £90 million in the Net Zero Technology Centre to support this and levelling up communities across Scotland with more than £2 billion.”

When it comes to the recent developments related to the oil and gas production facilities powered by wind, it is worth noting that an oil and gas operator and a green energy and infrastructure developer inked a new deal last month, enabling the creation of one of the UK’s first wind-powered oil and gas production facilities.

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As explained at the time, the provision of wind power will remove up to 20,000 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions every year from the offshore production facility and demonstrate the use of floating offshore wind in decarbonising oil and gas production.