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UK can lead world in net-zero energy technologies – but investment is critical

The Oil & Gas Technology Centre (OGTC) has released a comprehensive roadmap setting out the critical technologies needed to deliver an integrated net-zero energy system on the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS), highlighting the major economic opportunity this transformation offers.

Closing the Gap: Technology for a Net Zero North Sea, produced by global natural resources consultancy Wood Mackenzie for the OGTC, with support from Chrysaor and the Scottish Government, sets out a technology roadmap for an integrated energy future in the North Sea.

The report outlines how accelerating the development of new energy technologies can dramatically reduce emissions, and how adopting new technologies will harness the full potential of the UK’s world-class natural resources from renewable power sources and oil and gas, to hydrogen and long-term carbon storage.

Maximising the opportunities to innovate across the renewable and fossil fuel sectors could create more than 200,000 new jobs across the UK and contribute more than £2.5 trillion to the nation’s economy by 2050. It would also create a diversified energy sector, support a new generation of highly skilled jobs and open up exciting export potential.

The oil and gas sector, including its workforce, supply chain and infrastructure, can enable and accelerate the growth of the renewables sector, while renewable energy sources will be critical in supporting the oil and gas industry on its journey to net zero.

Realising this integrated vision will require £430 billion of new investment to close the gap on a number of crucial technologies and accelerate their deployment. These include:

  • Oil and gas platform electrification, methane leak detection and flaring mitigation
  • Larger blades, taller towers and automated inspection technology for fixed offshore wind
  • Optimised and standardised floating offshore wind foundation designs
  • Innovative hydrogen membranes and CO2 sorbents to improve blue hydrogen yield
  • New saltwater electrolysis technologies to reduce the cost of green hydrogen production
  • Advanced catalyst materials for hydrogen fuel cells to reduce costs and improve durability
  • New solvents, sorbents, membranes, and conversion solutions to reduce the cost of CCS
  • Power take-off solutions and support systems for marine renewables such as floating solar

Colette Cohen OBE, CEO at OGTC said: “Reimagining the North Sea as an integrated energy system is essential for the UK and Scotland to achieve their net-zero ambitions. But we need to invest now to close the gap on the key technologies needed to make this ambition a reality.

“We need to digitise our offshore energy sector and solve big challenges like energy storage, infrastructure redeployment, transmission systems and cost-competitive floating wind structures. By doing this, we can create strategic advantage and valuable export opportunities.

“With its decades of energy expertise, the UK has a huge opportunity to become a leading manufacturer, designer, installer and operator of net-zero energy systems.

“Leveraging our strength in oil and gas, we can also partner with the renewables sector to accelerate the delivery of the next generation of energy in the UK – and internationally. This is where governments and industry should focus investment at pace in the coming years.”

Malcolm Forbes-Cable, vice president, upstream consulting at Wood Mackenzie said: “The North Sea is at the heart of the UK economy. This won’t change, but our energy ecosystem will.

“This report underlines how the UKCS can be redeveloped into a decarbonised, integrated energy system; one that can optimise the offshore sector’s economic value and deliver a secure supply of affordable energy.

“Hydrogen, for example, can be used in place of gas to heat homes and power engines and industrial processes, while reducing our carbon footprint. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has set significant targets for a low-carbon hydrogen economy in the UK, but production remains close to non-existent. There are key technology challenges to overcome before hydrogen can be deployed on a vast scale.”

Scotland’s Energy Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, said: “The Scottish Government and the oil and gas sector recognise the considerable role offshore energy integration and technology can play in the North Sea’s transition to net zero.

“This study provides us with further intelligence to support and accelerate the development of an updated integrated energy vision, building on our 2017 Scottish Energy Strategy and can inform the work of the Oil and Gas and Energy Transition Strategic Leadership Group.

An integrated offshore energy system – including carbon capture, utilisation and storage, and the use of hydrogen – can help Scotland and the UK meet our greenhouse gas emission reduction requirements in the timescale necessary for action, while also supporting Europe’s decarbonisation, too.

“The skills, expertise and infrastructure of the oil and gas sector and its supply chain will be vital in unlocking these opportunities and also contributing to development of the great potential for offshore wind, floating wind and marine energy deployment in Scotland’s waters.”

Phil Kirk, CEO at Chrysaor said: “We were pleased to once again partner with OGTC and the Scottish Government in this report. The oil and gas industry in the UK has all of the competence, innovation and resources to deliver the engineering and technical solutions to fulfil the energy transition. As an industry, we are experts in solving problems and safely engineering solutions.

“Indigenous net zero energy and hydrocarbons to meet British demand is something I am passionate about and Chrysaor, as one of the largest operators in the North Sea, will play a key role in safely and efficiently meeting that demand in a way we can all be proud of.”

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