Increasingly more ageing oil and gas installations in the North Sea no longer produce as the fields begin to empty. And to dismantle them is a hugely expensive operation. TNO expert Rene Peters believes you can do much smarter things than demolish them. This is also a way the Netherlands can make a name for itself internationally as a provider of innovative applications in the offshore industry, creating employment and accelerating the energy transition.
‘Our idea is simple. We connect the oil and gas industry in the North Sea and offshore wind farms. These are currently two separate worlds but both have a lot to offer each other. Together with Energie Beheer Nederland, Shell and Siemens we are currently investigating what opportunities the integration of these sectors could generate. Like how we can use old platforms and gas fields in an innovative way to store energy,’ he says.
Connecting old and new energy generation
What TNO sees before it is the redevelopment of unused infrastructure in the North Sea, like drilling platforms, pipelines and empty gas fields for the supply of renewable energy. ‘Offshore oil and gas production is dwindling while we are building more and more offshore wind farms. So there are a few things you can do. One is to connect the wind farms to the offshore platforms that are still producing. They are currently running on power they generate themselves using gas turbines, which cause emissions of CO2, nitrous and sulphur oxides. Clean energy would cut the emissions to zero. The second thing you can do is to use the empty gas fields to store the excess electricity generated by wind farms whenever there is no demand for it. This can be done by converting the excess electricity into hydrogen, for instance, which can be stored or blended in the gas pipelines. This is called Power to Gas. But from near-empty gas fields you can also directly generate electricity on the platforms, for instance as Gas to Wire, for when there is no wind and there is demand for power, Power Balancing. This can really drive down the costs of the offshore electricity grids.’
'What TNO sees before it is the redevelopment of unused infrastructure in the North Sea, like drilling platforms, pipelines and empty gas fields for the supply of renewable energy.'
New business and employment
In addition, the gas fields offer the possibility to store CO2. To this end a demo project in a near-empty gas field off the coast of the Maasvlakte is being planned. Minister Kamp of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs along with Brussels have already awarded a subsidy to this ‘ROAD’ project. In the future it should be possible, according to Rene, to use the pipeline that transported gas from the fields in the North Sea to land for reverse transport: to take CO2 from shore to the empty fields.
‘Oil and gas companies could develop a common vision and ambition with the offshore wind sector and other stakeholders to breathe new life into the unused infrastructure. We are keen to contribute our technological knowledge to such an initiative. For the Netherlands this would create new business in the North Sea and be an employment replacement for the dwindling oil and gas production there; not only for the Netherlands but also beyond if we export this idea.’