Get the basics right and the ‘quick wins’ are easy to see

Energy Optimisation, Net Zero, United Kingdom

Production is no longer the only focus in oil and gas. Net-zero, until recently the rather large elephant in the room, is now sitting front and centre as a main priority for the industry. 

Collaborative, integrated solutions will be required to ensure we reach net-zero. However, due to the complexity, both in terms of practical engineering and commercial viability, it will likely take a few years before we see the impact of these large-scale projects on overall emissions.  

The UKCS is a mature basin with a wide range of diverse assets at different stages in their lifecycle so even the best solutions will have to be tailored to the specific needs of the asset. The first – and simplest – steps to net-zero are optimising the energy use and minimising emissions from existing operations.  

To achieve this, it’s important we ensure we have the basics right: build a good simulation model, understand how the plant operates and then target achievable short-term gains. The ‘quick wins’ are usually easy to identify. 

Let’s use a house as an analogy. You can do the simple things which return value – the light bulbs are low energy, you’ve turned down the thermostat and the house and loft are well insulated. The same principle applies to compressors and pumps or heaters and coolers. Altering set-points by a small amount can make a significant difference to your energy usage and emissions.    

But beyond that there is a big decision to be made. If your heating – like in most of rural Scotland – is from an oil-fired boiler, you can’t benefit from the hydrogen blending into the gas network as there is no gas network in the area. In that respect, you are in a similar position to many offshore assets. You need to drive the change. 

Any low emissions heating solution is going to be either expensive, disruptive, or both. Disruptive in the sense that it would take a lot of modification and it may not be as convenient or operate in the way you are used to. Similarly for offshore facilities, the options to deliver a large impact scope on emissions can be very disruptive.  

Electrification of facilities is getting some attention and rightly so as it can be an excellent solution for the right facility. The ‘right’ facility is one where large power consumers are already powered by electricity. For these, the degree of upgrades needed is limited to changing the source of the electricity – installing facilities to get that power onto the platform.  

The other big cost is in the infrastructure – where does the lower carbon power come from? That infrastructure CAPEX is unlikely to be supportable from one asset. It either needs a new big greenfield project in the area, a cluster of assets to align needs and investment decisions, or a third party ‘utility’ provider to come in with a different model.  We are starting to see moves in the UK – with projects such as ORION in Shetland looking to become energy hubs supplying offshore facilities with power from shore.  

The move to electrification is much more disruptive for facilities with large amounts of power delivered by direct drives. It’s equivalent to switching to an air-source heat-pump – you’d need to replace all the radiators and put in underfloor heating to get a system that worked well. For those facilities, electrification may be too disruptive if the extent of modifications is technically or economically unfeasible.  

So, what is the least disruptive way to reduce emissions from offshore power generation? Most facilities burn fuel gas for power, and the ‘nirvana’ solution would be to replace fuel gas with a zero emissions fuel. Similarly, if you could replace the oil you’re burning at home with a zero-emission fuel that can be stored and burned using the same equipment, that would be the ideal solution.  

The most impactful solution here is the use of alternative fuels. Hydrogen and ammonia are being considered for offshore fuelling and projects are looking at how these alternative fuels can be stored and used in existing facilities without replacing equipment. Like electrification, there is a big investment needed in the infrastructure to transport these fuels – but there is at least some potential to reuse existing pipelines. And, when it comes to hydrogen, there is a big push to demonstrate hydrogen production offshore, minimising transport costs, with several projects already underway.  

Another method to optimise your energy usage is by using available data to its full potential. A typical asset produces vast amounts of data, and our experience is that historically, much of it is siloed, with certain data only available to certain groups of people. Instead, we should make all data available to everyone using a common user interface.  

To understand where the bulk of emissions are coming from, production, maintenance and emissions teams must have access to all the data. If you haven’t done so already, you should automate your emissions calculators (stop using spreadsheets). This will allow you to visualise the data, preferably in real time, for prompt responses when required. Using the available technology to give your personnel the tools needed to identify and resolve issues quickly will also help identify efficiency and optimisation opportunities.  

Don’t try and reinvent the wheel as the chances are that someone else has had the same issues and a solution already exists. Data analysis and visualisation systems have been on the market for a while now. They are affordable and powerful and can pay for themselves multiple times over.  

With short-term plans already well underway and a clear vision of what the long-term looks like, the next challenge is joining the two to put medium-term plans in place. This stage is arguably the hardest of all as it will require a transformational change in how we as an industry work together, but the benefits are invaluable. 

Our advisory mindset integrates the diverse breadth of multi-disciplinary technical and commercial expertise across Xodus to advise governments, investment institutions, and owners, developers and operators across the energy sector. If you’d like to hear more about how we can help deliver a responsible energy future, get in touch at caragh.mcwhirr@xodusgroup.com or graeme.lees@xodusgroup.com .