PESGB Evening Lecture: May 2021

Speaker: Dave Quirk - Energy and Sustainability Centre, Isle of Man. Topic: What do Net Zero Carbon Commitments Mean for the North Sea?


11th May 2021

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Speaker: Dave Quirk – Energy and Sustainability Centre, Isle of Man

Topic: What do Net Zero Carbon Commitments Mean for the North Sea Basin?

Dave Quirk1, Jon Gluyas2, John Underhill3, Hamish Wilson4

1Energy and Sustainability Centre Isle of Man

2Durham Energy Institute

3Heriot-Watt University

4Blu Energy

These are challenging times for the petroleum industry and more uncertainty is to come as countries reduce their dependence on fossil fuels over the next 25-40 years.  In total, the North Sea Basin’s petroleum production has accounted for 40 Gt carbon dioxide or nearly 3% of all anthropogenic carbon emissions to date.  Government pledges to mitigate climate change raises the question whether the North Sea can now play a leading role in the transition to a sustainable, low carbon economy, integrated with other efforts.

Currently 18% of power used in the UK, Norway, Denmark and Netherlands (UKNODKNL) comes from renewable sources but these countries will have to significantly increase their efforts to reach net zero carbon emissions.  The North Sea region, which covers 500,000 km2, can address two of the main issues with renewable energy sources: the large areas required and the costs of building infrastructure.  This presentation aims to show where energy companies with a skilled workforce can seek new business in the energy transition.

A vision of a rejuvenated North Sea Basin involves the following elements.

  • Electricity hubs built around decommissioned platforms, collecting power from floating wind farms and transmitting the electricity via high voltage DC cables to:
    • onshore consumers directly;
    • pumped hydro-storage schemes through cross-border interconnectors.
  • Hydrogen gas hubs around producing or decommissioned platforms to supply:
    • ‘blue’ hydrogen from methane reformation, with sub-surface disposal of co-generated carbon dioxide;
    • ‘green’ hydrogen from electrolysis using surplus power from nearby wind farms.

The hydrogen will be produced from modular units and transported at relatively low pressure via recommissioned pipelines, both to shore and to salt caverns or sub-salt reservoirs for temporary storage.

  • Repurposed platforms to:
    • dispose of carbon dioxide in depleted oil and gas reservoirs, possibly also utilizing the process to store energy;
    • produce power from solar arrays and possibly from wave and geothermal energy;
    • possibly cultivate and harvest sustainable marine biomass such as seaweed, fish and shellfish.
  • Floating barrages and islands to:
    • generate renewable power from wind, solar, tidal and wave energies;
    • possibly produce seaweed-derived bio-fuels.

An integrated energy system could significantly reduce UKNODKNL’s direct annual emissions which currently amount to 570 Mt carbon dioxide per annum.  Nonetheless, anything up to 33% of the surface area of the North Sea may be required, predominantly for wind farms, both fixed and floating; and the capital costs are at the multi-trillion pound level.

Some technologies are distinctly uneconomic based on current costs.  The viability of large-scale carbon capture and storage in offshore reservoirs is particularly challenged, at least in the absence of an appropriate carbon price (high taxes).  Carbon sequestration using biomass is not a panacea because of the vast areas needed, whether offshore or onshore.  Therefore, for countries to achieve their targets on emissions, the implication is that significant financial support will be needed for the sub-surface disposal of waste carbon dioxide, otherwise a wholesale move away from petroleum must occur.

By considering different scenarios, we will show that it is vital for governments, academia and industry to work together to 1) develop realistic plans to meet national climate commitments; 2) optimize the future value of the North Sea within these plans.



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