Equinor chief executive Anders Opedal wants to transform the Norwegian continental shelf from an oil and gas province into an energy hub for the whole of Europe, through massive offshore wind projects and a hydrogen export pipeline.

The recent report by the International Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) was a bombshell for current climate research.

However, the IPCC said there is still time for the world to reach its climate goals, agreed in the run up to the Paris 2016 agreement, though massive investments in renewable energy, hydrogen and carbon capture and storage will be required.

Opedal told Upstream in an exclusive interview that Equinor wants to play a major role in supplying Europe with offshore wind, hydrogen and services within carbon capture.

“We are currently considering how we can transform the Norwegian continental shelf from an oil and gas region to an energy hub,” he told Upstream on the sidelines of Arendalsuka, an annual gathering of leading Norwegian politicians and businesspeople.

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Offshore wind

Equinor wants to produce as much as 10 terawatt hours a year of wind power offshore Norway, which represents about 8% of Norway’s total energy production.

This is "a sufficient amount of power" to supply all oil and gas facilities on the Norwegian continental shelf with power, Opedal said.

He added that Equinor plans to build three to five hydrogen regions in Europe, to help the European steel and cement industries in decarbonisation.

One of the possibilities is to build a 10 billion cubic metres per annum capacity pipeline to the continent, he said.

The hydrogen would be produced from natural gas — so-called blue hydrogen — in one or more large facilities with carbon capture and infrastructure for storage at the Northern Lights carbon storage site near the Troll field in the North Sea, where Equinor is partnered by Anglo-Dutch supermajor Shell and France's TotalEnergies.

Blue hydrogen has been criticised for not being 100% carbon free, as highlighted in a recent report by Cornell University in Ithaca, New York about its climate footprint.

However, Opedal said that methane emissions are several times lower in Norway than the Cornell researchers used in their calculations for the report and highlighted that carbon capture has also much higher efficiency. He stressed that the world’s climate goals can only be met through a combination of blue and green hydrogen.

The proposed hydrogen pipeline will require the Norwegian authorities, industry and society to uphold its long-term reliance on natural gas.

“We currently have sufficient gas reserves to supply hydrogen for a 10 Bcm pipeline but we [will] need to find more in order to expand,” he said.

Equinor and Norway's gas system operator Gassco are currently inviting major industrial players to participate in a joint industry project to study the potential for a huge blue hydrogen export pipeline from Norway to continental Europe.

Blue hydrogen is created by splitting natural gas into hydrogen and carbon dioxide and includes carbon capture and storage.

Equinor’s vice president for business development for CCS and hydrogen, Steinar Eikaas, told Upstream that any such pipeline would have to be very large in order for it to make commercial sense.

“A potential new hydrogen pipeline from Norway to (the European Union bloc) would be able to transport between 50 and 100 terawatt hours of hydrogen annually and could be operational in the early part of 2030s,” he said.

By comparison, the entire electricity consumption of the Netherlands was 114 TWh in 2019, according to Enerdata.