The UK North Sea offshore industry can refashion itself as a net-zero “integrated energy system” that could create 200,000 new jobs and add £2.5 trillion ($3.22 trillion) to the nation’s economy by 2050 with substantial investment in new technologies, according to a new report from industry organisation Oil & Gas Technology Centre (OGTC).

The report, released on Wednesday, envisions a North Sea future that features closer links between the renewable energy and fossil fuel sectors and the deployment of new technologies such as hydrogen and long-term carbon storage to help the UK reach its ambitious emissions-reduction targets and increase its manufacturing capacity.

‘Integrated energy system’

The OGTC document, “Closing the Gap: Technology for a Net Zero North Sea”, says the “integrated vision” will require some £430 billion of new investment to develop and accelerate deployment of several crucial technologies, including oil and gas platform electrification, methane leak detection and flaring mitigation.

The report also calls for additional R&D in membrane technology and CO2 sorbents to further development of “blue” hydrogen made from natural gas, new electrolysis technologies to reduce the cost of producing “green” hydrogen from seawater, and further development of catalyst materials for hydrogen fuel cells.

“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,” said Colette Cohen, chief executive at OGTC.

The UK can leverage its strength in oil and gas “to become a leading manufacturer, designer, installer and operator of net-zero energy systems”, Cohen said.

Energy ecosystem changing

OGTC's technology roadmap - compiled by consultancy Wood Mackenzie with support from UK independent oil and gas operator Chrysaor and the Scottish government - also calls for larger fixed offshore wind turbines and blades, optimised and standardised floating wind designs, new tools to reduce the cost of carbon capture and storage, and power take-off solutions for marine renewables such as floating solar.

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

Forbes-Cable echoed the report’s emphasis on investment, noting for one example that hydrogen used for heating and fuel holds significant promise in reducing the nation’s carbon output “but production remains close to non-existent".

“There are key technology challenges to overcome before hydrogen can be deployed on a vast scale,” he said.

Job opportunities

If realised, the North Sea plan would create a diversified energy sector, create highly skilled jobs and open new export opportunities, said OGTC, but much hinges on greater exchange between the renewables and fossil fuels sectors.

“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,” the organisation said.

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.

Wheelhouse added: “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.”

OGTC pointed out that it is currently working with companies focused on reducing offshore carbon emissions and “is also forging a cross-sector alliance with the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult to deliver an integrated energy vision for the North Sea that will collaborate across renewables, upstream and downstream oil and gas, energy suppliers, government and the regulator”.