I mentioned to a colleague recently that we have been working with an oil and gas major in the offshore wind sector in connection with the Crown Estate’s Offshore Wind Leasing Round 4 – the process that will set the scene for large-scale renewable power generation off England and Wales for the next decade.
My colleague didn’t think this was as noteworthy as I did and I suppose they were right in so far as my clients are not the first from that sector to dip their toe into renewables – far from it.
Offshore wind developer Ørsted (formerly Danish Oil and Natural Gas) talks about transforming world energy systems from black to green, as it has done with its own business. Equinor (formerly Statoil) brought forward the successful Hywind Floating Offshore Wind Project off Peterhead.
So why does this wave of engagement by the oil giants feel like a step change? Probably because it signals the shift right across the industry, and not just by an enlightened few who lead the way.
There is vocal opposition within the renewables camp to even engaging with the oil and gas sector, arguing that developing offshore wind alongside North Sea oil platforms may allow operators to extend the life of their assets by offsetting emissions, so ‘legitimising’ the fossil fuel operation. We are in danger of conflating or confusing the message.
Renewables sector has 'much to gain'
On the other hand, we have still to see floating wind technology – which could prove another real game-changer for Scotland in terms of global exports – make that quantum leap from demonstration to full-scale commercial project. The indication now from Westminster is there may be some support for this but, in any event, the more floating wind technology deployed the better surely, irrespective of underlying motivation?
The renewables sector has much to gain in pursuing alliances with the oil and gas sector. Finding synergies across skills, supply chain development, and investment in port and harbour infrastructure can only help to deploy renewable energy at scale.
It has taken much longer than many of us hoped to deliver a critical mass of renewable power generation in this country, but I wonder if decarbonising our industries (oil and gas included) will happen faster than expected, now that public opinion is demanding more, sooner.
The Fraser of Allander Institute forecasts that to meet the government commitments to reach "net zero" greenhouse emissions, renewable energy generation will “likely have to quadruple in capacity”.
It adds that “many of the most difficult – and unpopular – decisions have yet to be taken” if we are to have any hope of meeting these targets. Surely opting in to the sharing of knowledge, skills, expertise and infrastructure of an already globally successful sector in our waters with another isn’t a “difficult” decision?
- Patricia Hawthorn is a partner at Shepherd and Wedderburn.