Wanted: Ideas to save North Sea industry

A contest to find the 'game changing' technology needed to transform the North Sea oil and gas industry is on - with oil and gas companies not invited to take part.

Leaders of the North Sea oil and gas industry say the sector must embrace new innovation as a matter of urgency.

Innovate UK, which funds and supports new businesses on behalf of the UK government, is looking to experts in gaming, IT, virtual reality and digital for the “radical” solutions required for the under-pressure industry.

Derek Allen, lead technologist on the technology strategy board at Innovate UK, said energy companies had been “excluded” from the Energy Game Changer competition.

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He said: “We basically want companies, SMEs in particular, from outside the energy sector to address these challenges.

Derek Allen, lead technologist at Innovate UK

“If we limit it to the energy sector we will keep getting the same solutions that don’t really solve the problems.

“We are after disruptive technologies. We are not after step change solutions here but something that is really game changing, something that is going to save the industry hundreds of millions of pounds.”

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Mr Allen said the oil and gas industry faced “massive” challenges in areas such as decommissioning defunct North Sea platforms with the nuclear sector facing similar problems.

Derek Allen, lead technologist at Innovate UK

He said it was hoped that solutions could have “commonality” and apply to both sectors.

Those who win the contest could collect up to £100,000 to take their project forward, with oil and gas companies agreeing to mentor projects in some cases.

Mr Allen added: “Its amazing the ideas that SMEs from areas such as gaming, ICT industries, virtual reality and digital have. These come looking at these challenges that we have articulated at a very high level,

The Energy Game Changer has three different categories which companies can enter their projects.

The first is how to improve inspections without the need to send humans to do high, risk work, the second is about making data smarter and the third is how to engage energy users to drive down energy use and reduce their bills.

Mr Allen added there had been a lot of support from the Big Six energy companies for change - as well as the oil and gas sector.

Last week, the ITF Technology Showcase and conference in Aberdeen heard from Colette Cohen, senior vice president of Centrica, that the oil and gas industry must be ready to “steal” tried and tested innovation from other sectors.

Mr Allen said he believed the North Sea industry was ready for change.

He added: “It really needs gamechanging technologies and the oil price is dictating that costs have got to come down.

“You could argue that oil and gas should have been doing this 10 years ago when the price was $100 a barrel.

“That is when you should be investing in innovation for the next generation.

“The fact is now the price is low, they are getting it, they are going to have to collaborate. There is a lot of focus from technology transfers from other sectors as well so its about learning about what the automotive guys have done, what aerospace has done, where they can collaborate on non IP (intellectual property) stuff, such as safety issues. That’s a generic problem, why do they need to compete?”

The first pitches to the Innovate UK panel will be made in early May.

Mike Tholen, Oil & Gas UK’s economics director, said: “The industry welcomes the Energy Game Changer competition as an effective catalyst to help the development of new solutions to maximise economic recovery from the UK Continental Shelf.

“Billions of barrels of oil and gas remain to be extracted and the pioneering technologies promoted by the competition, which brings in fresh thinking from innovative SMEs, have the potential to contribute significantly to current industry efforts aimed at operating competitively in a low oil price world.”