Offshore renewables: Scotland and Norway’s shared North Sea history will pave the way for future energy generation – Sian Lloyd-Rees

Scotland and Norway may be divided by 500 miles of wild and unpredictable North Sea, but the countries have a shared relationship that has endured over hundreds of years – and continues to reinvent itself through the ages.
Floating wind turbines can be installed in deep water, far from the coast, and make massive contributions to the energy grid (Picture: Sebastien Salom Gomis/AFP via Getty Images)Floating wind turbines can be installed in deep water, far from the coast, and make massive contributions to the energy grid (Picture: Sebastien Salom Gomis/AFP via Getty Images)
Floating wind turbines can be installed in deep water, far from the coast, and make massive contributions to the energy grid (Picture: Sebastien Salom Gomis/AFP via Getty Images)

Joint ventures and successful working arrangements have benefited both countries; from shipbuilding to fisheries, it is little wonder that Scots and Norwegians feel such strong social, cultural, and economic ties.

And now there is a new chapter on the verge of being opened which will not just provide a boost for the two countries but could lead the charge in addressing a global crisis.

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The ScotWind process – the first round of offshore wind leasing in Scottish waters for a decade – will see more than a dozen offshore windfarms constructed around Scotland’s coastline and will revolutionise energy production at home and abroad. Crown Estate Scotland will spend the next months assessing the many bids which have been lodged before announcing a way forward.

For our part, we believe the special relationship between Scotland and Norway will be key to making a success of this exciting development.

That relationship already exists in many fields, particularly in oil and gas, with a proud history of shared innovation. Now it can extend to renewable energy technology.

The Scottish public are already very familiar with the importance of renewable energy, and the important role of wind turbines. But the coming revolution is not about constructing wind turbines on hillsides, nor close to shore from the water’s surface down into the seabed.

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It is about the latest advent in technology – floating offshore wind. Today, about 80 per cent of the world’s wind resources are in waters deeper than 60 meters and thus unsuitable for bottom-fixed foundations.

This allows powerful turbines to make massive contributions to the energy grid, with the infrastructure based away from the coastline in deep water, which permits for larger installations that float on specially constructed bases.

At the Aker group of companies, headquartered in Norway, we have been instrumental in the design and deployment of more than half of all semi-submersible offshore installations globally, including oil platforms – many from our Aberdeen base over the past 40 years – and we can now take that approach to position Scotland as an engineering world leader, just as it has been for centuries.

By blending Scotland’s natural deep-sea resources with Norway’s expertise in cutting-edge energy generation, there is a recipe for success in the making. Megawatt after megawatt can be generated with minimal disruption to the public, even re-using existing North Sea infrastructure in a potential wind-to-hydrogen future, which is not an argument that many energy production practices can make.

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This new energy source is going to power our lives on a previously unimaginable scale.

Now is the time to act on the climate crisis and find long-term solutions to our energy needs. Direct action is needed on excessive carbon emissions and that is precisely why the ScotWind process is so badly needed – it will thrust Scotland to the forefront of the race to zero carbon emissions and show the rest of the world how it can be achieved.

Without action, the continuing damage endured by our planet will bring health and financial crises of their own, many of which will be more severe and impossible to reverse or mitigate.

Even in the last few weeks, we have seen adverse weather events in places that previously perhaps thought they were safe from the effects of climate change.

And that devastation and loss of life will continue and intensify if swift action is not taken.

With the world’s most powerful leaders due to gather in Glasgow in November for the UN’s Cop26 climate summit, there has never been a better opportunity for Scotland to showcase its natural credentials and demonstrate how we can achieve net zero.

Given the country’s historic reputation for leading the way, from the Enlightenment onwards, the rest of the world can follow in our footsteps.

In Scotland, we can be immensely proud to have such clean and sustainable energy generation available on our doorstep, yet there is even more to be gained from the floating offshore windfarm revolution. Thousands of local jobs in Scotland can be created in the manufacturing and maintenance of infrastructure to connect offshore development with the energy grid which gets power into people’s homes and places of work.

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The supply chains and work to construct these links will be extensive and long-term, providing employment opportunities for people from every part of the nation, with skills in a range of disciplines. Let us not forget the more than 150,000 who are employed in the Scottish North Sea oil and gas industry who will be looking to the future wondering what the next stage in energy production is and what job opportunities will be available.

For decades, the majestic and expansive North Sea has been a fantastic resource for the people of Scotland as it has for Norway too. From sailors setting off from coastal towns and villages through the ages, to helicopters departing for the oil platforms in more recent times, the trends and behaviour of these communities have been much the same.

It is now time to move again to the next stage of this symmetry as the generation of energy advances. Both countries have the people who know how to get the best from this expanse of water, and thousands of professionals and businesses are prepared for the great transition.

The revolution in floating offshore windfarms is upon us, and there are no better partners to entrust with its future than these two seafaring, pioneering and successful countries.

Sian Lloyd-Rees is managing director of Aker Offshore Wind UK

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