“When it comes to the energy transition, one thing is clear: We are not going to switch off oil and gas from one day to the next. That’s why it is called a transition. It’s a process of moving towards renewables and in that, Ampelmann has a role to play.”
Jan van der Tempel is the CEO of Dutch offshore access provider Ampelmann, and he knows what it takes to work towards a more sustainable offshore industry. He’s not alone in that.
The beginning of 2020 marked an important milestone for the offshore industry, with sustainability officially becoming an integral part of marine operations. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) made the decision that, as of 1 January 2020, the marine sector would need to reduce sulphur emissions by close to 80% by switching to fuel oils with lower sulphur content.
This regulation aims to curb pollution and improve air quality worldwide, while setting the shipping industry on a greener path. It is not only up to individual companies to embrace sustainability anymore, but up to everyone to make that step together.
“The key is in changing the minds of the people who run the offshore assets,” says Van der Tempel. “It’s about changing operational procedures and cutting out the waste. For Ampelmann, this means reducing the energy consumption of our gangway systems so we can reduce the carbon footprint of every Walk to Work (W2W) operation we’re a part of.”
So how different are Offshore Wind and O&G really?
In short: very.
The long answer is a bit more nuanced. Offshore Wind often appears to be the opposite of the non-regenerative oil and gas (O&G) exploration business. Yet, that might not quite be the case. There is at least one industry segment where the two are benefitting from each other and that is the utilisation of W2W vessels for safely transferring people and cargo offshore.
The need for those two to work together was initially driven by the commercial pressure of dropping oil prices in 2014 on many construction vessel owners, looking to utilise their highly specialised vessels elsewhere. The offshore wind sector welcomed them with open arms as, for the first time, highly capable assets were affordable for the transfer and accommodation of personnel.
Joining forces was the right move then, just as it is today.
With oil prices sliding again due to the response of the global economy to COVID-19, getting offshore wind and O&G to work together is more than crucial. And while O&G is feeling the strain of low-price levels again, it is also under the pressure of changing public opinions with regards to sustainability.
Collaboration is a steady way forward. Sharing existing infrastructure as well as offshore services and expertise will improve not only the (cost-)efficiency, but also the overall environmental impact of offshore operations.
An age-old industry embracing sustainability, passing its knowledge on to offshore wind
Recent research by DNV GL found that the O&G industry has already set itself on a greener path and is moving towards more affordable and sustainable energy. About 60% of respondents said that their organisations are “actively adapting to a less carbon-intensive energy mix” as compared to 51% the year before. Many of those industry stakeholders are either reducing their emissions from O&G operations or investing in renewable energy.
Optimising processes and improving the efficiency of ongoing operations can also help O&G companies lower their environmental footprint.
In fact, Offshore Wind – while often considered the sustainable and more forward-looking of the two industries – can learn a fair bit about innovation from O&G. The speed, with which oil majors have shifted gears towards more sustainable practices, including the adoption of W2W, is proof that O&G has a key role to play in the energy transition.
“To stay the course, offshore wind needs to learn a lot about innovation from O&G,” says Van der Tempel. “Wind turbines are being built bigger and better, yet at its core, offshore wind is still rather conservative and inefficient when it comes to W2W operations. This is an area that it can improve on by drawing inspiration from the way O&G is utilising W2W to transfer people and cargo offshore.”
Haije Stigter, an expert on the subject of W2W, with years of experience working at Shell, agrees: “I expect that in the Netherlands, we are going to build a lot more offshore wind farms in the years to come. This is where I see an opportunity for Offshore Wind to learn from our experience in O&G.”
Reducing environmental footprint with W2W operations
One approach to achieving the necessary level of optimisation and cost-efficiency is by changing the way companies access their offshore assets.
Whether in Offshore Wind or O&G, “there will always be a need to get people to an offshore location to do work,” Stigter continues. “Data show that transporting one person offshore by helicopter for a year generates close to three times more CO2 emissions than when transported by a W2W vessel. Also, by transporting people by helicopter, you end up needing extra supply or standby vessels to support the operations.”
By using a complete W2W solution, companies can thus significantly reduce their carbon footprint per technician transferred. What’s more, it also allows for more functionality.
“By switching the industry to W2W or vessel-based interaction with platforms and turbines, we can include a lot more functionality on one ship,” says Van der Tempel. Ampelmann is doing that with its E1000 system, for example, which can safely transfer both people and cargo in rough sea conditions. “With the E1000, we remove the need for a second vessel or jack-up with a lot of CO2 emissions.”
Offshore access relies on collaboration
In order for the offshore (access) industry to grow on its path to sustainability, it needs to be built on collaboration among industry stakeholders.
“We help change the industry by going from helicopters to vessel-based access, and that’s all part of the transition that will take decades,” says Van der Tempel. “We want to build the right relationships with suppliers and go the extra 10 miles with our end clients. We want to be a partner, listening to their challenges and changing the entire logistical chain.”
Looking at the industry, there is plenty of potential to share infrastructure, resources and services across stakeholders and across market segments, from the installation of an offshore wind farm to the decommissioning of an O&G platform.
“I don’t see why we could not look at a collaborative environment where we can share services and work towards a common purpose or demand,” Stigter says.
In a world that is more interconnected than ever before, the need for deriving and consuming energy in an efficient and sustainable manner is becoming crucial. The sustainable production of energy, in particular, is key to driving the transition forward and that has an impact on the future of the offshore industry. Companies like Ampelmann are at the forefront of that development.
“In the energy transition, we want to be the leading partner for industry stakeholders,” says Van der Tempel, “and we want to help them change their mindset on being more efficient and sustainable.”
Jan van der Tempel has been an innovator in offshore energy since he started his career. He holds a PhD in design of support structures for offshore wind turbines and is the inventor, founder and CEO of Ampelmann. Since 2014, he has been focusing on two new developments. The Delft Offshore Turbine (DOT), a seawater pumping turbine, and DOB-Academy, a training institute for the offshore energy sector residing in the former library of TU Delft.
Haije Stigter is a seasoned energy sector professional and an expert on the subject of Walk to Work (W2W) with decades of experience in the offshore industry, having worked for Shell for many years. Today, he is Technical Director at Carbon Collectors, a subsidiary of Fizzy Transition Ventures, a young, ambitious, innovative company looking to bring the industry closer to a sustainable future and accelerate the energy transition.