Coming out of lockdown is a bit like coming out of hibernation

By Neil Gordon, Subsea UK

Subsea UK’s Chief Executive Neil Gordon at Subsea Expo in 2020
Subsea UK’s Chief Executive Neil Gordon at Subsea Expo in 2020 (photo Subsea UK)

When the pandemic hit, we had no idea of what lay ahead. No one would have imagined that it would be 15 months or more before we emerged.

We entered lockdown with, what we thought, was a pretty clear idea of what the future might hold. There was, generally, a fairly linear path ahead.

Energy transition and the move to net zero clearly was a big part of that future: a future coloured by blue and green. The blue economy, which considers the future of our oceans and the resources within them and how we harness opportunities in a sensitive and sustainable way; and the green energy transition where we need to reconsider our approach and the supply chain’s position within that.

Journey to net-zero
But as we return to normality, there is greater urgency and a sense that things are really moving at pace. We have an energy policy with ambitious targets and a North Sea Transition Deal, COP26 just around the corner and a G7 summit where climate change was high on the agenda.

The awareness that we are on a journey to net-zero has never been higher. Oil and gas operators are looking at their core business and how they must change to become part of the green energy story, decarbonisation of offshore assets is a priority with tough penalties for those who don’t take action.

Supporting all these initiatives in the offshore arena is the subsea supply chain, a critical player in the energy transition, whose innovation, expertise, skills and knowledge are the foundations from which we will accelerate our energy transition.

This transition presents huge potential for the subsea supply chain. The UK is the world leader in energy production from offshore wind and the increasing focus on floating offshore wind, blows the scope of opportunities off the scale.

The government’s goal of 40 gigawatts in offshore wind generation by 2030 is a massive target. Combined with proposals for CCUS carbon capture and storage and energy from hydrogen, it’s clear the ambition to achieve net zero is no longer pie in the sky.

Armed with information
But within the plans for this exciting future, it’s important to remember that this is a transition and some of the projects that will contribute to this are fairly long-term so the value they bring to the supply chain will not be immediate.

There’s little doubt that it’s confusing. With so much going on, how do companies make the right decisions on how they are going to diversify and when?

Subsea UK’s role as an organisation representing the underwater sector is to ensure the supply chain is armed with the information and market intelligence that will help companies make the right decisions at the right time.

Understandably, government focus is on meeting the UK targets and building UK content into all the work that’s going on. The goal is to reach 60% UK content by 2030. At our recent Subsea Live conference UK Energy Minister, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, acknowledged that our underwater industry is a hugely important asset for the UK and will be critical in helping achieve those targets.

Global picture
But to continue to be successful, the underwater sector must look outwards and not just inwards in terms of UK content. The opportunities through the transition will come not just from meeting UK targets, but from looking at the much bigger global picture.

Support from government will be crucial in looking after the domestic market, but the real value to the UK’s economy will come from a vibrant underwater sector which can compete successfully on the world platform; agile enough to adapt technologies and skills enabling them to diversify into the emerging sectors, and innovative enough to develop new technologies and solutions to meet the needs of the future, faster and more successfully than anyone else.

We have developed world-leading expertise in oil and gas, but the challenge now is to successfully and competitively make our mark on these emerging sectors by winning business, exporting our expertise and technology, identifying world markets for renewable energies and attracting inward investment.

As Subsea UK undergoes its own transition into the Global Underwater Hub, we will become a much larger cross-industry body for all underwater sectors including oil and gas, offshore renewables, ocean science, defence and aquaculture.

Owned and governed by industry, supported with UK and Scottish Government funding, the additional resource and capability, will enable us to provide companies operating across all those sectors with the market intelligence and support they need to capitalise on the massive opportunities presented by the Blue Economy and the energy transition.

Our aim is to transform the UK’s GBP 8 billion underwater industry into one of the largest and fastest-growing industries in the country, generating significant additional revenues and creating high-value, sustainable jobs and exports.

And through doing that, we’ll be helping companies to take their place on the world stage where the global underwater industry is predicted to grow from GBP 50 billion to GBP 140 billion by 2035.

Oceans of opportunity indeed.

Neil Gordon is Subsea UK’s Chief Executive, with over 25 years’ management experience in director and business development roles, combined with over 15 years in the subsea industry.