Equinor’s Stephen Bull on innovation in floating wind, new market opportunities and the future of RenewableUK
Stephen Bull is SVP of Wind and Low Carbon Development at Equinor, the largest energy operator in Norway. The utility develops oil, gas, wind, solar and CO2 projects in more than 30 countries worldwide. We caught up with him to hear about the firm’s plans, the future of European markets, and how Brexit might impact wind.
Stephen was a guest speaker at Financing Wind Europe 2018. For details of Financing Wind Europe 2019, visit our conference site.
Equinor is the developer and operator of Hywind Scotland, the world’s first commercial floating wind farm. What’s next for floating wind?
Amongst many other leads, we are currently developing a concept for Hywind around oil and gas installations. This is part of our wider strategy to reduce 3million tonnes of CO2 emissions in our Norwegian offshore oil and gas business. By applying renewable energy to our offshore platforms we can save costs, carbon and add innovation to the Hywind floating wind concept.
Where will that project be based?
It’s off the coast of Norway, in the North Sea, linked to the Snorre and Gullfaks platforms. Each of the 11 turbines has an 8MW capacity. It’ll be an island system, integrated with gas generators as a back-up, and fully integrated into the operations of the platform – which requires power for drilling and operations. In total, we can offset about 200,000 tonnes of CO2 per year, equivalent to the emissions of 100,000 cars.
Where in the world do you see the most interesting opportunities for floating wind?
We firmly believe the UK has strong possibilities, with Scotland being a natural place for this because of its deeper waters and supply chain. Additionally, France is opening up and we will see some new tenders coming soon. Norway has shown stronger interest recently, particularly to support innovation within offshore, though mostly linked to oil and gas.
In terms of big-scale markets for us, first and foremost we’re looking at Japan – we’re opening our Tokyo office this week. We have a clear long-term intention of developing offshore wind there, with most potential within floating wind, due to the water depths and characteristics of the country. In addition, there’s other opportunities in Asia – South Korea is beginning to open up; and in the US, California presents some big opportunities, particularly with its recent zero-carbon electricity target.
Do you think the UK will remain a leader in offshore wind after Brexit?
Definitely. The UK has such fantastic geological conditions for offshore wind – obviously, it’s windy, it’s an island with over 11,000 miles of coastline with ostensibly shallow water. Just 3% of the UK’s seabed is utilised by offshore wind today, so there is a huge upside, for what is now an extremely cost-competitive technology.
Regardless of Brexit, the clear direction of travel in the UK is towards decarbonisation. Ten years ago, the Climate Change Act set the course for this and we see continued support across all parties. Plus, the UK is a great place to try out new technology and business models. We chose the UK to test out new battery energy storage concept, called Batwind, because the UK regulatory authorities are very solution-oriented and open – so it will remain a great place to pursue innovation during the energy transition.
You’re the chairman of RenewableUK as well. Can you tell us what they’re doing to promote offshore in the UK?
RenewableUK (RUK) is the UK’s largest renewable interest organisation. What’s unique about us is that the bulk of our members are part of the supply chain – smaller to larger companies up and down the UK who are involved in all aspects of onshore wind, offshore wind and wave and tidal. The majority of our membership is reflecting the strong growth in offshore wind, and that’s the great legitimacy the organisation. We can speak on behalf of the real breadth of the UK’s renewables industry and we are in touch with the fantastic innovation and investments going on here.
RUK has been instrumental in achieving a clear framework for future offshore wind auctions announced by the government, with a clear pathway to double offshore wind capacity. RUK is at the crossroads of being part of the mainstream, simply reflecting the UK’s energy mix. Our members are investing in smart, flexible systems which will deliver power to consumers in the decades ahead, so as well as helping them on technology-specific issues, we are increasingly looking at how to help them build the system of the future.
Tell us about the rebrand from Statoil to Equinor.
The name change came in May 2018 and was driven by our CEO Eldar Sætre, reflecting a clear vision for shaping the future of energy in the company. It’s the culmination of several years’ thought.
Over three years ago, we established our division, New Energy Solutions, with a clear direction to grow within offshore wind, solar and develop new opportunities within carbon capture and storage. But the name change also reflects our strategy to develop lower carbon-intensive oil and a lot more gas in the portfolio. The name Statoil served us well for the past 47 years, but perhaps doesn’t quite reflect where we see the company in another half century, where we see incredible opportunities in the ensuing energy transition.
Stephen was a guest speaker at Financing Wind Europe 2018 - for more details and to find out about our 2019 events, click below.