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UTC Spotlight: Time out with programme committee members Benedicte Nordang and Jon Arve Sværen

Each year, A lot of thinking goes into the UTC programme. This year is certainly no different. There are many big questions the industry has to grapple with. Decarbonisation and energy transition is one of the biggest and it touches on almost everything we do as individuals and business leaders.

It’s a potential threat, if it draws talent, support and investment away from the oil and gas industry, which will still be needed for some decades yet. But it’s also a hugely exciting opportunity, including for subsea technology.

Subsea technology, the subsea factory and its building blocks, offer potentially the most low-carbon and cost-efficient production. It’s also a cross-over technology; advanced subsea technologies can keep the wheels of our economies turning and support new net zero initiatives, from subsea electrification and energy integration to CO₂ injection. Subsea very much has a role to play, as our conference theme suggests; UTC – proud enabler for a low-carbon future.

To achieve the best possible outcome, however, we need a balanced view. We need a mix of energies, political support and collaboration – across industry and different industries.  At UTC we went to reach a consensus, say programme committee members Benedicte Nordang and Jon Arve Sværen over an online coffee break.

Benedicte Nordang

Jon Arve Sværen

“We need to have a fact-based discussion, where we understand that we really need to collaborate, to co-operate, to co-exist,” says Benedicte, Project Manager, Equinor.

“We want to contribute to a balanced consensus,” says Jon Arve, Head of Business Strategy, OneSubsea. “We need consensus to provide predictability for the industry, for producers and service companies, so that they can attract the talent that they need and do the investment that is needed. This way we could have a balanced transition.”

The subsea industry has a good starting point. Energy efficient subsea processing technologies – compression, seabed separation and injection – developed to enable energy efficient increased recovery, are already reducing production operation emissions today. What’s more, these can also be used for offshore carbon capture and storage (CCS), including onboard a floating production platform, as we’ll hear in a paper from Petrobras during UTC, says Benedicte.

“We are starting to understand how important subsea technology is in the transition. We can do long tiebacks and even tiebacks to shore, powering subsea stations instead of platforms,” she says.

But here’s the first challenge; we need engineers to do that, to continue to produce the oil and gas we need, says Jon Arve. “A large amount of our energy is still going to be oil and gas for the next 50 years. That means the industry has a big role to play in the transition. This is a big challenge. The easy oil and gas is gone and we need to produce what is left in a low-carbon way, so we also need engineers, we need that talent and we need technology,” he says. “Here’s where people can really make a difference in a technical environment that’s not so different to working on the moon. It’s an exciting challenge where we can make a difference.”

The next challenge is having the political environment to continue investing in new technologies. “Some of the technology we already have today,” he adds. “But to invest in future solutions, energy companies, services companies and even the small suppliers need political predictability. Here in Norway, we are fortunate because we have had that political stability and predictability and there are good support arrangements in terms of financing new technology. But more will be needed in the future to make sure that this transition happens, with the right balance.”

“The political frameworks are very important,” agrees Benedicte. “Legislation and taxation drive the direction of the industry. In Norway, we have a CO₂ tax and that drives emissions reduction technologies. But we don’t have that in other countries, for instance in Brazil. Emitting CO₂ is for free in countries where there are not policies and legislation in place.

“Look at the UK and some of the projects that are happening there,” she adds. “It’s huge what they’re doing with the offshore wind farms and hydrogen projects, such as the Zero Carbon Humber project. There is government support, a guarantee that they will help to develop this and create stability and predictability. It might not be a high income, but it will be an income for the next 30 years. That attracts the companies to want to enter this industry.

“This is really important. Investing, is really important. But it is the same for the remaining oil and gas projects, which we will still need. We need to know that, yes, we can produce these projects if we produce them energy efficiently or take out most of the CO², that that’s the license to operate and we can see a future.”

We also need to challenge the either/or attitude to energy and where we get it from. “There’s no either/or,” says Jon Arve. “In terms of energy, we’re going to need a mix of many things and we need to have a balanced view of this, not the black and white thinking we have seen from some lobby groups. Such an approach could actually be detrimental to decarbonisation.”

The oil and gas industry needs to be part of this; it has the muscle to invest in and manage large decarbonization projects. “It takes an Equinor to invest in large floating offshore wind projects, like they’re doing,” says Jon Arve. “A start-up company can’t do this.”

It’s a complex landscape. “It’s important that we get the full picture; the outlook on energy transition, the wider European gas perspective, the political picture, the supplier’s picture and how we can shape this together,” says Benedicte.

That’s what UTC 2021’s keynote sessions aim to achieve. It’s not an easy challenge. “But if we can achieve a better understanding of what is really working and what makes sense to do, I think that will help us to move forward,” says Benedicte.

It’s also important that we pass on those messages to the next generation, to start-up companies, to the industry, as well the political actors so that we don’t lead them in the wrong direction, says Jon Arve. “It’s about reaching a consensus,” he says. “It’s also about being prepared for the changes we need to make as an industry in order to remain strong. Our goal at UTC 2021 is to contribute to this challenge, to strike that balance.”

Read the full UTC programme here https://www.utc.no/agenda/#utc-2021-day-1-2 and don’t forget to register! UTC 2021 is live through June 16-17.

UTC is co-organised by the Underwater Technology Foundation (UTF) and GCE Ocean Technology, supported by the City of Bergen. To register, visit our registration page. https://www.utc.no/registration/