A sustainable energy system can be achieved more quickly if the existing oil and gas infrastructure in the North Sea, some of it already written off, is combined with existing and new wind parks.

In this way the North Sea can play an important role as an accelerator of the energy transition. The reuse of existing pipelines, platforms and empty gas reservoirs for the capture and storage of CO2, and the production and buffering of energy carriers like hydrogen forms the core of the approach. As well as the gain in terms of accelerating the possibilities for transition, this plan saves the high costs of dismantling the oil and gas infrastructure in the North Sea .

This is evident from the Dutch White Paper ‘Offshore system integration as transition accelerator in the North Sea’.

In this document, TNO experts outline how the infrastructure in the North Sea can bring us closer to a renewable energy system. It requires a smart coupling between offshore wind parks and the present oil and gas infrastructure. The first decisions to get such systems operational will be required in the very near future.

Not only to attain the climate objectives, but also bearing in mind the rapidly approaching decommissioning of oil and gas infrastructure in the North Sea.

Integrated approach

A large part of our natural gas still comes from offshore platforms in the North Sea. But this production is continually in decline due to the emptying of gas fields, a low gas price and rising operational costs. At the same time, offshore wind is emerging strongly. This offers opportunities to use the extensive offshore infrastructure for the extraction of oil and gas in the transition to renewable energy sources such as offshore wind.

TNO is arguing for an integrated approach in which energy production, food production (fisheries) and the conservation of nature are viewed as a coherent whole. System integration means combining these functions so that they reinforce one another, and together save space and expense.

The offshore production of wind energy is developing rapidly. In 2023 five large wind parks, each with a capacity of 700 MW, will be supplying a total capacity of 4.5 GW. In the latest plans, the cabinet is aiming for an installed capacity of 11.5 GW in 2030. The end of offshore gas production is anticipated to occur between 2030 and 2050. This would imply that over the coming years 156 platforms, 3,000 km pipelines and 700 wells should be dismantled and cleared away. The cost of this is estimated to be just under four billion euros.

The most significant opportunities for system integration that can accelerate the energy transition are:
• the production of green hydrogen on existing platforms and transport through existing pipelines
• the storage of green hydrogen in existing fields and pipelines
• CO2 transport and storage in existing fields.

In addition, the development of offshore wind must be accelerated such that enough electricity becomes available for conversion to green hydrogen in order that the necessary storage capacity is created.

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