Interview: Statoil’s Stephen Bull on floating wind


August 22, 2016

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Norwegian utility Statoil has been pushing ahead with some big offshore projects in the last year.

In April, it bought a 50% stake in the 385MW Arkona scheme in
the German North Sea, which is set to require total investment of €1.2bn. Construction on Arkona started last week.

The utility is also due to start turbine installation at the 402MW Dudgeon in UK waters in early 2017; and is in the running to develop the 600MW Kriegers Flak scheme off the coast of Denmark.

But arguably its most interesting offshore project right now is one of its smallest: the 30MW five-turbine Hywind 2 off the east coast of Scotland. The project is also known as Buchan Deep. Yes, it is small, but it also positions Statoil as one of the leaders in the evolution of floating turbine technology.

This scheme gives an indication of how those in the offshore wind sector could work more closely with those working in oil and gas; and help offshore grow globally. We spoke to Stephen Bull, senior vice president in Statoil’s wind and carbon capture & storage division, who explained where Hywind 2 fitted into its strategy.

Bull is a relative newcomer to the wind industry, having taken up this role in 2014, but has a long track record of working in different parts of the energy sector following two decades at Statoil and Norsk Hydro. His most recent role was heading Statoil’s shale gas arm. He says floating wind can complement other energy sources.

Hywind 2 is the follow-up to the Hywind floating demonstrator off the coast of Norway, in which Statoil has been investing since 2009. Bull says Statoil first saw the potential in floating turbines
as decentralised power for oil and gas platforms, but that this approach would only make sense in Norway because of the nation’s carbon tax. However, he says that floating turbines could help cut emissions from diesel-powered drilling rigs.

He says: “There are hundreds of platforms all over the world that burn incredible amounts of diesel to produce power for drilling and general production. Wind can easily outcompete that so, looking in our portfolio of oil and gas, there are interesting initiatives where we could provide clean energy for certain business segments.”

Statoil has an ambition that floating offshore turbines should be competitive with their fixed counterparts by 2030. This would help support the rollout of floating projects off the US west coast; in Asian countries including Japan, South Korea and Taiwan; and in some emerging European markets such as France.

In fact, such schemes would only be developed if floating turbines make sense as an investment proposition.

This is a topic over which speakers including former Siemens chief technology officer Henrik Stiesdal expressed concerns in a session at the EWEA conference in Paris last November. Stiesdal said firms needed to cut the cost of floating foundations by looking at ideas including off-site manufacturing and standardised designs.

Bull says he is confident that floating turbines will be able to compete with their fixed counterparts because of investment in research across the offshore wind sector.

He says: “Any benefit that fixed bottom gets migrates across to the floating side. The only difference is with the foundations,” and adds that Hywind 2 uses less steel than it would for jackets and monopoles in conventional fixed schemes. As the technology develops then this should result in a good business case.

The other interesting aspect of Hywind 2 is the associated battery storage scheme Batwind. Statoil signed a deal with the Scottish government, the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult and Scottish Enterprise in March to develop a pilot scheme to help develop battery storage for the wind sector, including offshore.

The Batwind project involves installing a substation in Peterhead in Scotland and a 1MWh lithium battery-based system in 2018. This will enable Statoil and its partners to test four different sets of algorithms and power management systems, to work out which is the most effective way of integrating battery storage into offshore wind farms. If this is successful then it would help to further reduce the levelized cost of energy.

And it is an ‘if’. There is a long way to go if floating turbines and wind-with-storage are to become serious commercial propositions. But, if they are to do so, the support and investment from companies such as Statoil will play a hugely important role.

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