Maximising the potential of the energy transition

Transitioning to a cleaner energy system will not be easy. The UK needs an integrated approach between all stakeholders to deliver net zero and develop a strong, sustainable and resilient economy in the process, writes Ralph Torr at Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult 

The UK has committed to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, with Scotland targeting the same by 2045. Similar targets exist across the world. In the UK, this will require the transformation of the energy system.

In the context of offshore wind, this includes the requirement to develop larger, more technically and commercially complex and highly integrated projects. In the oil and gas industries, it includes the requirement for organisations to not only decarbonise hydrocarbon operations, but also transform business models to take advantage of opportunities within the developing energy system. In doing so, what is now the oil and gas sector will be subsumed into a broader, more diverse, more integrated energy sector – as will the offshore wind sector.  

Offshore wind

Offshore wind, as a low-cost, low-carbon energy source, will be fundamental to delivering net-zero. The UK set ambitious targets for the deployment of 30GW of offshore wind by 2030, subsequently revised up to 40GW by 2030, with a minimum of 1GW being floating offshore wind. The latest guidance from the Climate Change Committee now proposes a target of 100GW by 2050, revised up from 75GW.

With just over 10GW of installed capacity today (installed during the past 20 years), the UK has not had to deal with some of technical and logistical challenges it will face from now until 2050. Currently, the vast majority of offshore wind projects are fixed-bottom and near to shore (typically between 10 and 50km). However, most offshore wind turbines deployed before 2050 will be far from the shore (more than 50km, and often more than 100km), with potentially more than 40% having floating foundations. A proportion will not be directly connected to the electrical grid, instead using green hydrogen and other energy vectors to store and transport low-carbon energy.

What is now the oil and gas sector will be subsumed into a broader, more diverse, more integrated energy sector – as will the offshore wind sector

Maximising the economic opportunity

While there are significant challenges for both the offshore wind and oil and gas sectors, there are also huge opportunities. The biggest opportunity for government and industry is to develop and deliver a net-zero energy system which maximises sustainable economic growth here in the UK.

To do this, an ‘industrial strategy’ approach is required, whereby a combination of policy, technology innovation and supply chain development are used to develop a vision for the future energy system, as well as the capability 
and technology to develop and deliver this. One of the key considerations when developing such an industrial strategy (in a regional context) is the existing capability, skills, and experience within that region, how these relate to the requirements of the developing industries, and how these might be effectively augmented through technology innovation support, infrastructure and the development of key supply chain capability.

A recent publication, Reimagining a Net Zero North Sea: An Integrated Energy Vision For 2050, sets out three different scenarios for how the energy transition might play out in the North Sea. This publication, from OGTC and ORE Catapult, identifies key areas of opportunity for industry, quantifies the benefits to government of investing in these areas and highlights the critical role of a coordinated industrial strategy approach in delivering these. In the UK context, and its advanced manufacturing, chemical engineering, oil and gas, marine engineering and offshore wind energy skills and experience, floating offshore wind and green hydrogen production stand out as areas of opportunity. Both are described as ‘critical’ to an economically prosperous energy transition in the UK, and offer significant economic opportunities internationally.

To ensure the UK can maximise the potential of the energy transition, ORE Catapult has established two industry leading programmes: the Energy Transition Alliance (ETA) and the Floating Offshore Wind Centre of Excellence (FOWCoE).  

Energy Transition Alliance  

Established initially through a collaboration agreement between ORE Catapult and OGTC, the energy transition alliance supports the transition of technologies, skills and expertise from oil and gas into a fully integrated net-zero energy system.

Launched in early 2020, it is already working on a range of relevant projects, including: looking at the electrification of offshore oil and gas assets; modular AC/DC power conversion for use offshore; design of floating offshore wind substructures for use in powering oil and gas assets; floating offshore wind supply chain requirements and how these map onto existing capacity and capability in the oil and gas industries; and offshore wind decommissioning. The ETA is currently building a portfolio of further relevant project activity and establishing formal partnerships with relevant industry and stakeholder organisations.

The biggest opportunity for government and industry is to develop and deliver a net-zero energy system which maximises sustainable economic growth here in the UK

Floating Offshore Wind Centre of Excellence

With less than 100MW installed today, the UK has set a target of at least 1GW of floating offshore wind by 2030. It is estimated that more than 40% of the 100GW of installed offshore wind capacity by 2050 could be floating. In 2019, to ensure the UK can maximise the industry’s potential, ORE Catapult established the FOWCoE.

This industry-led collaborative programme will accelerate the commercialisation of floating wind in the UK and internationally, support the delivery of a cost-effective net-zero, and drive industrial activity and economic growth in the UK, both by maximising UK content in UK projects and through the development of world-leading and internationally competitive products and services.

The FOWCoE has 13 industrial partners, which work with ORE Catapult to develop and deliver a range of relevant project activity. Partners include global energy companies Equinor, Total, EDF, RWE and Shell, UK utilities ScottishPower Renewables and SSE Renewables, and specialist renewable energy and offshore wind developers Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, OceanWinds, ESB, GIG/RIDG, Mainstream Renewable Power and Northland Power. Working across four workstreams, the FOWCoE is identifying and addressing barriers to commercialisation and exploiting opportunities for the floating offshore wind industry to reduce costs and accelerate deployment in the UK and internationally.  

An integrated approach is key

It is clear that the energy transition and our journey towards a low-carbon and highly integrated energy system is well under way, but we have much more to achieve in the next 30 years than we have in the past 20. Key to addressing the challenges, exploiting these opportunities and delivering this future energy system will be an equally integrated approach between industry, government and other relevant stakeholders. The ETA and FOWCoE are prime examples of the integrated approach we require to ensure our journey to net-zero is an economically prosperous one.

An integrated net-zero UKCS: supply chain opportunities

Offshore renewables

Dynamic cable systems for floating offshore wind farms; mooring and anchoring systems for floating offshore wind farms; assembly, commissioning and installation of floating offshore wind turbines; HVDC cables connecting floating wind farms to the shore; standardisation of floating foundation designs; operation, maintenance, monitoring and inspection of floating offshore wind turbines


Development of integrated desalination and electrolysis units to couple with offshore wind turbines for utility scale generation of green hydrogen; improve yield and CO2 capture efficiency of blue hydrogen reactors; development of hydrogen pipeline and storage facilities


Improve efficiency of capture technologies and CO2 conversion processes; scale-up and deployment of direct air capture

Oil and gas

Subsea cables and HV substations; retrofit gas turbines to run on ammonia-hydrogen blend; integration of offshore renewable energy with existing oil and gas assets to decarbonise offshore operations and provide additional revenue streams; design of subsea equipment that can be re-used and integrated with renewables

By Ralph Torr, Programme Manager, ORE Catapult