People and projects from around the PETROFAC world

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Fast forward 134 years, and today’s residents take – and indeed might now have – a very different view. If they look out to sea, they’ll be able to watch vessels heading out over the horizon to what will be Scotland’s largest and deepest offshore windfarm some 27 kilometres away. Once finished its 114 turbines will generate enough electricity to light up not only Marykirk high street but 1.6 million homes across Scotland - two thirds of the country’s homes.

Petrofac is a key partner in the Seagreen development, as it is known, an SSE Renewables and Total joint venture, winning the contract to design, supply and install the High Voltage Alternating Current (HVAC) substations both on- and off-shore.

The company has been quietly building an impressive track record in offshore wind transmission systems as it helps clients with the energy transition. Its engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) skills honed in the design and build of oil and gas plants in often challenging environments are proving highly transferrable.

As well as Seagreen, notable examples include BorWin3, building, transporting and installing one of the world’s largest and heaviest HVDC platforms (read how we transported the 18,500-tonne topside on its 12,000km journey from Dubai to the German North Sea here). And the engineering, procurement, construction and installation (EPCI) for the Hollandse Kust Zuid (HKZ) offshore grid connection for HVAC platforms [a note on HVDCvAC: as a rule of thumb, cabling longer than 50km makes Direct current (HVDC) more economic than Alternating current (HVAC), which uses transformers to adjust the voltage].





When Professor James Blyth installed the world's first electricity-generating wind turbine (a 10-metre high, cloth-sailed affair) in the garden of his house at Marykirk on the blustery east coast of Scotland, he found he was generating more than enough electricity for his needs. Yet when he offered to light the main street with the surplus, shocked townsfolk turned it down – electricity was, after all, ‘the work of the devil’


Most of the Petrofac-built ‘big yellow boxes’ – as the platforms are colloquially known – are destined for the narrow waters of the North Sea that separate the UK from Europe. This is very familiar territory for Petrofac, where we have been providing operations and maintenance (O&M) services to the oil and gas industry for decades. “It means Petrofac is perfectly positioned in every sense,” says Chris Avison, Director Business Development Offshore E&C for Petrofac. “We can service the world’s biggest windfarms from multiple locations - the O&M will be massive as the North Sea becomes a global windpower hub.”

Geography, ease of construction, licensing and economics have all played a part in why energy developers have favoured the North Sea, as well as water depth and wind consistency. There’s even a suggestion – in an early study by environmental consultancy Atmos - that changes to weather patterns caused by climate change are behind an increase in wind speeds particularly in the more southerly reaches of the North Sea.

“Europe in particular has taken up wind power in a big way because the North Sea waters are relatively shallow and farms can be built near shore,” explains Chris. “You can put turbines on a small tripod at relatively low cost. Over 50 metres deep and you’re looking at floating turbines, which are more expensive – and you can’t put the biggest turbines on a floating platform.”

And the turbines ARE big – and getting bigger. A development underway at Dogger Bank in the North Sea will be using the world’s largest turbines to generate electricity for more than 4.5 million homes in the UK. Each 13MW turbine will stand more than 260 metres tall - five times the height of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The GE-made turbine’s blades are longer than a football field and a single rotation can supply enough electricity to power a home for two days.

“We have incredible strength in engineering, construction and operations and maintenance, and understand offshore assets really well.”
Chris Avison

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Anne Haase, who joined the business earlier this year as Business Development Director, Operations & Maintenance for New Energy Services, is excited by the potential. “The Energy transition has real momentum at the moment,” she says. “We want to be seen as a competent and value adding partner in this space, a cradle-to-grave partner. We have proven EPC capability to deliver a full project from its earliest stages and manage the asset lifecycle through to decommissioning. Our primary focus is the UK, which has the largest set of assets in Europe, but the opportunity is global.”

Last year was a record year globally for new offshore wind installation. UK prime minister Boris Johnson has suggested that the UK could become “the Saudi Arabia for wind”, but China currently leads the way, followed by the UK and Germany. The Asia Pacific region is predicted by the Global Wind Energy Council to be in the vanguard of the next phase of growth – particularly once floating offshore comes of age.

Petrofac is doing industry-leading work here, alongside its big EPCI projects. “Core business is developing substations but we’ve done some exciting concept work for the next generation of floating substations,” says Chris. In the meantime however, with commercial-scale floating windpower still a few years away, the North Sea will continue to be at the forefront of the global energy transition, he believes. “In South East Asia they still have a lot of coal-fired stations. Their infrastructure can’t sustain a large influx of energy – they can’t easily get it to where it would be used. Vietnam, for example, has aspirations to install wind in the next decade but they don’t have the infrastructure on land to support and distribute it. The countries that border the North Sea don’t have these issues.”


More than 90% of oil and gas workers have medium to high skills transferability to the new energy sector, according to the UK Offshore Energy Workforce Transferability Review.

Over £170 billion is expected to be invested in capital and operating activities in the UK offshore energy sector. To meet the country’s target of producing 40 gigawatts of green energy from offshore wind by the end of the decade, 2,500 new offshore wind turbines will need to be installed – equivalent to one turbine installed every weekday for the next nine years.

The offshore energy sector could support around 200,000 jobs in the UK, either directly or indirectly, by 2030 - up from 160,000 today. Offshore wind is expected to be the biggest employer, accounting for 45% of the workforce, closely followed by oil and gas with 35%.

Close to a million new jobs are expected to be generated in offshore wind over the next decade. And the skills and experience of Petrofac’s employees in the oil and gas industry are already proving highly transferrable to these new roles.

“We have incredible strength in engineering, construction and operations and maintenance, and we understand offshore assets really well,” says Anne. “There’s a different safety risk profile - electrocution, crew transfer and working at heights are all key risks – but our technical, engineering and safety management skills are absolutely applicable.”

Water, Sky, Horizon

“Windpower could be as big as oil and gas for us – and within 10 years.”
Anne Haase

Wind farm, Sky, Windmill, Daytime, Photograph, Ecoregion, Light, Nature, Infrastructure

Windpower has come a long way since Professor Blyth first demonstrated its potential to an unimpressed public in 1887. Indeed it wasn’t until 1951 that the UK built its next wind turbine, as it was thought to be an uneconomic way to generate electricity. The economics look very different today.

“Offshore wind is a huge opportunity for Petrofac,” says Chris. Petrofac is targeting US$1bn by the middle of the decade from new energy, of which offshore wind is expected to be a substantial part.

Anne agrees. “We’ve undersold what we can do so far: we have a structural and predictive maintenance capability that’s second to none. We can look at assets from an owner’s perspective, and right-size the O&M strategy to fit.

“Windpower could be as big as oil and gas for us – and within 10 years.”

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