But shifting away from oil and gas, for decades a mainstay of the country’s economy, is only a part of that journey. Advances in green energy infrastructure are vital to drive the transition to renewable energy, say GAC Group leaders.
Norway is ahead of the game in terms of alternative energy development. Already, 98% of all electricity produced in the North European country comes from renewable sources with hydropower responsible for the lion’s share (88.2% in 2022).
Wind power contributed another 10% and in the last decade has been growing in importance for Norwegian power production.
The country’s long-term ambition is to become a global hub of offshore wind power, which is seen as an area of significant potential growth to help meet European demand for energy, and has now announced plans to expand its infrastructure to develop 30GW of offshore wind capacity by 2040, doubling the country’s current total.
As wind turbine technology becomes more advanced, investors are increasingly turing their attention towards it. According to offshore wind consortium Brigg Vind partners, Norway’s commercial offshore wind capacity could surpass 50GW by 2050.
In May last year, prime minister Jonas Gahr Støre declared that significant offshore expansion was needed, with an eye-watering 1,500 offshore wind turbines installed and operating off the country’s coast to achieve its 2040 ambitions.
Response to criticism
Despite the country’s commitment to renewable power, Norway has been a major exporter of oil and gas to the rest of Europe for decades, and has now supplanted Russia as largest supplier of gas to the European Union.
In the face of criticism from climate activists, Norway is responding by using its established advantages to support the global shift to greener energy.
Active investigations into newer, more efficient forms of renewable energy is now being undertaken to address the limitations of fixed turbines.
One of those limitations is environmental. A project with green considerations at its heart can not ignore the fact that certain wind projects can lead to ecological damage with the large concrete bases or piles installed on the seabed. These projects are also not one-size-fits-all, as some countries are not suited for near-shore projects.
In Norway in recent years, precedence has been given to floating wind farms. Not only are they less damaging to the environment, they can also be deployed in deeper waters, where fixed-bottom platforms may not be feasible.
Despite Norway’s ambitious green plans, proliferating newer, more advanced wind farms is a challenge.
One of the bodies tackling the task is the Marine Energy Test Centre (METCentre). Founded in 2009, it is a world-leading North Sea centre for testing new marine renewable energy technologies such as floating wind power, solar energy and wave energy under various conditions.
The centre is home to a number of innovative offshore development projects. Equinor installed the world’s very first floating wind turbine Hywind Demo here in 2009, Google Makani was tested in 2019, TetraSpar Demonstrator was installed in 2021 and the demonstration of the first 10+MW floating concept (Flagship) is in the planning. Its test area for floating offshore wind is 10km offshore, close to the recently released Utsira Nord field.
Such efforts are indicative of the ongoing national drive to strengthen Norway’s leading position in offshore energy and deepen its understanding of the importance from logistics planning to installation and maintenance.
“This is an exciting time for offshore development and players across the industry are eager to take part in the next big advance in green energy,” said Mikael Rodseth, general manager at GAC Norway. “The Norwegian coast is renowned for its high winds and deep water, which make it the ideal location to put developing systems to the test at the METCentre before being deployed on a larger scale.”
Heine Novda, GAC Norway’s business development manager, added: “GAC Norway was an early member of Norwegian Offshore Wind, a specialised cluster of leading supply chain companies and developers for floating wind in the country. As such, we have been involved in pre-construction surveys and installation of offshore wind turbines at the METCentre.”
Norway opened its first offshore wind tenders in March this year for two areas on the Norwegian continental shelf, Sørlige Nordsjø II and Utsira Nord. Plans for the next round of licensing are poised to take place in 2025.
However, there are difficulties linked to adopting these new technologies. Delays in impact assessments and licensing from the Norwegian government have raised eyebrows regarding the commercial feasibility of offshore wind in the country’s general energy supply.
The potential for antagonism and fierce competition with other EU states with established renewable power infrastructure is rising as Norway seeks to transition from a major fossil fuel exporter to a green energy hub.
EU members like Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany and the Netherlands, as well as the United Kingdom, are expanding their offshore wind farm development in the North Sea. Grid solutions such as hybrid offshore wind farms and energy islands are under way as testament to the continent’s aspiration for green power.
Reliability amid adversity
The road to green power requires an array of support services beyond the construction and maintenance of wind farms.
An entire logistics network is needed to support the mobilisation and demobilisation of offshore support vessels for such projects, including the acquisition of necessary licences from government agencies, assistance with procurement and ship spares services, and facilitation of crew changes.
GAC Norway has a long history working in the country’s oil and gas sector. According to Mikael Rodseth, although the output may be greener, the demands of renewable energy projects are in line with those of fossil fuels.
“Energy remains at the forefront of Norway’s offshore sector,” he said. “Services supporting energy projects remain the same, whether for oil and gas or renewables. For Norway to realise its vision of being a green energy provider for Europe, it needs to build local knowledge and infrastructure to support that goal.
“The same applies for third-party support service providers like ourselves. GAC is committed to strengthening our expertise and experience to support the growing number of offshore wind farm projects in the coming years.”
However, the development of offshore wind farm projects is still feeling the impact of supply chain headaches, inflationary challenges and, to a degree, knock-on effects from Covid-19.
GAC Norway will draw on its previous experience to support offshore wind farm development as it tackles those challenges.
“Travel restrictions and office closures during the pandemic forced us to become more flexible in the face of changing regulations. At one point, we were facing about 100 changes to crew regulations. Ensuring that all personnel involved were vaccinated, tested, and taken care of, as well ensuring that all the paperwork was in order, became part and parcel of our work,” business development manager Heine Novda said.
Long-term experience in the energy sector equates to reliability.
Established players can take decisive action to tackle the issues and support customers through challenges involved in ambitious green energy transitions.
GAC’s reach and track record across the wider region gives it a significant advantage. Service providers and logistics stakeholders already operating in countries pursuing offshore projects inevitably ingrain themselves into various markets.
“The world’s first floating windfarm, the Hywind Scotland project, is testament to the inherent globalised operations these projects will have to undergo in the future,” said Novda.
“The turbines were built in Norway, towed to northeast Scotland and overseen by Norwegian firm Equinor, with support from GAC UK. Such experiences and knowledge are shared across our offices to facilitate the adoption of best practices in offshore wind development across the group.”
Innovation beyond geography
While Oslo’s energy plan is ambitious, it is achievable.
New analysis by Multiconsult indicates that Norwegian wind has the potential to generate up to 338GW of energy – 10 times its 2040 target.
This isn’t just geographical luck.
Offshore energy stakeholders are already developing sophisticated and innovative infrastructure to revolutionise their offshore wind capabilities. Floating offshore wind is at the heart of this, with fixed offshore wind continuing to play a role.
For Norway’s green plans to be realised, industry players need to continue to draw from their experience, knowledge and regional networks to remain competitive.