Offshore Europe: ABB fills key roles in projects offshore Norway, UK

Kurt Abraham- Editor-in-Chief, World Oil September 14, 2023

(The following interveiw is another segment of World Oil’s extended coverage of topics, speakers and companies at Offshore Europe, held Sept. 5-8.)

Per-Erik Holsten, Managing Director, BU, Oil, Gas and Chemicals, IA Division, ABB

Many of the traditional oil-and-gas-related firms at Offshore Europe this month are expanding or transitioning into equipment and services for renewable energies, including offshore wind, CCS and hydrogen. But make no mistake, significant oil and gas projects remain important to these companies, including ABB. In this special interview, the firm’s Head of Energy Industries, Northern Europe, PA Division, Per-Erik Holsten, discusses two oil and gas projects that ABB has a major role in, as well as efforts in the transition/renewables space.

World Oil (WO): One of the things that we wanted to talk with you about, obviously, is AkerBP's redevelopment of Valhalla field and what that means in terms of your company’s role in the project, along with any technical innovations that are associated with it.

Per-Erik Holsten (P-E H): First of all, we are a long-term partner with AkerBP, which we are really proud of. The partnership was formed in 2017. And then we were awarded the Valhall redevelopment (Fig. 1) and the Fenris project just before Christmas. So, they sent in the ratification documents to the government at that point in time.

Fig. 1. The redevelopment layout for Valhall field, offshore Norway. Image: AkerBP.

Our role, basically, is we are delivering automation technology, electrical technology, telecoms and digital to the Valhall field and the Fenris field. Valhall was, back in the days, run on power from shore. It was one of the first HVDC projects coming from shore to feed the full platform that we had earlier delivered at Troll [field], which was more of a compressor injection type of electricity or electrically driven machines to feed compressors for gas injection into the Troll field or CO2 injection into Troll field. So, basically, that was a kind of single purpose.

Electrification of Troll was the Valhall kind of full electrification of the platforms. So, the whole project is fed by green energy from outside, which is nice in itself. And then, obviously, there is a lot of technology that ABB's providing that is a solution made together with AkerBP. But I'd say the most innovative part of it is probably the digital piece, where all the things like the automation of electrical power comes up. These are more things that we have done with them before, and we are basing it upon those standards that we have developed over many, many years.

I even worked on the whole field (Valhall) in my early engineering days. So, this was back in the nineties, when Amoco owned the field, and then it was BP Amoco, which eventually became BP and now it's AkerBP. So, it has gone through some phases of different owners. But we had that automation of electrical delivered to Vallhall way, way back, and now we're—at this point in time—also adding the digital features on the platform.

So, that gives you obviously the opportunity to do remote control, do autonomous machine learning, have better visuals, trending capabilities with the operators, even process anomalies analyzed onshore, to make sure that you do the right operational set points, you’re productive, taking it all from the well to the wire, so to say. I'd say digital is probably the key innovative feature in those processes that we’re developing with AkerBP and Aker Solutions.

We try to reduce the number of manual installation to prevent human error, getting it down from a large number of manual functions needed when he's up there as an operator, clicking the buttons on opening the well, and starting the motor and so on, and the pump, to knowing a very automated type of process. So, our automation solution where manual intervention is minimized. You can push on this button in some cases, if you have a remotely operated smaller platform, but we are not fully there, yet. It will still be an upgraded facility, but it's got some remote control applications in it. So, I'd say, both from a safety perspective, and from a production and productivity perspective, also from an emission and sustainability perspective, these digital features that we're providing are really making a huge difference.

WO: That certainly makes sense. You also wanted to talk about the Rosebank FPSO redeployment by Equinor that is off the Shetland Islands in the UK. Following that decision, you've executed the front end engineering for electrical automation, instrumentation and telecommunications for the redeployed FPSO. What details can you provide on that?

P-E H: The Rosebank project is the redevelopment of the Petrojarl Knarr FPSO. It's a complete rebuild, to fit the prospect field out of Shetland. Basically, there we are together with Aker Solutions, Altera Infrastructure and Equinor. Dubai Drydock is also involved from rebuilding the FPSO, plus a number of other companies. But that's the core constellation of the partnership there. That is basically similar-scoped, as will be provided at Valhall—electrical, telecoms, automation, all in one package.

It's not electrified yet, but it's prepared for electrification by cable from shore and it's prepared for offshore wind pipes. it’s a very interesting project, very fast-track, high level of collaboration, similar to the AkerBP partnership, working integrated between the companies, trying to avoid having siloed organizations, working on separate tracks, but really working on getting it delivered to the field. We have kicked it off. It's a big project, both for ourselves and for the other partners. As I say, a similar scope and an FPSO in this case, rather than a fixed platform. But all in all, I'd say same digital features, same objectives by the operator in this case as well, making it as autonomous as possible, with as little manual integration as possible, and as automated as possible. And then, of course, eventually getting it green and sustainable over time.

WO: So, the work is underway, and what is the timetable? When do you think you'll finish?

P-E H: It looks like somewhere in the 2026-to-2027 timeframe.

WO: Outside of these two projects, what other noteworthy work can you tell us about?

P-E H: We're heavily into a period of energy transition. As you know, we're a high promoter of that. We don't think that oil and gas will disappear in a split second, because it's going to be part of the energy mix for some time forward. And all of us know when the tipping point comes, when basically green energy will take over from oil and gas.

But I think we're moving forward. We had last year, in 2022, 30% to 35% of our revenues related to no carbon, low-carbon projects. We are far into carbon capture projects, and we are far into offshore wind with Dogger Bank, here outside the UK coast. So, ABB is part of those projects, as well. Hydrogen obviously is going to play a role for us. Our experience with this whole energy transition is about molecules and electrons, right? So this whole conversion needs people that know electricity and have equipment that can provide electricity. It's a huge undertaking from every country and continent, including how they make the infrastructure elements of that transition happen, both from producing the energy and storing it, to providing the energy to the relevant consumers and eventually having a more interconnected grid between countries continents, spreading it out throughout each country—here in the UK, for example. In the U.S., it means making sure you have better stability and bringing cheap, affordable, reliable energy to consumers. So, very, very interesting times we are in! .

WO: How is your company doing in terms of manpower? I know a lot of companies we've talked to at Offshore Europe say their biggest challenge is having enough people.

P-E H: I wouldn't say we're short of people. I'd say we have a reasonable capacity. Obviously, we are involved in many, many projects—we're talking projects that grab some of our capacity. We are in Northern Europe, which is my territory, then in the UK, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway. We are roughly 2,000 people, most of them engineers, that work on projects and service. And then if you look globally, we have about 110,000 people. And the Energy Industry Division and the Energy industry, as we call it, is a little more than 8,000 people. You obviously use those dynamics to access resources when small territories require it.

I would say we like to bring in every talent we can get. Obviously, our goal is to be an attractive employer, and I think we are an attractive employer, bringing super-interesting tasks and jobs to our people, having a good culture, being the company that we have been in the industry for more than 130 years. We’re coming from a historical background of being through the Industrial Revolution and through the computerized revolution. I know from the heart, I can say ABB is a fantastic employer and also a good global player. So, here, some people can move between jobs, they can move between geographies, and they can move up and down or sideways in their careers!

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