Aberdeen: energy capital of the UK?

NOW, more than ever, Aberdeen needs to set out its vision to be the energy capital of the UK, rather than the oil and gas capital. Not that oil and gas is over, there is still plenty of ongoing and future activity; it’s a recognition that the skills, capability, technology, assets and infrastructure developed for oil and gas now have an important role to support the wider energy sector and especially the emerging low carbon market. It’s about opening our doors to support other parts of the energy sector, which over time will become increasingly important as activity in oil and gas declines.

Some Aberdeen institutions seem reluctant to make this important transition, for fear of being seen to be ‘abandoning’ oil and gas. Consequently, we cannot begin our journey to promote the region in the wider energy context and we cannot present a clear vision of Aberdeen as the Energy Capital of the UK.

Even without this vision, there are green shoots of diversified activity in Aberdeen. Offshore wind is becoming increasingly important for the oil and gas supply chain, especially in areas such as foundations, subsea, jackets and operations & maintenance. As floating wind grows, the offshore sector has an important role to play in its development. It would however be good if Aberdeen were better able to promote its offshore wind credentials, under the banner of a broader energy supply chain.

Hydrogen is now gathering pace as an important energy vector. Aberdeen has the largest fleet of hydrogen buses in Europe, twelve Toyota Mirai hydrogen cars, two hydrogen refuelling stations and a new exhibition and conference centre with plans for a hydrogen energy centre, yet there seems to be little supply chain focus on hydrogen. Potential exists to produce hydrogen from natural gas and sequester the CO2 using carbon capture and storage. The produced hydrogen can then be blended into the gas grid, thus starting to decarbonise our gas and thus heat. Projects, such as Leeds H21, are already considering the conversion of the entire Leeds gas grid to 100% hydrogen, thus entirely decarbonising our gas and heating systems. Hydrogen, as decarbonised natural gas, and its associated carbon capture and storage, are huge opportunities for the Aberdeen supply chain.

It’s time for offshore wind, marine renewables, hydrogen and CCS to be mainstream energy activities in Aberdeen. We need to move past seeing these activities as peripheral to Aberdeen’s core business. Our technology focus should be ‘energy’, we should be inclusive of activity in renewables and low carbon, we should adopt innovative energy systems thinking. We should be bold and make Aberdeen the energy capital of the UK.