A: The idea of developing an energy hub in the Shetland region was first promoted by the Oil & Gas Authority (OGA) in 3Q 2018. Since that time Shetland Islands Council (SIC) has been working with government agencies, industry stakeholders and the OGA to develop thinking around delivering clean energy for the future for Shetland, the oil & gas industry and the wider region. In January 2020, a proposal was put forward to SIC councillors to set up a project with funding for the next three years which was approved. SIC reached a joint working arrangement with Net Zero Technology Centre in May 2020. Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) joined the project in July 2020 and the University of Strathclyde joined in April 2021. The joint project team has been actively working the opportunities since May 2020 at a time when the general interest in future clean energy use and resources has soared with a particular focus on regions, such as Shetland, where significant renewable energy is possible.
- Q: How did the project idea begin, and why is it being considered currently?
- Q: Why is the Shetland Islands Council pursuing the ORION project?
A: The UK Government, through the OGA, has already designated Shetland as a nationally significant energy hub for integrating oil and gas with renewable energy forms. Additionally, Crown Estates and Marine Scotland were seeking to let areas of the seabed around Shetland for offshore wind development. With such national interest SIC had concerns that significant energy developments might take place in and around Shetland without local involvement. SIC wants Shetland to help shape these developments to promote economic benefit and limit adverse impacts. The ORION project is a framework to develop the ideas for shifting to clean sources of energy and for making the oil and gas sector in Shetland as clean as possible as it decreases production towards 2050. This method is based on the model used in the development of the oil and gas sector in the 1970’s, which led to the formation of the Sullom Voe Association. That approach concentrated all the oil and gas production activity to the East of Shetland into a single site at Sullom Voe. SIC’s ambitions for ORION are to redevelop the Sullom Voe site and the Shetland Gas Plant for any future offshore energy production, and logistical support provided by Shetland’s ports, including the transformation of the Port of Sullom Voe.
- Q: Are there development companies involved with the ORION project?
A: At present ORION is a partnership between SIC, Net Zero Technology Centre, HIE and the University of Strathclyde with support from a number of companies which include BP, EnQuest, Equinor, Hitachi ABB Power Grids, Siccar Point Energy, SSE, Shell and TotalEnergies in the form of guidance, resource and in some cases financing of studies. There is a lot of interest from potential developers, and a number of both energy and supply chain companies are actively involved in study work. Should companies proceed with developments, which they are fully entitled to do without having any recourse to the ORION project, SIC will be working hard to make arrangements similar to the existing Sullom Voe Association to promote use of the existing oil and gas infrastructure.
- Q: What is the difference between the ORION project and the Viking Energy project?
A: The Viking Energy project and ORION are independent projects, which are being developed separately but have the same objective of reducing emissions. The ORION project started in early 2020 before the final decision was taken to develop the Viking Energy project, which was in August 2020. There is no doubt that Viking Energy is an important enabler for some of the ORION project’s ambitions, e.g the potential initial electrification of developments West of Shetland and local production of green hydrogen. However, the ORION project would still be progressing even if Viking Energy had not proceeded.
- Q: What needs to occur for the ORION project to be implemented?
A: One of the first enabling steps will be the operation of the Viking Wind Farm which will provide clean electricity to replace the oil-fired powers station at Gremista and the gas fired power station at Sullom Voe Terminal. Discussions are currently ongoing to see if electricity from Viking Wind Farm can also power offshore developments and electrify the Sullom Voe region. SIC & HIE have also applied for a £5m grant to subsidize a number of green hydrogen projects on the island being worked in conjunction with local companies. A number of studies are also ongoing which have been funded jointly by SIC, Net Zero Technology Centre, HIE and industry and a Scottish Government grant of £1.6m has also been requested to fund additional studies.
- Q: What is the lifespan of the project?
A: The lifespan of the project is difficult to accurately determine at this stage but there are both short term ambitions such as having green hydrogen pilots operational on Shetland by 2025 and exporting green hydrogen pre-2035. Crown Estates will give offshore wind developers a period of 10 years to begin production on a site and the length of the production phase lease will then be a matter between the developers and Crown Estates.
- Q: How will the project be decommissioned at its end of life?
A: Decommissioning floating offshore wind farms looks to be relatively straightforward. The structures will be towed to new locations or to decommissioning centres and the anchoring systems will be lifted for reuse or decommissioning. The decommissioning requirements for onshore facilities will be the same as for the existing oil and gas production operators at Sullom Voe and Shetland Gas Plant, which is full restoration.
- Q: What is the significance of Shetland’s of CO2 emissions, and how does the project aim to decrease them?
A: The ORION project is being positioned to deliver net zero emissions in Shetland by 2030, in line with Scottish Government policy, and sufficient energy to provide transport, heating and lighting to Shetland, power to the offshore and in addition export power or hydrogen to the mainland for national use. The project also seeks to reduce carbon from offshore oil and gas installations through the electrification of offshore infrastructure. Research on the carbon impact of offshore wind developments and any associated hydrogen plant would be required as part of the planning consents for development. Regarding Shetland itself the project has estimated that CO2 emissions per annum are in the order of 650,000 tonnes, which includes emissions from power stations and the terminals. On an individual basis this works out as 28 tonnes/per person/per annum. This is one of the highest CO2 per capita numbers in the world. It takes the planting of 6 trees to offset one tonne of CO2. Converting Shetland to renewable electricity and fuel will remove these emissions creating a cleaner local environment and help meet the Scottish target of reaching net zero by 2045.
- Q: Will the ORION project benefits be similar to the oil boom in the 70’s and 80’s?
A: One of the ORION project ambitions is to extend the life of the offshore oil and gas industry through potential application of renewable electricity sources with reduced emissions. The development of clean fuels locally from onshore wind and tidal energy should enable fuel to be potentially purchased at lower prices. Producing green hydrogen at an industrial scale will create a new industry on Shetland providing new employment. In summary the intention is for ORION to sustain and provide new jobs and make energy more affordable, all key elements to help develop and sustain a thriving community on Shetland.
- Q: Will local industries, such as fishing, be consulted?
A: Yes, consultation with industry has begun and will continue. The main fishing industry consultations will involve the Crown Estate and Marine Scotland as the licencing agencies for the sea sites and any developers who subsequently lease those sites. For example, SIC and the fisheries sector were given the opportunity to comment on the consultation exercise prior to the current ScotWind round, which includes a site to the east of Shetland called NE1. The need to reduce impact on fisheries and other marine uses was included in SIC’s response. SIC has since had further discussions with the Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA) and has agreed to work with the fishing industry (both local and Scottish) to seek full engagement with any future offshore wind developers. The SFA have also been briefed about the ambitions of the ORION project and the plan will be for the engagement to continue as it will with all local stakeholders. There are also plans in place to hold an ORION marine workshop in June with local companies to start developing a clean energy marine strategy for Shetland.
- Q: Will the community be consulted on the project?
A: Yes, the communication plan for Future Energy on Shetland, which includes the ORION project, is currently being resourced to enable more regular project updates, community briefing events, establish feedback channels through social media and a dedicated website. All communication channels should be in place by mid-2021 and you may have noticed a series of articles in the Shetland press has already commenced. There will be continual opportunities for the Shetland community to become engaged with the project.
- Q: What are the risks of pollution, and how will these be addressed?
A: The potential for pollution is exceptionally low. All onshore developments will be concentrated on the existing sites in the Sullom Voe area and Lerwick port. They will use existing exporting infrastructure such as the gas pipelines and tanker export facility and the existing energy skilled workforce. The power station at Sullom Voe will be closed and replaced with an electricity connection to the new Shetland grid and that will also enable shore-based power for tankers when they are alongside. The by products from hydrogen production are water and oxygen, which are not pollutants. Hydrogen can also be used to produce other chemicals such as ammonia and methanol and if such developments take place, they will also be on the sites at Sullom Voe and carried out to rigorous UK industry standards. The O2 is also important for fish farming, effluent treatment and may also find a use at Shetland Space Centre.
- Q: Who is Net Zero Technology Centre, and how are they involved?
A: Net Zero Technology Centre is a delivery-oriented global technology centre with net zero at its core. Net Zero Technology Centre’s vision is to accelerate a net zero future, developing and deploying technology to make the energy transition affordable for our industry and the UK economy. With more than £160m co-invested with industry in technologies from offshore electrification and net zero decommissioning, to autonomous robotics and renewable power systems, we have screened over 1,000 exciting new technologies, completed or progressed 100 field trials, and generated £15 billion GVA potential for the UK economy. Partnering with Net Zero Technology Centre will enable the new technologies to be piloted and tested on Shetland and reduce the cost of renewable and emissions capturing technology to make them financially competitive.
- Q: Though the project has an emphasis on wind, are there other renewable options being considered?
A: The ORION project is looking at both local and regional needs. Shetland is well placed to benefit from wind resource, both onshore and offshore, and the interconnector is planned to be able to transmit 600MW of onshore generated wind power for use both on island (50MW), use by Scottish customers via the National Grid and potentially electrification of the offshore current and future oil and gas developments (150 - 250MW). This energy is generated with minimum emissions. However, the project is also looking at generation of other renewable energy sources such as hydrogen which could be used locally for power, and/or stored and transmitted. There is also an objective to upscale tidal power to 20MW and beyond, which is currently being piloted in Bluemull Sound where an array of tidal turbines provide energy to the local grid.
- Q: Why should there be more turbines in Shetland with the Viking Wind Farm currently undergoing development onshore?
A: Viking Wind Farm has gone through appropriate regulatory and planning processes and will significantly reduce the carbon footprint of the island and potentially sustain jobs by electrifying new developments offshore West of Shetland. Any new onshore wind farms being proposed will need to go through similar rigorous processes and if approved will have the ability to provide power locally to develop clean fuels reducing the carbon footprint and delivering more affordable energy than imported fossil fuels. Offshore wind will create a transformational dynamic by providing power at GW scale which will enable hydrogen and clean fuels to be produced for both local use and export. There needs to be a balance struck between onshore and offshore wind development and one of the studies being undertaken by the project is to look at the overall power system which will also look at spatial distribution.
- Q: Is Hydrogen safe?
A: Hydrogen is a combustible fuel and must be worked with to high industry standards. These standards are like the oil and gas industry standards that have kept production at Sullom Voe and the Shetland Gas Plant safe. Any future hydrogen plant would have to be built following rigorous planning, design, and construction processes. The development of the Shetland Gas Plant between 2010 and 2016 provides a good comparison. At consumer level hydrogen is as safe as the petrol we now put in our vehicles, in fact the average car petrol tank holds three to four times the energy and thus four times the explosive power. Hydrogen, being 14 times lighter than air, does not sink and disperses so even though it is flammable dissipates quickly. While the Hindenburg disaster was attributed solely to hydrogen, it was the diesel fuel that powered the engines which caused the horrific smoke and flames.