There is an urgent need for the offshore renewables industry to establish a common set of safety competence standards based on the North Sea oil&gas model, according to the group CEO of the Offshore Petroleum Industry Training Organisation (OPITO).
David Doig told Energy that there is little sign of a serious attempt at a collective approach by the new industry and that Renewables UK (formerly the British Wind Energy Association) appears to have gone cool on the idea of taking its cue from OPITO.
He described the wind industry as a “basket case”, despite the dialogue that had taken place with RUK.
“I’ll tell you why I think it’s a basket case,” said Doig.
“It’s because there isn’t a collective approach. Nobody’s overseeing this in a co-ordinated manner.
“Add to that, Government-funded skills bodies in the UK are scrambling about trying to get a bit of the renewables business and getting grant money for it.
“They should all be saying, ‘Right, we’ll have one set of standards that everybody will work to and we’ll apply them in a universal way’.
“But what we have is a fragmented approach with companies doing their own thing because there isn’t a common standard that they can all sign up to.
“This means that workers will have to be retrained as they shift from job to job on different projects.
“This will lead to duplication of training. And, in about five or 10 years’ time, someone will ask why can’t they sort it out.”
Doig said he was baffled by RUK’s attitude, especially given the help OPITO had rendered to the trade body and a number of emerging UK offshore renewables players – all based on the oil&gas competency model – coupled with an apparently positive dialogue a couple or three years ago during the BWEA period.
He said he had written to RUK chief executive Maria McCaffery last winter, expressing his concerns about the setting of safety-related competency standards and rumours that the trade body was going to plough its own furrow in this regard.
Doig said the RUK approach boiled down to working up inferior offshore competency standards on a minimal budget.
“They have one person on a £34,000 one-year contract to do all the standards setting, all the approvals and all the registrations. That’s where they are. It’s on the cheap. They will never ever do it. And then the employers will lose confidence in what will be offered and they’ll go back to doing their own thing.”
However, Doig said that any heritage oil&gas supply-chain companies would almost certainly opt for OPITO standards rather than an inferior renewables-sector approach, for obvious reasons.
“There’s a massive opportunity being missed by an emerging industry to say, ‘We’ll have a single independent body to set the standards’. OPITO is such a body.”
Doig said he could see the day when the Oil & Gas Academy morphed into the Energy Academy, and that this would add pressure to set common standards. He suggested, too, that the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre proposed for Aberdeen could play an important role in terms of offering a training opportunity.
“We can use that. We can set the standards because a lot of our stakeholders are companies that will go and do the interventions and construction anyway.
“There’s a bit in me that says we should just go and develop the kind of standards that we believe will be necessary. The utilities developing offshore wind should realise the need for common standards. But they’re all over the shop.”
Meanwhile, according to Alistair Birnie, CEO of Subsea UK, a number of his members are successfully grasping the renewables nettle. He told Energy that offshore wind was already worth about £650million a year and that this would quickly pass the £1billion mark.
But, like Doig, he warned the utilities mounting the now massive UK offshore renewables push that they ignored the oil&gas capability and history of conquering the North Sea at their peril.
“The sooner they understand that the oil&gas sector has been through the North Sea experience … developed an industry from a standing start … and is well placed to share that experience with the new sector, the better it will be,” said Birnie.
“Fortunately, a number of the bigger subsea players are actively positioning themselves into the marketplace and offering advice and services.
“Project into next year and we’re looking at £1billion business. It’s no wonder that some of these players are now becoming very interested.”
Birnie said onshore contractors which traditionally service the requirements of utilities onshore were, in any case, making heavy weather when they tried wading out into the North Sea.
He said, too, that the emergence of offshore wind did not necessarily pose a threat to oil and gas field operators, and that they had to share.
“I don’t see renewables as competition.
“Nonetheless, some companies do and they’re concerned that they won’t be able to get services when they want them.
“Bear in mind that the vessels took a bit of a downturn hit over the last two years, so I don’t think the oil&gas sector can unduly complain when vessel operators and owners go and find alternative work.
“Engineering, fabrication and construction companies are also finding work to ensure that they’re not wholly dependent on oil&gas, which we know is cyclical. Bi-Fab is an excellent example.
“By embracing renewables, this helps give the oil&gas supply chain stability.
“I don’t think we have a problem.”