A Circular Economy for Aberdeen and the North Sea


Aberdeen is becoming a global hub for the renewable energy transition and last month it announced its intention to become a “Climate Positive City.” This initiative should drive the city towards net zero emissions well ahead of government targets and see it become a leading light in the net-zero challenge. Focus areas will include the use of hydrogen for heating and transport, electrification of mobility, and built environment energy savings. Activity in the city will dovetail with initiatives in the offshore energy industry that we will look at.

Sustainable Accommodation for Business Travellers

Our vision for Apartrooms was to support Aberdeen’s business community by providing a seamless accommodation experience for commercial travellers. We are enthusiastic about the city’s role in the energy transition and designed our building to the highest sustainability standards. We fit nicely into the Climate Positive ecosystem and are well suited to any company looking to reduce its carbon footprint. Infrastructure specialists across energy, transport, telecom and related industries are our most regular guests.

Aberdeen: North Sea Energy Transition

Aberdeen is a hive of innovation in 2020. Over the next two decades, the balance of North Sea energy generation will tip dramatically towards renewable sources including wind, tide and wave. Renewables will be used to power green hydrogen production while carbon capture and storage [CCS] facilities will be developed for off-setting purposes. Companies and consultancies are springing up, not only to design and install these new solutions but to manage and repurpose existing infrastructure in the most responsible way. There are 184 existing rigs in the North Sea and Professor Giorgio Locatelli of Leeds University, estimates that the combined decommissioning cost sits in the region of £60B, or £1 for every barrel of oil that has been extracted.

Smart North Sea Concept

The regional energy transition is a multi-layered challenge. At the highest level is the creation of a “Smart North Sea.” This week (in October 2020) the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) launched an interactive map that shows the location of every energy-related site on the UK Continental Shelf, these include existing oil and gas infrastructure, wind farms, electrical cables, pipelines and CCS sites. The map is updated live and helps with strategic planning and resource management as well as emergency responses in the region.

Aberdeen and The North Sea Circular Economy

At the next level down is the development of a “circular economy” for the North Sea. The concept aims for nothing to be thrown away or unethically abandoned (in a “rig to reef” scenario the greenest option can be to leave infrastructure behind if it has become a marine habitat). After landfill, re-cycling is seen as the next worst option; specialist companies are helping to minimise waste and recycling by repairing, testing, refurbishing and recertifying existing assets from pipelines to accommodation modules. This involves the development of the reverse logistics required to pull viable equipment back into the energy supply chain. Others are using 3D printers to fabricate unavailable spare parts to keep facilities running. Despite this work, hundreds of thousands of tonnes of material will still return permanently to land where repurposing can take place. The circular economy is also part of the city’s Net Zero initiative. When work started on the building of TECA (formerly the AECC), John Lawrie Group supplied 15 miles of subsea piping that was used as piling in the foundations.

Renewable energy sources don’t dry up like oil fields but technologies become obsolete and facilities reach an economic end of life. So, although renewable energy infrastructure is designed to last, zero-waste decommissioning plans and budgets are being built into their development. It is hoped that this long-term view will avoid the challenges faced now that the 1980s rigs have reached obsolescence.

2020 has been challenging. Aberdeen’s hospitality, tourism and oil and gas industries have all suffered, leading to a big drop in local employment opportunities. However, initiatives on and off-shore are likely to see a thriving local economy driven by multinationals, entrepreneurs and a concentration of technical expertise over the coming years. We will continue to support it.