Subsea Expo 2022 to look through the underwater horizon
“You’d like to think it was good planning,” joked Neil Gordon, managing director of the Global Underwater Hub (GUH), “but I think it’s just luck that, at the moment, it all seems to have landed well for us.”
Coincidentally or not, the fact that Subsea Expo is, as it stands, able to go ahead as planned later this month is a long-awaited ray of light for the energy industry, which, hopefully, is a sign of things to come.
Concerns over Omicron meant that, as recently as last month, there was still speculation over whether the event in Aberdeen could take place.
Such speculation was not helped by similar conferences, notably Offshore Europe, which chose to delay as uncertainty reigned.
But after the Scottish government opted to remove the restrictions at the end of January, GUH was able to continue preparations for the showcase.
Considered the largest underwater exhibition and conference in the world, Subsea Expo 2022 will be held from February 22 to 24 at P&J Live.
Gordon said: “There is every indication that Subsea Expo could be one of the first major industry gatherings since lockdown.
“We also expect good turnout, although it’s unclear how many people will actually attend. it is unclear whether some of the companies involved will actually allow their employees to travel.
“I have, however, spoken to overseas companies who, after finding out it was likely to continue, have booked flights and are making arrangements to travel to the UK.
“Hopefully there will be a real uptick in usage and footfall now that there is visibility.”
Having been forced to postpone last year’s showcase, GUH curated a list of leading industry voices to mark the return of Subsea Expo.
Finalists have also been announced for the prestigious Subsea Expo Awards, with Baker Hughes, STATS Group and James Fisher Offshore all shortlisted.
Interestingly, GUH’s flagship event is set to take place almost two years to the day since the UK was first plunged into lockdown.
Since that fateful day, restrictions on everything from travel to gatherings have meant that in-person energy industry events have become a collector’s item.
Gordon said: “It’s been clear for about 18 months that there is a real appetite to meet face to face and do business in an environment where people can talk easily, which can be quite difficult to do virtually. “
A new era for the GUH
After changing its name from Subsea UK towards the end of 2021, Subsea Expo comes at the dawn of a new era for GUH.
In line with the organisation’s ambition to broaden its scope to include the wider blue economy, the theme of the event will be “oceans of opportunity”.
“It will be a side view across the underwater horizon, looking at the different areas,” Gordon explained.
“The focus will be on how companies can engage in different sectors, learn from them and explore opportunities within them. This goes for defence, aquaculture, offshore wind, oil and gas, carbon capture and storage (CCS) and hydrogen.
“Subsea Expo will be an opportunity to learn more about what is happening in the underwater space and the timing of some of these opportunities, because it is often the unknown.
“A number of new members have also joined GUH recently. It’s very encouraging and I know these companies really want to engage with others in the industry. For many, Subsea Expo will be the first opportunity in a long time to do so in person. »
Given recent developments in space, it is likely that offshore wind will dominate much of the discussion at Subsea Expo.
Crown Estate Scotland recently announced the winners of the ScotWind rental process on a momentous day for Scotland’s energy industry.
Option agreements have been distributed to 17 offshore wind projects, laying the groundwork for a pipeline of renewable energy works that could last for decades.
In what will be a great boon for the submarine sector, floating wind power constitutes the majority of the selected projects.
Gordon said: “In floating offshore wind it’s the subsea element where there’s real expertise in the UK and Scotland, particularly in the North East. The GUH is already engaging with government and other organizations to ensure that there is an understanding of the opportunities so that we can capture a large portion of the market share.
“ScotWind bidders are very committed to engaging with the supply chain; collectively, we need to ensure that we are able to compete and win this market. We don’t get it right.
“It’s up to the subsea industry to make sure they’re prepared and understand the challenges so they can win this floating offshore wind job, because that’s where we see the big opportunities.
“The floating structures that will be needed are the same or similar to those used in oil and gas. This also goes for anchor systems and dynamic cables that move through water – there are a lot of technologies that are very transferable.
To ensure that Scottish companies are ahead of the queue when distributing work, the GUH works with organizations such as Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult.
And the success of established North Sea oil and gas players, including BP, Shell and TotalEnergies, should also be very helpful to the national supply chain.
Gordon said: “We need to make sure that we engage with developers and the supply chain so that these offshore wind plans can materialize.
“It’s really a win-win. Bidders can meet their local content goals and the supply chain can win business. »
A “transition”, not a “switch”
Beyond offshore wind, subsea companies are also involved in CCS and hydrogen as they gradually move into the low-carbon space.
But Gordon is keen to emphasize the need for a “transition”, rather than a “switch”.
As concerns over climate change mount, so do calls on the UK government to prioritize clean forms of energy.
And despite well-founded fears it would result in thousands of job losses, it means some want oil and gas production in the North Sea to be ended urgently.
“If we shut down oil and gas too quickly, the capabilities within the supply chain to deliver the energy transition will be lost,” Gordon said.
“We need to look at the issue more holistically, rather than having a very polarized and narrow view. Managing the energy transition is complex and we need to make sure the lights stay on.
Additionally, by supporting and shaping the local supply chain, Gordon says Scotland has a chance to become a “world leader” in renewable energy technology.
This is particularly relevant for the underwater sector, which can build on its heritage, use its “competitive advantage” and “create technologies” that can be exported around the world.
Events such as Subsea Expo will provide the perfect stage for Scottish companies to showcase their skills and explain how they can contribute to decarbonisation.
And as much of the world continues to emerge from lockdown, next month’s event comes at a potentially defining time for the energy industry and GUH.
Gordon said: “We went into lockdown almost two years ago, since when we had COP26 and a host of other changes around the world.
“We are now coming out of this, in 2022 and things are very different. COP26 raised awareness of the need for change, the importance of moving to net zero and doing so at all levels.
“That’s why we need to have a much more lateral view of the world moving through underwater space, and that’s exactly what GUH does.”
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