We are all rooting for the expansion of solar and wind energy around the world -- but only when it replaces polluting fossil fuels, not when it fuels it. Norway, for instance, still has a very complicated relationship with oil and gas and now, the country will inaugurate the world’s largest wind farm, which will be used to power offshore oil and gas fields in the country.
The project, Hywind Tampen, is being built by the energy giant Equinor - the largest exporter of natural gas in Europe. Equinor is currently seeking to expand in the renewables market and become a leader in this market, but apparently, it can't shed its oil and gas roots just yet.
Drilling for oil also consumes a lot of energy -- especially when it's offshore drilling. Normally, this energy comes from diesel engines, but Equinor wants to use renewable energy to fuel its offshore extraction. Which is... progress, I guess? But probably not the type of progress we truly need. The wind farm will supply electricity to the Snorre and Gullfaks oil and gas fields run by Equinor, and it will be the world’s first to power offshore oil and gas platforms.
In a statement, the company said it will control almost half of the worldwide offshore windmills once the project is completed. Hywind Tampen will provide about 35% of the energy needed to power the oil and gas platforms, therefore reducing 220,000 tons of carbon dioxide and 110,000 tons of nitrogen oxide emissions per year.
These aren’t small numbers, and burning fewer fossil fuels is always welcome, but it seems counterproductive to use renewables to power oil extraction. But this bizarre relationship is not uncharacteristic for Norway: one of the most sustainable countries in the world, but also one of the world's leaders in oil production. Over 60% of the country’s exports are fossil fuels. And while Norway is moving fast on electric vehicles, the government isn’t slowing down on fossil fuel operations.
An overreliance problem
Norway’s government is frequently questioned by environmentalists for continuing to support the oil and gas industry. The government said it will “develop and not dismantle” the oil and gas sector, suggesting a gradual move to renewable energy sources; read: a very slow transition. The fossil fuel sector currently accounts for 14% of the country’s GDP, and Norway is not ready to give it up yet.
In a policy paper, the government said “climate policy must not be moralizing and must be fair.” Norway committed in 2020 to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030. However, this will be difficult to be met with an expanding fossil fuel industry, now even more demanded amid disruptions to the global energy market.
Last month, the government announced a plan to largely expand its offshore wind energy by 2040, hoping to develop 30 gigawatts of clean energy by then. A wide range of companies such as Equinor and Shell have already lined up to develop new projects. A significant part of the electricity generated will be exported, the government said.
Norway has already opened up two North Sea areas for offshore wind of up to 4.5GW, with the first tender for 1.5GW expected sometime this year. Further tenders will follow from 2025 onwards. This would double the country’s power output and help transition from being a fossil fuels producer to an exporter of renewable energy, the government said.