Firm serving offshore energy sector invests in hybrid electric ships
North Star, the operator of Britain’s largest fleet of ships serving the oil and gas industry, is diversifying into renewable energy with a multi-million-pound investment in three state-of-the-art service operation vessels (SOVs).
Bank of Scotland has supported North Star for almost 10 years and most recently provided a £40m financing package to support the company’s growth. The offshore infrastructure support business specialises in emergency response and rescue in the North Sea, where its 1,400-strong team and fleet of 44 ships provide support to more than 80 offshore installations.
It has now expanded into the renewables sector, winning a £270 million contract to support Dogger Bank Wind Farm, a joint venture between partners Equinor, SSE Renewables and Eni. At 3.6GW of installed generation capacity, it will become the world’s largest offshore wind farm once completed in 2026.
North Star’s SOVs - being built by global shipbuilding specialist VARD – will be used as logistics platforms for operations and maintenance at Dogger Bank, allowing continuous operations for two-week periods between port calls. The vessels are equipped with advanced 'walk to work' gangways and daughter craft which allow for safe access to the turbines and substations, in addition to efficient cargo handling and warehousing capabilities. They will also feature first-class accommodation for technicians and crew.
All three bespoke vessels are packed with innovative features that support a reduction in fuel burn by around 20% and nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions by about 80% compared to existing market standards. Innovations include adopting the use of hybrid electric power (including batteries), advanced propulsion technology, ultra-low sulphur fuel, predictive maintenance software, and route planning software that uses artificial intelligence to plot the safest and more energy efficient course of operations.
This is the first significant success for the company in the renewables sector. The three 10-year charter durations for its new SOV fleet - which has the potential to be extended to 13 years - aligns with its overarching ambition to become established as a long-term leading player in the SOV market.
Alan Holden, chief financial officer at North Star, said: “The new ships represent a significant milestone in our sustainability strategy. They’ve been designed from scratch using the best available technology, so they are effectively futureproofed. As technology improves, it would be possible to increase battery capacity on board these vessels to allow them to operate on a close to zero carbon basis through charging in field.
"We’re now looking to apply our ethos from the approach to the newbuild SOVs to investigate areas in which we could improve the efficiency of our existing fleet through working collaboratively with technology suppliers.
"Bank of Scotland has been very supportive of all the change in the business and have shown that they are as keen as we are for us to grow."
Alan Holden, chief financial officer, North Star
Bank of Scotland has continued to back North Star’s growth and diversification strategy, including the 2019 acquisition of Boston Putford in Lowestoft, which helped it become the largest vessel operator in the region, and more recently a £40 million finance package to support further investment.
Darren Flynn at Bank of Scotland said: “North Star is a dynamic and innovative force in the industry, utilising the latest technology as it works to make its operations as sustainable as possible.
"The green economy represents a significant opportunity for Scotland. The upcoming COP26 conference in Glasgow will help shine a light on the progress we’ve already made and the potential for sustainability to help drive prosperity going forward."
Dogger Bank is being developed in three 1.2GW phases: Dogger Bank A, B and C. Dogger Bank A and B are joint ventures between SSE Renewables (40%), Equinor (40%) and Eni (20%). Dogger Bank C is a 50:50 joint venture between Equinor and SSE Renewables.
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