The world-leading expertise on subsea equipment and technology that Norwegian companies hold has evolved over time. Now, it is vital that these companies are able to use the resources and knowledge they have available – and work smarter – so that they can secure some of the enormous growth potential of the global subsea market.
Trond Olsen, chief executive of NCE Subsea, says the success of the Norwegian subsea industry started in the 1980s with the move to access oil and gas fields in safer and cheaper ways than the huge Condeep platforms, by creating industry clusters along the long Norwegian coastline.
The industry—operators and suppliers— began working closely together, alongside governments and academia, forming a large subsea, laboratorylike environment in the Norwegian Continental Shelf (NCS) leading to cutting- edge innovation.
That environment is still very much evident today, says Olsen, as operators, led by Statoil, and the Norwegian government strive to maintain and increase production, going deeper, further and into colder waters. “The NCS is very much still a technology- led laboratory” said Olsen. “Look at subsea gas compression. There are three projects ongoing in the world today, and they are all on the NCS—Åsgard, Gullfaks, and Ormen Lange. Gas compression is the next building block for the complete subsea factory, and it is being started by Statoil. The company says that it will have all the elements of the subsea factory qualified by 2020, and they have a track record of doing what they say.”
NCE Subsea’s goal is ambitious. It wants to promote innovation activity, increase international involvement and improve the capacity, competitiveness, and value creation of individual players within the Norwegian subsea industry, as well as the industry as a whole. The organization’s ambition is to be an internationally- known brand that promotes the Norwegian subsea industry and is associated with quality.
Olsen is clear on how to achieve success: a willingness to try new technology to develop a strong supply chain, university and academia involvement, and government support.
“It is very important for the suppliers here to have an operator willing to develop and test new technology,” he said. “It is one of the main reasons why the industry is a global center.”
“Universities are also very important and they were one of the foundations for establishing NCE Subsea. Companies identified that they needed to gain access to more qualified people. Through discussions and planning with Bergen University College in 2007, the first ever subsea Bachelor degree was established in Norway. By 2009, it was the most difficult engineering degree to get into in Norway. It is very popular and really high-quality students are coming in to the program. Also in 2009, we established a Masters degree in subsea technology.”
“In addition, government programs like Demo200 have been providing financial support for doing pilot testing. It is a triple helix—co-operation between companies, authorities and academia, and research and development.”
NCE Subsea itself also initiates and organizes joint industry projects and services within the cluster, as well as with external/international collaborators.
There is another element to the success of the Norwegian subsea industry—small companies. “The small companies are the foundation for innovation in Norway, because they are able to really focus on niche products,” said Olsen. “This is where a lot of the ideas come from.”
Innovation from Norway has an impact globally. “Norway-based companies have more than 50% of the total global subsea market,” said Olsen. And, he says there is opportunity for more growth. “There is still growth on the NCS, but the growth is even stronger in other international markets; and we see clear opportunities for Norwegian companies to export their expertise, including the smaller companies,” he adds. “We see an ever increasing amount of turnover coming from international business. For the total Norwegian oil and gas industry at the end of the 1990s, international turnover was close to nothing. In 2011, it was NOK 135 billion—and this is increasing.”However, there are challenges. “One challenge that is mentioned by everyone these days is getting access to qualified people,” said Olsen. “Everybody is talking about it, but no one has documented it.”During the Underwater Technology Conference (UTC) in Bergen in June, a report based on a Rystad Energy survey will be released. It looks at all of the global subsea hubs and analyses where there is a shortage of people, what kind of people are needed, and what measure could be taken to support gaining access to qualified people.
“I also think it is time to take a different approach to meet this challenge. For years now, we have had a strong focus on the lack of engineers in Norway. Now it is crucial that companies also consider how they can better utilize the resources they have available—and work smarter—to meet the demand for labor.”
Olsen has led the work of the UTC program committee over the past three years. “UTC has become the most important meeting place for professionals in the subsea industry today. It has a history of presenting highly-competent speakers on current and important topics, and it is an arena to build competence and share knowledge with your peers,” Olsen noted.
NCE Subsea is an initiative by the subsea industry for the strengthening and internationalization of business, research and development (R&D) and education. It brings together and promotes the Norwegian subsea industry, which constitutes a world leading environment for subsea technology.
Organizations established in Norway that provide products or services in or to the subsea industry, or aim to do so, can be a member in NCE Subsea. Partnership is awarded to R&D and educational institutions, authorities and companies considered particularly important for the development of the subsea industry. NCE Subsea is one of twelve Norwegian centers of expertise. The Norwegian subsea industry’s world-leading position and the established interaction between industry actors formed the basis for the Norwegian government’s appointment of a Norwegian Centre of Expertise for subsea technology in 2006.
The NCE program is owned by Innovation Norway, the Industrial Development Corp. of Norway (SIVA) and the Research Council of Norway. The program has a ten-year perspective and is partly financed by the Norwegian government.
The number of centers is limited, so that the effort can be concentrated around strengthening ongoing innovation and internationalization processes in the most modern, sustainable, and ambitious industrial clusters in Norway.