A $100m joint industry project between ABB and Equinor - with partners Total and Chevron, and supported by the Research Council of Norway - has proved ABB’s new subsea power distribution and conversion technology system to be commercially viable


n November I was lucky enough to attend ABB’s press tour to Vaasa in Finland, the

week after the company’s 3,000-hour shallow water test at a sheltered harbour in the city was completed. The completion of the viability test

means that energy companies will now be able to access a reliable supply of up to 100 megawatts of power, over distances up to 600km and down to 3,000m water depth, at pressures that could shatter a brick. For the first time, the technology enables all production operations to be moved to the seabed, helping to reduce emissions and environmental footprints; improve health, safety and security of personnel; increase productivity; and enhance asset cost efficiency. This is all achievable with a single

cable with little or no maintenance for up to 30 years. Prior to this project, only the

transmission cable and subsea step-down transformer existed and were proven to operate underwater. Following the success of the project, ABB’s complete subsea power distribution and conversion system comprises a step-down transformer, medium voltage variable speed drives and switchgear, control and low voltage power distribution, and power electronics and control systems. Expertise behind each of the component

parts of the subsea systems were drawn from ABB locations across the globe. This joint industry project was initiated

in 2013 and the project is expected to be completed with Technology Readiness Level 4 in Q1 2020.

The validation of the shallow water test

means the majority of the world’s offshore hydrocarbon resources are now in reach for electrification. “Just as new power transmission

capabilities transformed cities globally in the early 19th century, the ability to transmit power subsea, over longer distances, and then distribute it locally, will truly transform the way offshore oil and gas developments are designed, built and operated,” says Martin Grady, vice president and global industry manager, oil and gas, ABB. “We really are at the start of a new

epoch in cleaner, safer, more energy efficient hydrocarbon production using technology that will open up access to power for all users in the ocean space.” ABB’s subsea power technology can

connect to any power source, enabling future integrations with renewable energy, such as wind power. The shallow water test was completed

at 9m, but every single component has been both water and pressure tested to ensure its successful operation at depths down to 3,000m. Achieving the reliability required in the

tough operational conditions of the subsea environment means overcoming many technical challenges. A critical area of focus was ensuring that the system would be modular – electronics and control modules are flexible and modular in design to allow for different sizes so that they can be accommodated within the system. To ensure the electronics and power components could operate in a pressure

ABB proves world-first subsea power technology system

tolerant environment and within a dielectric oil, a key focus was placed on component screening and selection, material compatibility, material interface aspects and thermal performance. With several hundred unique critical components and various stress conditions, a clear but pragmatic testing structure was devised to learn the behaviours and limits of different designs, helping to mitigate the risk of failure before pre-qualifying for full-scale prototypes. All tests were carried out in adherence

to API 17F Standard for Subsea Production Control Systems, including temperature, vibration, pressure and accelerated lifetime. The operating lifespan of an existing

facility can be extended through more cost efficient tie-ins, requiring minimal topside modification. Cost savings are unlocked and

ABB’s subsea substation

environmental footprints reduced through less need for maintenance, manning and hardware, including hydraulic systems. Having fewer people offshore will also reduce risks and improve overall safety. “We dreamed the extreme and we’ve

made it a reality. Instead of having small cities on offshore platforms, with staff far from home, the entire production system can now be moved subsea. We can control it remotely using the power we supply from onshore or offshore renewable energies. We can halve the emissions and make our people safer. This is the field of the future – and it’s possible today,” says Asmund Maland, vice president, subsea and offshore power segment, subsea, oil and gas, ABB.

ABB  ENERGY MANAGEMENT | WINTER 2019 27

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