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Article   |     |   08.11.2022

Are the power industry players safely on the same page as we transition to renewable energy?

The urgency to transition towards renewable sources of energy hardly needs restating, yet none of this can happen without significant investment in new assets, working environments and infrastructure. This is a risky business where personal safety and hazard avoidance need to be front and centre, all under the governance of a well thought through and coherent regulatory environment. The problem however is that the lexicon and terminologies of different energy environments often diverge. Here, experts from Vysus Group explore how hazard prevention and assessment needs to be more on the same page.

Iterative improvements to safety and procedures has been comparatively straightforward in the relatively stable environment of the past hundred years of energy production, largely limited as it was to oil, gas and electricity production. But with the race to green has come a rush of new technology and scientific discovery that has brought with it new challenges to safety in operations, and with that, differing regulatory frameworks.

Though similar, no two energy assets are ever the same, nor is the language used within assessment and verification criteria. What remains a constant, however, is the need to adhere to stringent safety regulations, and here lies the need for a more holistic approach to risk management in global renewable energy.

Throughout all areas of energy generation – both hydrocarbon and renewable – there are myriad examples of where knowledge gained or data garnered in one area of the production process can be beneficial in another. For instance, the data taken during the well delivery process or a plug & abandon (P&A) project can be used not only to optimise operations and equipment reliability, but also to reduce carbon emissions and lessen environmental impacts. The same applies to cross fertilisation between energy producers of technical knowhow and experience, where oil & gas for example can inform the hydrogen-producing sector. More on that later.

A holistic approach

Adopting a more holistic approach to assessing and minimising hazards – where knowledge is shared from installation to final decommissioning – can help inform and identify likely weak points at each phase of an asset’s lifecycle.

The 2019 explosion at a hydrogen fuelling station near Oslo was attributed to leaked gas as a result of an assembly error in a tank within a high-pressure storage unit. Could this have been prevented? And if so, what lessons might have been relevant to or from other energy producing technologies? Even if none were relevant in this case, the Oslo incident is a stark reminder of how even the smallest errors can lead to significant damage and avoidable cost.

It is hardly surprising that hydrogen production remains one of the most heavily regulated sectors of renewable energy, with the knowledge and insights gleaned from the Oslo explosion being shared widely by the operator to ensure it never happens again. Interestingly, it also changed its assembly procedures to bring safety measures in line with those seen in the aviation sector, where processes around the safe storage of fuel together with the knowledge of how different structures behave when subjected to pressure were all taken into account. Taking lessons learnt from other industries, where managing hazards and risks is paramount, feeds into the holistic approach mentioned earlier. The same goes in the move from coal to biomass, seemingly innocuous but fraught with the hazards of extremely dry and combustible dust.

Similarly, what safety lessons can be shared between offshore oil & gas and its power-generating peers in wind energy? In fact, offshore wind assets have proved to be amongst the most hazardous assets pan-industry. CDMs (Construction Design & Management Regulations 2015) govern this sector, and under the UK Verification Scheme, the oil & gas sector has long shaped by safety and environmentally critical elements (SECEs). Surely there must be more opportunity to harmonise and share? Especially with new international links increasingly being formed. What can the UK demonstrate to our peers across the globe in order for the renewable energy arena a safe and efficient one?

Moreover, there are more than just safety reasons for hazard-minimisation policies; investors, insurers and lenders are vital stakeholders in an asset’s lifecycle management.

New challenges

As the drive to renewables accelerates, new areas of discovery present new challenges, from the handling and storage of volatile or dangerous materials in hydrogen production (ammonia and CO2) to energy storage to understanding the differing ageing patterns of comparatively new materials and assets.

In today’s eco-aware society, environmental requirements exert ever greater influence. Though important for all the right reasons, some regulations can come into conflict with safety. In fact, an over-assignment of SECEs when setting performance standards is a trend that we at Vysus Group have observed more and more in recent years. These principles have become almost unquestionable when it comes to performance and safety, with very little room for manoeuvre according to an asset’s individual characteristics. While this may seem like the right approach to take, overusing SECEs in this way is contributing to inadequate hazard identification.

For instance, assigning all pressure safety valves (PSVs) as SECEs may, on first viewing appear to be a natural process. However, not all of these valves will be present to prevent a major accident hazard event, and therefore a lack of distinction between maintenance and assurance testing results in false positives and, to go a step further, contributes to an increased risk of a major incident.

Pooling together a diverse skillset maximises the probability of finding hazards that may not have been previously considered and has the additional benefit of exploring the impacts that correcting these hazards will cause on operations, as well as on the surrounding environment.

In much the same way, as environmental claims need to be verified and fact-checked to prevent greenwashing, the outcomes from introducing such modifications need close scrutiny in order to comply with all regulatory elements. In our experience at Vysus Group, we have encountered long-standing safety issues that have grown beyond conventional verification activities and the remit of the Independent Competency Person (ICP). Performance and maintenance standards have also been developed in isolation, rather than in tandem, despite the two aspects being intrinsically linked and sharing much of the same language.

Shortcomings within other areas of risk management have been highlighted as a problem area for a number of years, and as the energy landscape becomes increasingly complex, these have the potential to contribute to an increased likelihood of major incidents, such as the Oslo explosion.


For all that, let’s end on a positive note. Much progress has been made in recent years in bringing renewable energy to the top tables of global organisations in the form of carbon emission reduction pledges, and the implementation of large-scale facilities such as wind and solar farms is hugely exciting and encouraging. What we now need to do is ensure that, just as in oil & gas, hazards and risks in the new and emerging world of renewables capitalise on learning across the entire energy-producing sector.

Adopting a more holistic approach to assessing and minimising hazards – where knowledge is shared from installation to final decommissioning – can help inform and identify likely weak points at each phase of an asset’s lifecycle.

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