June 29, 2023

Explained: Greenwashed plans to power Rosebank with renewables

Equinor is under pressure to explain how it intends to power the controversial Rosebank oil field, as new analysis from Uplift shows the huge amounts of clean energy Equinor might use to green wash its oil field.

Oil and gas rigs in the UK are usually powered by diesel and gas generators. But as part of a plan to improve the industry’s image, oil and gas giants are exploring using wind turbines to power oil rigs. 

Reducing emissions from producing oil and gas is important for the UK government, as it has set targets for the UK oil industry. Research by Uplift shows that if Rosebank is allowed to proceed without any abatement measures, such as electrification, it would blow the industry’s carbon budgets. But such schemes leave aside the HUGE emissions created by burning Rosebank’s oil.

Rosebank is just one of three proposed new oil fields off the West of Shetland that are exploring renewable power options. BP, Equinor and Ithaca Energy, which respectively own the Clair South, Rosebank and Cambo oil fields, are jointly exploring options for electrification. Energy minister Graham Stuart, who attended the signing of a joint agreement in December between the three operators, called it ‘an important step’ by the industry in reducing emissions. 

Collectively, these three fields West of Shetland would require up to 200-250MW of electricity to power their rigs. That would be enough energy to power more than 450,000 UK homes, or every household in Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Shetland. (1,2)

Equinor has outlined several options for powering Rosebank with renewables. The option with the ‘greatest potential’ to reduce emissions, it explains, involves powering Rosebank using onshore wind farms on Shetland. 

However, drawing clean energy from shore to power oil production would be highly controversial. The Islands’ new 103 turbine Viking wind farm, which is set to go live next year, was strongly opposed by Shetlanders for being industrial in scale and providing too little benefit to the local community. At least three-quarters of the energy produced by Viking would be required to power Clair South, Rosebank and Cambo.(3)

If Equinor does try to power Rosebank with renewables, we’ll pick up the bill. North Sea operators have so far been reluctant to electrify rigs thanks to the additional costs involved. None of the UK’s 200 plus oil and gas fields are powered with electricity, despite it being commonplace in Norwegian waters. Earlier this year, the government introduced a generous new tax break to encourage decarbonisation, which will see operators effectively paid £109 for every £100 invested in ‘wind for rigs’. The UK Government is subsidising renewable energy for oil and gas companies - at a time when they’re making record profits - diverting clean power that could go to driving down our bills.



  1. OFGEM estimate that a typical UK household uses 2.9 MWh of electricity every year.
  2. We used the latest sub-national electricity consumption statistics (2021) and households and dwellings in Scotland (2021) to calculate total energy consumption for local authorities in Scotland. 
  3. Project estimates for Viking state the energy yield per annum of the project is 1.796 TWh. 

The North Sea Transition Authority have estimated "normal" incremental heat and power demand for the West of Shetland to be ~150MW. Reporting suggests the total power requirement for these fields is 200-250MW - this accounts for periods of peak power, such as drilling. Average demand will lie somewhere between  "normal" (150MW) and "peak" (250MW)). We have conservatively used the lower end of this range for our calculations.

150MW equates to 1.314 TWh of electrical energy per year (as there are 8760 hours in a year, and 150MW*8760 = 1,314,000 MW = 1.314 TW)

1.314 is 73% of 1.796