Edwin van Drunen – Consultant and Director, Enersea – Netherlands
Edwin van Drunen introduces Enerseas and the technical expertise it offers, especially to the beginning stages of complex projects, as well as the company’s ambition to engineer the future of energy at sea.
Please give an overview of where Enersea stands today and describe the current focus of your strategic initiatives as one of the three founding directors.
Together with my partners, Pascal Ferier and Dieter Korndorffer, we created Enersea and unveiled the company at OTC back in April 2015 as an engineering and consultancy firm specialized in providing technical solutions for the oil and gas and renewables sectors. There are a lot of technical challenges to be solved in these two segments. With the extensive amount of technical knowledge that we’ve gained throughout our experiences in the industry, we feel Enersea can generate a lot of additional value for many players across the value chain, especially here in the North Sea where developments are becoming increasingly difficult with the declining pricing environment. If companies already had difficulty in making projects economically viable before, they are faced with an even greater challenge now. But that’s where Pascal, Dieter, and myself come in. Enersea’s core competencies lie in technical engineering work from consultancy, structural design, and production systems design services, ultimately striving towards becoming a center of excellence. In aspiring towards that ambition, we’ll be very much focused on building up our internal competencies, while establishing our presence in the market and bolstering our client network in the next few years.
Given the declining E&P scene and mature nature of the industry, what sort of business opportunities have you witnessed here in the North Sea?
Especially here in the Netherlands, all the easily accessible and high volume fields have been more or less exhausted, leaving only marginal fields that are smaller and more remote in nature—requiring more enhanced recovery techniques and greater economic scrutiny. Enersea is currently heavily involved in this area of the market. Pascal is working on a marginal development in Denmark, and Dieter is working on a general standardized platform design for technical and economically challenging gas fields. In line with our backgrounds, Enersea is able to provide these clients with in-depth perspectives on current market trends and industry developments, while possessing the necessary insights and expertise to produce economically and technically superior development scenarios spanning new discoveries to existing productions.
How does Enersea differ from what competing engineering and consulting firms are already offering on the market today in terms of services? What sort of market gap does Enersea fill?
We have extensive experience in the industry. We’re striving to create a lean working environment in which our people can excel in their technical capabilities, rather than being bogged down by management work and the corporate bureaucracy such as with a larger company—ultimately focusing on providing nothing less than the utmost value for our clients. Although we’re new to the market, we want Enersea to be viewed as an experienced consultancy, offering fresh perspectives not only on an engineering level, but also on an overall project delivery scale—providing our clients with comprehensive guidance from point A to point B. I think this distinguishes Enersea from other companies that only provide certain elements such as detailed engineering or FEED. We start at the concept level, the point in a project where material choices with material value are made, and build up from there.
Dieter, Pascal, and I have been working in this industry since 1996. As you can imagine, within the last 20 years we’ve been through many ups and downs in the market. We’re well aware of the type of difficulties that a downturn might imply, but as a small and lean company, we don’t require a successively large amount of work to stay afloat. Furthermore, declines in economic conditions really start forcing companies to become more cost-efficient—a strong value driver for the type of project assistance that Enersea can provide. When the market does eventually fall back in line with cyclical trends and experience an upswing, we’ll be well-equipped in terms of scale, resources, and experience to service the market.
A glimpse of that ambition can be seen when considering the growth we’ve experienced since the company’s inception. Originally starting with three people, Enersea now has seven people on payroll, with the intention of expanding to 11 people by October. There are not a lot of people that can boast 100 percent growth during a downturn. However, we’re not particularly driven by expansion, if at all. We’re driven by being able to deliver robust solutions for our clients’ challenges while maintaining the level of standards that they’ve come to expect.
Engineering is perhaps the most crucial phase of any offshore energy project. Enersea covers every aspect of this phase from design and analysis to technical and economic due diligence. What type of services is the company currently and prospectively focused on?
We are targeting two main segments: oil and gas and renewables. Within these two, there’s an overlap. The knowledge that we apply there is structural. If you do offshore work, you need to have a very good steel structural background—that’s where we come from. Our initial aspirations have been steeped on developing our structural capabilities and then pivoting to production systems designs. We already have people currently looking at the latter. For instance, we’re working on a project for accessing offshore structures—people and goods transfer from vessels onto platforms or offshore structures. This is a new type of design we’re developing together with a client. We’re also looking at the application of Thermoplastic Composite pipes with, in this case, a platform’s steel pipeline network. In conjunction with an installation contractor, we’re assisting them with the design of those connections with one project in the Netherlands and one in Asia. And of course the next step is we have the consultancy work, focused on looking after marginal developments in such places as Denmark, Pascal is also looking at a project involving tidal energy. So, we’ve already begun building a book of business spanning multiple types of offshore energy projects. The growth in the global population will only continue fuelling worldwide energy consumption, and in turn, offshore-related market opportunities for companies such as Enersea. Oil and gas and renewables are the two primary segments that we operate in, but we’re open to any opportunities that industry may provide.
Engineering is perhaps the most crucial phase of any offshore energy project. Enersea covers every aspect of this phase from design and analysis to technical and economic due diligence. What are the key success factors of the engineering phase that if poorly considered, would disrupt the entire feasibility of a project?
If we’re looking at the design of an offshore facility and any corresponding infrastructure, we can design structures employing the most advanced and technically superior technologies. But if it’s too expensive, then it simply won’t align with the client’s feasible budget. Although there is very nice technology around, you have to ask yourself if you want to apply it, or live with other standards. We have to sometimes challenge these standards. For example, helicopters are commonplace among these offshore platforms, but another operating consideration is if you want a manned or unmanned platform. These are all types of factors that need to be considered in an engineering phase. It applies on both a high level and granular scale.
The government’s energy agreement for sustainable growth has resulted in extensive investments in renewables such as offshore wind and tidal energy. Considering that this sector is still in its early form of economic viability for the majority of industry players, how can Enersea add value in that regard?
It’s almost the same application as with oil and gas. From a design and engineering standpoint, it involves looking at what technology we can apply and technical solutions we can offer. From a project management point of view, it’s about advising a client how to better approach a project to improve upon operational, and in turn, cost efficiencies. For instance, the work that we are doing with the access system I mentioned before. It’s completely different from what other offshore access system solution companies are offering. This project is more about transfer goods from a vessel to a platform—focusing very much on the efficiency and safety of operations. So, with regards to renewables, there are multiple levels in which we can add value.
In your opinion, will renewables ever get to the point of materially impacting the market and actually incentivizing even large oil and gas majors to diversify into this segment?
In my opinion, it will still be two individualized segments. But I do believe both segments will complement each other when meeting the world’s future energy demands. Oil and gas produces many other critical products aside from energy purposes. Wind is also an imperative part of the energy sustainability mix. But what you see is that they entail two completely different types of clients, which also produces its own set of challenges. We started in wind almost eight years ago now and thought that we would apply everything we know about oil and gas into wind. But wind has gone through its own evolution and requires a more individualized approach and set of skills to complete a project. In many of these cases, you can apply the knowledge you have in oil and gas, but it can also be the other way around, which we’ve started seeing. Companies involved in offshore wind often did not want to follow procedures from oil and gas because they are too expensive, so they developed their own learning curve. Now, though, it’s gotten to a point where the two segments can effectively learn from each other, allowing a firm like Enersea to provide invaluable perspective in that regard.
Perhaps the most fundamental lifeline of any oil and gas company is R&D. From your perspectives, what type of innovations will help the industry reach new levels of operating, and in turn, cost efficiencies?
The types of innovations would be different for both of these segments. For oil and gas, it’s all about looking at applying different materials, technologies, and innovating upon current methods such as with more floating or ‘hit and run’ solutions. For example, we’re now looking at alternative ways of developing these marginal fields in the North Sea, and whether or not we can do it in a group of companies, in hopes of gaining more efficiencies. R&D will always rest upon guiding a client along all possibilities, and in some cases, altering a client’s mindset to realize the value of an alternative solution.
For renewables, it’s a lot more regulated. Companies in this segment have a different way of doing things—and the investment is much higher. We see a lot of benefits to be gained in the operational area. Wind parks’ lifecycles are typically twice as long as oil and gas developments, so it’ll probably take upwards of two decades before returns are truly materialized. As such, a lot of costs are distributed across the lifetime of operations. In this respect, there are a lot of value-added opportunities in areas of design analysis, operational execution, and optimizing not only CAPEX, but also OPEX.
Out of all your experiences and roles in the industry, what ultimately gave you the courage to start Enersea?
I never thought myself to be at the position I am in currently. I simply started as an engineer, but oil and gas is an open environment in terms of the network that you have and the people that you meet. It’s because of that environment that people are often encouraged, if not challenged, to forge their own path and become an entrepreneur.
Pascal, Dieter, and I not only enjoy working together but also the work itself. We’ve always exuded that positive and eager mindset to the people around us, and over time, we started receiving more and more requests specifically based on the skills and experiences that all of us individually brought to the table—prompting the creation of Enersea. It was more or less a fluid development, an organic stepping-stone in the progression of our professional lives. At the end of the day, the basis of any successful entrepreneur in this niche is the ability to have fun while guiding clients through various challenges or technical difficulties.
What are you personal leadership philosophies on chartering success for a company like Enersea, as opposed to some of the other organizations you’ve led in the past?
While proper guidance is crucial from a leadership perspective, it’s just as important to give employees, especially engineers, a degree of intellectual freedom to take ownership over the work they do. Perhaps an even more crucial factor in determining the success of an engineering company is the culture. Although somewhat clichéd, culture is what really brings people together and creates a positive environment conducive to innovation. It’s also worth noting that innovation starts by interacting with the client. The final product is always derived from a constant back-to-back dialogue. It starts with a question with some interaction and then answers that encourages forward momentum. This is the tone that we as directors, have tried to set. Enersea is the fruit of our ambitions and so far we’ve been able to attract a few of the best and brightest engineers that believed in our vision enough to get in on the ground floor. Moving forward, we can only hope to create an atmosphere that further enables the personal success ambitions of others and continues permeating this mindset.
Where would you like to take the company in five years?
In five years time, Enersea will still be the company that focuses on providing comprehensive fit-for-purpose technical solutions for our clients. We will have also expanded the company to staff size of about 50 individuals—95 percent of which will be technical driven. I believe this to be the optimal number that minimizes overhead, while allowing us to maintain the utmost standards of technical engineering and flexibility in meeting all of our client demands.