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SS: Hello, welcome to podcast by Lorn and ONS energy talks. My name is Sylvia Seres our topic is energy and my guest is Ragni Rørtveit from Equinor. Welcome Ragni.
RR: Thank you
SS: You are a graduate engineer you say but you have a very fancy role, can you tell us a little about who you are and what you do?
RR: So my name is Ragni, I have been in Equinor now for a year and a half. I am part of the graduate program, which entails that I get to shuffle around between positions. So I got my degree from NTNU in marine technology so basically a naval architect. My first year, I did ship technology, very specific in projects that equal scopes that I could not do with all their ships. Now I’m in crude shipping operations so now I’m trying to get the tankers to go to the offshore fields to load, at the appropriate time and make sure all the fields run full basically.
SS: So oil tankers is what I should be thinking now?
RR: Yeah, crude tankers, the big large ones that are shuffling around but I work strictly with the North West Europe part segment so not all over the world but just the ones that go to the offshore fields. They’re called shuttle tankers, because they shuttle to and from the oil fields.
SS: They drive the oil or they drive something else?
RR: Yeah, they take the oils, so they go out to the fields and then they load from the fields. So the fields will hold a certain amount of oil but they need to be unloaded before they kind of run full, because then you have to minimize production. So they’re storage offshore and then we come with a large tank ship and take that oil off from them and transfer it to market, to where our traders have sold that specific cargo.
SS: Oh, you drive it all the way or you take it to a certain pipeline?
RR: No, we take it to the market, wherever that specific cargo has been sold, so that there is, for us it’s typically Rotterdam but it could also be our own refineries and Mongstad and Karlinburg and uh...the UK.
SS: How big is one of these?
RR: 270 metres long so they’re pretty big but not the biggest ones in the world.
SS: How much oil goes into one of them?
RR: Eight hundred thousand barrels approximately. That is between six- seven hundred and roughly above a million, so pretty large scale.
SS: I can’t even think in barrels but I’m thinking huge.
RR: Yeah, I am thinking huge as well and when you start kind of estimating the value, I was out on one of these and I started estimating the value; I’m standing on top of so much money worth of oil that it’s just completely unrelatable to anything for sure.
SS: No smoking on one of those?
RR: No smoking for sure, absolutely and no cell phones out on deck, you can’t wear a smartwatch no nothing, no ignition sources at all.
SS: Can a smartwatch ignite?
RR: You never know, the sensor would on phone suddenly dead...yes so only explosion proof cameras that works, so very different from being...
SS: No angry, ladies even hehehehe
RR: Perfectly yes, as long as they don’t ignite you’re good. Hehehehe
SS: I have to ask you about this thing, I am not a feminist but I think more women should study these kinds of things, because we need to use all the brains. Why did you choose to study naval engineering and why did you choose to work for an oil company and to work with big oil tankers. Why is it exciting?
RR: It’s fun. I mean I’ve always liked physics and maths. I think that kind of needs to be there if you start going into engineering but I have also always liked the big tangible stuff that you can understand why it's wrong. I was never fascinated by e-math that if you miss it by 10 to the 15th power you don’t know that it's wrong. I want to understand if it’s wrong because it sounds insane and that’s what I am fascinated about so that’s why I kind of grew towards the shipping industry because the vessels are out there, you can see them you can understand why is it taking more time, less time, the weather is uncertain and it needs to be done. And I think that has kind of been the driver for me.
SS: Very tangible.
RR: Very tangible, that’s been kind of the key word and just the environment at NTNU with all the engineering students is so great so even though we were fewer girls than guys still we were approximately 30% in my year. The entire culture and environment is just so good and all the girls who go there are performing in a spectacular environment between ourselves. So it’s been easy to, being little off one. Obviously, when I started working, I have been working again mostly with men. My first department with only men over 40 so I kind of stick out. I think it’s fun being that kind of odd one because obviously, I bring my formal expertise from school but I also know other stuff that’s kind of weird like I would make or set up a powerpoint presentation completely differently. These other guys who have been in the industry for a long time and I feel like it’s fun to be able to contribute with more than the strictly professional and obviously they know the subjects very well, so I learn a lot from them but I then can bring other stuff to the table as well.
SS: I think that’s the real value here. The new perspectives and the kind of different vocabulary almost, the way you approach a problem, the way you challenge established wisdom. So really important so you continue there to do that.
RR: Yeah. They asked that all of us as graduates like okay awesome you’re new bring in your new perspectives and we try to do that but it’s hard, I mean it’s a big and established organization there is a lot of structure that you need to adhere to and a lot of normal ways of working and you need to understand it and still question it at the same time, I’m still finding that balance between being the difficult kid and being a good employee.
SS: I will tell you something, I was a difficult kid all my life and it costs a lot being that kid and it will continue to cost a lot but you should never stop. Because I think that’s the real value and there’s a lot of immune systems in both big organizations and very important institutions which tries to protect itself the way it is and the way it always was. You have to keep fighting that but with style with love for the organization, with love for the future and eventually it always works out and it's a very fun position to be in and it’s a very hard position to be in.
RR: Yeah I agree completely, and I feel myself already being more like molded into fitting and to understanding how things work. Obviously, this is my first full time job. So I assume this is how all jobs kind of work and that’s what’s good about rotating around, is that understanding that it’s very different. Now I have shifted 50 meters across the hall and it’s night and day. Completely different and that’s very interesting and very useful to see for me.
SS: Another thing I would like to ask you about is you are a naval engineer, so that really means you know how to build ships?
SS: Now you are in the oil business and then till there were people who studied geology and there were people who studied material technology and there are people who studied energy systems and many other things. And you need many of those skills, so do you go back to learning them on the job or how do you? Because I think every interesting job worth having going forward will be very cross functional, how do you learn what you don’t know?
RR: I love walking around and talking to people and the awesome thing about being a graduate is also it’s like you get to wear that hat that says I know something but most things I have no idea. So I try to shuffle around at work and ask people about their job. How does that work? Right now I am in a very commercial environment which obviously is weird to me as an engineer they have a completely different mindset and I try to ask nag them on, what are you doing, why are you doing this, why are you making this? People are always excited about sharing their knowledge and to me just digging around and learning new fields and some things that are completely different from the way I am used in thinking. I think that’s very fascinating, so I mean Equinor has got people with immense skills, I am baffled on a daily basis that what people know, so just start poking and usually it pours out all this new knowledge that’s weird to me.
SS: But very useful.
SS: So Ragni, teach us something about technology and energy and markets in change in your particular job and space. So what’s the most exciting thing about what you do and how is it changing?
RR: Working in the shipping industry it’s been very set for a long time basically since the beginning of the modern vessel it’s been a lot of the same. Now coming on, we’re talking about digitalization and what does that mean and a lot of new startups and tech companies are trying to solve one or the other of these problems but it’s a complex industry.
SS: Like what?
RR: We as Equinor, we don’t own any vessels, we are what’s called charters. We lease the vessels from a ship owner, so they do the operation of the actual vessel. Make sure they have the appropriate crew, all the licenses are in place, all the certificates, all the technical stuff. So we just lease the vessel to say we need this vessel to be here and be going and finding that link between us as charters and the owners.
SS: The logistics of...
RR: Yeah but then we have the shipbroker in between and a lot of people consider them to be kind of air wasted, kind of element in that supply chain. Just a middle man adding cost and without spectaculating too, their usefulness from my part people have been trying to replace that with an open source like a platform for basically negotiating prices on these vessels.
SS: Isn’t it like stav?
RR: But that’s strictly container, so that’s not to be tankers, but that kind of stuff and that’s what people are trying to digitize these days but the shipping industry is having a hard time adapting to that new way of thinking and also because there are.m so many actors and so many links in this supply chain. We’re having a tough time replacing one at a time because everyone...
SS: ...it’s a systemic change and it’s very complex.
RR: Yeah, it's hard to find that incremental change because it kind of needs to be disruptive, it needs to be the entire thing. Because if you change this little part that’s still going to be a useless little part. So you need to be able to take a huge chunk and you need to find that first mover because the margins are slim so no one wants to give up their tiny little edge to try something new.
SS: But I think that’s where you as a newbie and Equinor as a huge purchaser have a very strong edge because I think you have enough purchasing power that you can instigate a systemic change. I think if you change the way you measure your efficiencies and Equinor is one of the most efficient companies in the world when it comes to some part of oil services or operations. You have a huge power to affect but then the question is there is enough courage to start doing that.
RR: That’s very interesting and that has been why I figured going into shipping in what was a then starter now Equinor is very interesting because this is a huge customer basically and in the upstream segment towards the supply vessels this has been done, they’ve said okay we are now baselining the bunker consumption of these vessels if you are able to reduce this we will share big gain because we are charters pay for the bunkers, so they have actually been able to use their position as a big actor and we’re now going to take on vessels with new kinds of fuels which is very interesting, so exactly that part of it is what I’ve been thinking as very interesting to try to poke the bear a little to see how brave do we dare to be all the while remaining competitive because obviously we can’t go completely idealistic it needs to work, it’s a tight business for us well so...
SS: And you are changing the engine while the airplane is flying in a way.
RR: Yeah, it’s kind of that and these vessels also when they are procured they are in the game for 20 years at least. So it’s a slow change because if you do bring in a new engine running on something else then it’s going to stay for 20 years but it’s going to take 20 years before the ones that are currently there to be faced out.
SS: DNV GL is working on really cool sensor based ships classes so you might be able to flex a little bit on the class and the type and the energy profile and so on and I think creating this modularity might be super exciting.
RR: Absolutely because now it's very strict and it’s very boxed in the rules and regulations are very precise, it’s dangerous cargo, it’s flammable and everything so...
SS: Yeah, you mentioned to me that you are fascinated by CCS and hydrogen, tell us why?
RR: CCS makes perfect sense.
SS: Translate it first.
RR: CCS is carbon capture and storage so basically trying to produce energy and then capture the carbon right away at the production site and then reinjecting it back into a well. That’s as far as I know, I’m an outsider in this field. As an outsider, it sounds like the perfect solution. It’s like you can still use these same commodities and the same energy sources that we use today, we just suck the carbon out of it. It sounds very tempting. DNV GL backs that it needs to be part of the solution and that’s very fascinating and while it sounds like a good idea we also need to realize that this technology is tricky and it’s at least expensive, but if we were able to do CCS in a good way then we could be able to produce hydrogen from natural gas and hydrogen from natural gas and hydrogen is one of the fuels which could potentially be feasible for long haul shipping. In Norway we are very good at battery and hybrid ferries and the shorter kind of ship movements whereas if you’re going to do the crossatlanctic you need to have an energy source that’s able to transport that long stretch and hydrogen is one of the potential fuels which could be able to do that, but it's a demanding energy source. It's basically a semi efficient battery.
SS: But which is why hybrids might then be a cool part of the solution.
RR: Yeah, I mean, I don’t think no one really knows the solution and that’s what’s interesting but also once you start doing hybrids and all these complexities you are also adding to the weight of a vessel, you need more structures on board, the machinery grows bigger and that’s part of it because that decreases the payload the actual part of vessel work with which you’re able to transport the stuff that you are paid to transport. So it’s a challenge to have enough systems but not too many because if it becomes complex and the IMO International Maritime Organization has all these roles come into play. The United Nations have theirs, the European Union...
SS: We should be careful not to over regulate in a wrong direction.
RR: Yes and when it’s slightly different and that’s what kind of happening. Ballast water treatment for example, the United States have had theirs slightly different from the European union.
SS: What water treatment?
RR: Ballast Water Treatment. That’s the water you use to weigh down the vessel when its empty. Because if it’s completely light then the propeller will come out of the water base and it will be unstable. The important thing is that they've realized that by shuffling around all this water from one side of the world to the other, you are transporting microorganisms which is messing…
SS: ...the biological environment.
RR: Basically yes. So now we need to start treating ballast water, there’s been a convention and it’s been ratified but the United States has a slightly different wording in their regulations and that requires a completely different technology to solve.
SS: Global problems can`t have local solutions. I heard also that the future of transportation in this case it was about cars but I think it translates into other branches of transportation; it’s electric, autonomous and connected and then all of these things come into play but they can be used individually and they can be used alone in the sense that it’s not going to be completely autonomous and it’s not going to be completely electric, it’s as you say it's a very fine balance and we need to find our own mix and cocktail percentages right but what you are saying is that you’re doing this kind of experimentation or at least thinking about these disruptions also in the cargo shipping.
RR: Yeah, I think we need to be open to hear because people are coming up with all these cool ideas and we need to be open to hear them out. Understand why they think there’s a solution, we as Equinor are not going to be the ones driving the shipping change but we need to be adaptable in terms of finding those good ideas when someone else has them. We have to back it and be able to endear to go with that and be part of that early movement because we have the kind of structure around our company that’s able to sustain trying this. But it is as you say you can’t have one single little thing that’s working around being connected to itself that doesn’t provide much value. It’s that finding an entire system that can do this together and do it in an incremental way going towards something bigger which is going to be of a challenge.We need to dare to be part of the challenge. Yeah
SS: So I think we are closing with something along those lines if you think people would remember only one thing from our conversation, what would you like them to remember?
RR: Shipping is a part of the world, it needs to be because the commodities aren’t where the customers are and it’s a complex system with a lot of actors but we need to be able to endear to look for those synergies that are going across the board.
SS: Very cool Ragni Rørtveit, a graduate engineer at Equinor. Thank you so much for coming here and inspiring us about energy and shipping. Thank you for listening.
Who are you and how did you become interested in energy technology?
I have always been interested in math and physics, and during my years at NTNU I also became fascinated with the shipping industry. I wanted to work with something tangible and large scale, and when I landed a job with Statoil, as it was called then, I was excited to get to combine the largest industry in the country with shipping.
What is your role at work?
Being part of the graduate programme, I shuffle around between roles. So I worked in technical ship management during my first year, and now I’m on shuttle tanker operations. We optimise the tankers delivering crude oil from the offshore fields to the market.
What are the most important concepts in energy technology?
I’m not exactly sure when it comes to energy technology in general. But I think the most important concept in shipping is understanding your market and your commodity, and then optimising the fleet to maximise value and minimise cost.
Why is this exciting?
Because it’s so simple, and yet so complex, and it’s an industry that deals with large sums, many cultures and unpredictability. This makes the challenges seemingly impossible to solve. But the market embraces good, commercially viable solutions, which means that disruptive technology can change the game completely.
What do you think are the most interesting controversies?
One of the major challenges facing the shipping industry is adapting to a low carbon future. It’s a global industry that entails a lot of stakeholders, making it a challenge to implement change. Additionally, the margins are slim, making it tough to be a first-mover and take the risk of testing new technologies. The vessels travel all over the world, so standardisation and cooperation are key. However, incentives vary considerably, so it’s tricky to gradually implement positive change while maintaining a level playing field.
What is your own favourite example of energy technology?
I am very interested in CCS and hydrogen as a fuel. Long-haul shipping requires vast amounts of energy, making conventional batteries unsuitable.
Is there anything we do particularly well in Norway in relation to energy technology?
In shipping we are frontrunners in new technology, particularly with respect to batteries and hybrids for ferries and shorter voyages. We are also good at optimising offshore vessels and providing redundancy.
What do you think is the most important takeaway from our conversation?
We must dare to look for the disruptive technologies.
The climate challenges in the oil and gas sectorShippingCCSTechnology