We see substantial need and opportunity to carry out new, strategically-related research under two main headings: (1) Research related to safety and reliability in the energy industries; (2) Basic research related to the development and use of risk and reliability concepts.

Safety and reliability in the energy industries

Research opportunities in the general area of safety and reliability in the energy industries relate to (i) ageing assets, (ii) new technologies in extreme environments and (iii) reliability of renewable energy infrastructure.

(i) Many assets in the UK Continental Shelf are now more than 30 years old and degradation of equipment and structures presents a challenge to existing approaches to asset maintenance and inspection and verification, as highlighted in the HSE’s Key Programme 3 – Asset Integrity Programme. A new understanding of degradation in such equipment and the effect this should have on physical asset management is required if the industry is to continue to operate ageing assets safely and economically into the future.

(ii) The search for new energy reserves is forcing the oil and gas industry into a number of more challenging engineering environments – including deep-sea, high-pressure high temperature (HPHT) and arctic conditions, posing new technical challenges to equipment and components. The small number of wells operating in these environments means that the factors affecting the reliability of components subjected to these conditions are not well understood. Fresh thinking in the fields of materials science, reliability theory and modelling are required to allow new fields in these regions to be developed successfully.

(iii) Although many lessons learned from the offshore oil and gas industry can be applied to marine renewables (e.g. safe inspection and maintenance of normally unmanned installations), wind, wave and tidal power schemes present their own problems in terms of reliability. The most important challenge will be to achieve appropriate levels of reliability for plant and equipment operating in remote locations under often extreme environmental conditions.

Development and use of risk and reliability concepts

(i) Development of quantitative risk assessment: QRA is used routinely in the offshore and nuclear industries but there is a range of different practices which can lead to conflicting conclusions. In particular, the legislative requirement for QRA has pushed practitioners towards a historical data-based approach. This restricts the value that can be achieved from the QRA process, may not be appropriate for rare events for which there is little or no data and can lead to a lack of assessment of specific pieces of equipment, potentially underestimating the risk associated with real (as opposed to ‘average’) engineering systems. A new understanding of different approaches is required to build confidence in a move away from a purely historical approach to QRA.

(ii) Industrial perception of risk: A number of studies have demonstrated a gap between how specialists perceive the results of detailed risk assessments and how offshore personnel perceive the same results. Organisations need to have a unified view of risk from the management team to front-line operations if risk is to be managed effectively. New understanding is required into the nature of the barriers that exist in communicating risk assessment results, and what needs to be done to improve the perception of risk within organisations.

(iii) Development of advanced reliability methodology: Much progress has been made in this area in recent years, in particular in fully integrating reliability analysis with engineering analysis - for example, finite element analysis used in fracture mechanics and fatigue growth prediction. This has been used in evaluating the risk of failure by fatigue and fracture in structures which are known (by inspection) to have pre-existing cracks. Although some industrial applications of these methods have been developed, further research and development work is needed to achieve their full potential