Thursday, 28 January 2010

Furniture has arrived

Finally all my furniture has arrived! Lucky as I had only brought three changes of clothes with me! Quite happy to be re-united with my Swiss stuff – I actually couldn’t even remember what it was that I had stored in the various boxes and had to check to make sure the stuff was really mine! It’s quite unbelievable how much stuff I have already accumulated, but this was mainly due to the fact that I had to furnish my place in Zurich. Here there is luckily a storage room downstairs where I can put all the big things. Now the big job begins on unpacking and sorting! Arrghh – I have no idea where to even begin...

Monday, 25 January 2010

First day at work

Caught a bus to work this morning, but unfortunately it was apparently the slow bus (many stops) and so took around an hour before I got to work! I was quite surprised as it really doesn’t look that far on the map, but I am told there is a fast bus which goes directly to the office so will have to look out for that one. Also it is a bit complex as some busses only run in the mornings and then again in the afternoon, so got to figure out the times so I do not get stuck at work!

For the next couple of weeks my job will just be to learn as much as possible. They have set up a lot of meetings with different people where they will tell me what they are doing. I was quite surprised at how complex some of the things they are doing are. The team is basically involved in 6 areas:

1)    End-user
2)    Storage
3)    Infrastructure
4)    Gas-to-Power
5)    LNG
6)    Long-term Gas contracts

End-user is the sales of gas directly to large industrial users bypassing the energy companies. Our team must give a fair assessment of the price to charge as well as the value of various flexibility options (min and max daily take, annual quotas, etc). This is only done for large customers whose scale can justify the investment as Statoil is not in the residential customer space.

In the Storage area, our team is there to evaluate the feasibility of developing new storage areas, as well as the fair value for renting storage to or from other companies. There are quite a few different ways to do this – the most common being to hollow out a salt cavern underground. The factors in the evaluation is the injection and withdrawal rates (and hence our ability to take advantage of short term price spikes), the cost of the machines, the cavern shrinkage rate, etc.

Infrastructure mainly involves the development of new pipelines, the main one now in development being the trans-Adriatic pipeline (TAP) which will take gas from Azerbaijan (where the gas is produced but where prices are very low) to Italy (and the European markets where prices are high) through Turkey and Greece. Statoil is a large shareholder in this project, though there are other companies proposing other pipeline routes, so it is still to be seen which one will be accepted. It’s a huge project involving many countries, so is quite political. Our team is supposed to evaluate the projects economics to see if the huge investment can be made back given our forecast of gas prices.

Gas-to-Power is the area I will be involved in. As the name says, this is basically capturing the spread between gas prices and electricity prices (less the cost of CO2 permits) by building gas turbines in various European countries which one can switch on and off depending on the price movement (called a spark spread). The complex part is really trying to build a model that can capture all the relevant data like volatility, correlations as well as the constraints of the actually power station (how long does it take to start up, how efficient is it to convert the gas to power, start-up times etc).

LNG (liquefied natural gas) is the process whereby natural gas is purified, cooled and compressed  (I think to around 1/600 its original volume) and then either stored or put on ships to sell to countries where the price is high. The big advantage here is that we don’t need the physical pipeline, but can “quickly” ship our gas over large distances (i.e. to Asia) whenever we spot that there is a shortage and hence a high price Here we must calculate the values of the geographical arbitrage (price difference between countries) by evaluating the revenue that can be obtained less the cost of the liquefaction process and its transportation costs as well as the time lag factor.

Finally long-term gas contracts are the bread and butter of Statoil and account for something like 85% of our gas. The gas market is not so developed as oil and outside of the US and the UK, there are not big trading markets. Instead, price formulas are negotiated with the big energy distribution companies in Europe (i.e. EON in Germany, GDF Suez in France, British Gas in UK, etc). Historically these have been linked to the price of oil and various condensates, but since 2008, the prices (oil vs its equivalent on the US/UK spot market) have started to move apart which means that the companies are paying theoretically more than what they could have if they bought directly on the market. Lucky for them, the contract we negotiate have some price review clauses in them which means they can renegotiate if the price changes dramatically. Our team is then called in to calculate what the price should be, and how can we adjust the other parts in the formula (flexibility options) so we capture as much value as possible. Usually one does not want to change the price (as this can be very difficult to negotiate up again later), but rather offer things such as a lower annual required volume, a temperature option (i.e. if the temperature changes by more than 5C from the normal at that time of year, then the quota are adjusted). This can be quite valuable for a company but the difficulty is on us to evaluate how valuable giving away such flexibility is, as we will have to hold that much extra gas just in case a company decides to use its flexibility.

Whew, that’s quite a long description. Each member of the team is put into three focus areas. Mine are Gas-to-Power, LNG and infrastructure.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Residence Permit

This morning I met with the relocation agent at the bus terminal to get a bus card before we headed off to do the formalities at the Stavanger Service Centre. I had to fill in some forms for residence and tax permits, got my photo taken, and before midday, I had my residence permit stamp in my passport. It is valid for three years, after which I can convert it to permanent residence if I have passed the Norwegian language and culture exam (300 hours). 
I did a quick tour of the city centre afterwards. The shopping area is actually not that small, and I think you could get most things. Somehow Stavanger reminds me of a frontier town from the movies with many of the buildings made from slats of wood which are painted white.  In the centre of the city is a beautiful cathedral from the 11th century and in front of that a lake which was so frozen over that people were walking over it as a short cut from one side to the other. I felt sorry for the ducks which had only a very small area left in which to swim.

Thursday, 21 January 2010


After arriving yesterday, today I went to the office for the first time. Luckily just to attend a course called “From exploration to production”.  I caught a taxi, but will need to figure out the bus system soon as the taxis are quite expensive. About 300 kroner from the city to the office – and that’s only about a 15 minute drive. I got quite nervous looking at the meter clock as it was ticking furiously upwards as I didnt have much cash on me and was imagining I would need to tell the driver to drop me off at some stage!  The course was only 2 hours, and then I went up to the office to meet the team and have lunch (lunch time in Norway is always at 11). They are really nice. There are about 13 people in the team and 8 are also not Norwegian (China, Iran, America, Russia, Nigeria), so we are quite an international group. I am the second youngest, the others are between 30 and 35 (our boss is 40), so not really a big difference. There is a canteen in the building which is quite good - there are two different types of hot meals, a salad bar, soups and some cold dishes (and milk is free).Lucky for me I was given a “free lunch” ticket, so I could really dig in! After this I made my way to the bus stop, only to realize that it only runs in the mornings and in the late afternoons, so I trekked up the road until I got to the highway. I eventually got to an Ikea shop where they pointed me up the road to a bus stop where a bus would come. hmmm – from what people have told me, I may have to think about getting a car sometime as it looks like the public transport is a bit sketchy.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

A new start in Norway!

beepbeepbeepbeep! Ouch – 04:30!

So began my day. Some last minute packing (Finnie style), a rushed breakfast, and then straining on my, by this stage obviously, over-weight bag, along with a backpack on my back and wearing two days worth of clothing, I made my way to the tube station. I don’t know how long it took, but it felt very very long as I had to rest frequently along the way as I took my last views of the apartment building, the Thames path I had travelled so often on my way to work, and the magnificent Old Naval Collage, and felt somewhat sad. The airport was full, and when I came to the security check I found out why. The security was really tight – we even had to take off our shoes, much to the annoyance of the woman in front of me with those long high heel boots.

The plane was a somewhat ancient looking propeller machine which gave me the fleeting feeling that I was about to depart from polite civilization. Luckily this was unfounded as we landed in Copenhagen, and one of the nicest airports I have ever seen. The floors were all covered in hardwood with gleaming shops everywhere. I had an hour to spare, so amused myself in the Lego shop (Denmark being the home base) and then to their very large selection of duty-free alcohol. Apparently alcohol is very expensive on the outside, so the duty-free is big business.

As we were approaching Stavanger an amazing thing happened. The plane dipped below the clouds, and there below me was a view on a fjord! It looks like some giant ripped the two pieces of land apart. Sheer cliffs on both sides disappeared into the dark blue waters in between. Better yet, the sun was just on the horizon, painting everything in a reddish/orange glow. I could have kicked myself for putting my camera up in the luggage holders. There area along the coast is littered with islands and as we came down, I noticed how all the lakes were frozen over and snow blanketed the countryside.

Welcome to Norway.


The first thing to note is that Stavanger is not very big. Having failed to buy some kroner before flying, I was panicking a bit on how to catch a ride into town. Luckily I managed to find a cash machine that allowed me to withdraw. As I had to go to the office to pick up the keys for the apartment, I thought I would save some cash and get a bus into town, and then use a taxi to get to the office. What I didn’t know was that the office was really close to the airport, and so to my astonishment, my taxi ride from the city took me almost exactly back to where I had left half an hour earlier – haha! The taxi driver didn’t quite understand that I wanted to just pick up a key and then go back to the city, and it only became clear (using German) after I had paid him and unloaded my luggage. Back to the city.

My apartment is the first of three new building built at the end of the old town. As they each look the same, and the key fits for the front door of each, I ended up at apartment 403 of the wrong block. I struggled getting the key into the door, and resorted to some more aggressive tactics (thinking I would have to go back to the taxi rank again if I couldn’t get in), when suddenly the door opened, and this guy was like “Can I help you?” This was definitely not what I expected, and hoping he was not my roommate, I studied my papers again. Luckily he was laughing and said that I was in B block, when in fact I should be in A block. Whew! By this stage it was getting dark and the path outside was packed with ice causing me to slip and slid every few feet – it must have been quite comical to observe! As I walked, I noticed a few barges docked across the road from the apartment.

Finally I found my real apartment and what an apartment it is! It’s about 70sm equipped with everything from TV to dishwasher, washing machine and dryer and wooden floors throughout. Also it has a balcony that to the right one can look out over the bay and hills in the distance. Awesome – I’m really lucky! It started snowing again, but luckily the apartment is really warm – heating even comes up through the floor, which is great since I like to walk around barefoot, or just in socks.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

No more renting

At long last my final day in London has arrived! I’m really looking forward to tomorrow. I am taking a SAS flight from London City airport via Copenhagen in Denmark and then on to Stavanger. It’s going to be quite a strenuous mission I think as I have somewhat overestimated the amount of things I have kept in London (the “laptop” alone weighs around 8kg). Looking back I’m glad I did the trips to the British Museum as it may be some time before I visit London again.

Quite annoyingly, our landlady has been kicking up a huff lately and has been coming out suddenly with all sorts of extra costs and “administration” fees. After we asked to see the actual water bill she was charging us for and that we would be using an independent check-out agency (instead of her daughter as she wanted), she has sent us such a nasty email with everything from us being untrustworthy, to copyright on her inventory list (yes, really!) to her actually lying about delivering a letter on Sunday (and hence charging us an extra admin fee), that we decided we would rather take the issue to the deposit protection agency (an independent body that holds ones deposit). I am really amazed at her behaviour but I guess there are such people out there (remember the gay landlord in Amsterdam that wanted to impose some “special” conditions – lol!).

Anyway a good take away is that I am tired of putting up with crazy landlords and their demands, so I will look, after my year in corporate housing in Stavanger (and if I plan to stay) to buy a place of my own.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Furniture moving day

The last two day have been a whirlwind of activity! It started yesterday morning, when I sent an
email to my new boss and HR. Now the backgound is that the lease on my apartment in London is due to end on the 21st of January and hence I would have to move out by then at the latest. Now since I hadn't received an update for some time from the Norwegian side, I asked if everything was still on schedule, emphasizing again my position re the apartment, and gently suggested one solution could be that I go back to South Africa for a few weeks if more time is needed to process the work permit (secretly hoping they would agree to this :-)) Anyway, it seems to have animated the HR to uncharacteristic levels, since within the hour I was receiving calls asking where I prefered to stay (in the city or outside - I opted for the city), from my new boss saying they were working on an orientation program for me and finally from the relocation companies, that ended with "so, we will be at your apartment early tomorrow morning"!! haha!

So I got quite a bit more than bargained for, and immediately had to start organizing and packing my things (we call this last minute organization "finnie style" - and though I try to avoid it, it somehow always manages to happen that way - and it works :-)) So after pulling a midnight shift, I woke up early this morning to a white world - it had snowed again last night. After worrying a bit that this might prevent them coming, they eventually did arrive, and less than an hour later were driving off with all my earthly possesions (well, not really - most of my stuff is still in Zurich).

So now I am sitting in a very empty room with a blanket borrowed from my housemate - brrr. I booked the plane ticket for the morning of the 20th and my boss said they will put me up in a hotel if my apartment is not yet ready - nice! Whew - I can now really feel that this is happening - the wheels are in motion!

Monday, 11 January 2010

Second day at the museum

I got up at 8 bells today so I could catch the early tours on offer at the British Museum.

The first was "Ancient Greece" which focused on the Parthenon Marbles. These used to be part of the Parthenon in Athens, but were controversially removed by Lord Elgin in 1801 and eventually sold to the British Museum. In any case it is a wonder it only took 15 years to build the entire thing. Also interesting is that a full size replica of the Parthenon was built in 1897 for an expo in Nashville in the US and is still there today.

 Next I joined a tour of the China gallery which told us all about how the chinese developed ceramics and porcelein. The finally tour I joined was of the Anceint Egypt gallery which brought back many good memories of our trip there (though I didnt see anything refering to our old friend hot-chicken-soup!) I found this picture, of what must have been a very pampered little kitty, especially for Ian and Liz. Notice the good luck scarab on its head and the eye of the sun god in its collar.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

A little culture

As it is so cold, I decided to put on hold my plan for going to Durham, instead opting for a bit of culture. So off I went today to the British Museum.

Its a truely impressive collection with artifacts from all over the world including iconic objects such as the Rosetta Stone, the Parthenon sculptures, Egyptian mummies and Easter Island statues! Its also (as my feet can attest) quiet impossible to cover in one day. Hence I will go back again tomorrow and seeing how much I can cover, maybe the day after that too. What I found quite nice is that there is a set of free guided tours covering different areas such as Ancient Rome, Money, Art of the Middle East, etc. which last for around 40 minutes each. Although quite brief, I find it quite an interesting way to get the background of what is going on, and then afterwards I can take my time to look a bit closer at the rest of the objects in that particular gallery.

First above the Rosetta Stone which was key to deciphering hieroglyphic as it had the same text written in both the Egyptian script as well as Greek. The other picture is of a set of Assyrian lion gods that were meant to protect the kings palace.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Bone-rattling cold


It is seriously freezing here in London - in fact, I heard it is the coldest winter spell in 30 years in the UK! More snow is forecast for tonight. I am definately keeping my heater on max tonight! Below is a picture looking out from my bedroom window...

For an overall view, the picture below to the left is a satelite picture of the UK - as you can see it is almost completely frozen over ! Now, as cold as it is here, I almost fell out of my chair looking at the temperature in Stavanger. A bone-rattling -21C tomorrow! The day after that, a maximum (!) of -10C! I dont think I have ever experienced more than -5, let alone -10, so Stavanger is certainly going to be a shock to the system. My new priority is to stock up on extra thick thermals before I go!

 A silver lining in all this is that of course the demand (and hence price) of gas has shot up - good news for my new employer!

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Remembering Joe

I would like to dedicate this blog to Joe who would be 29 years old today. He was kind, funny, intelligent, somewhat messy :-), a computer addict, my brother, and my best friend – I miss you buddy.

Friday, 1 January 2010

2010 - it's going to be legendary!

Happy New Year everyone! I have the feeling 2010 is going to be one awesome new year - new city, new country, new job, new friends, new life!!

So my new years resolution is to (finally) get this blog started (as Liz has clearly showed us how its done!) and keep it updated - so this is it. I hope you will read it (click on follow, on the right side of the blog), and please post comments!!

This morning I rolled out of bed at 12 bells (shock, horror), thereby breaking a resolution to be less lazy :-) Well, its pretty difficult when my schedule (on a busy day) is basically trying to learn some Norwegian, doing some research about Statoil, reading, cooking, watching movies and going for a stroll around the block. Not exactly what I would call exhausting :-) Maybe I need some tips from the retired folk...

Oh, one thing I was thinking to do was to go again to Durham. Its a town in north-east England, very medieval looking with a giant cathedral on an island in the center of the city. Moo and I were there during our road trip in June and we thought it was really amazing. In fact on the day we were there, there was the university graduation ceremony and hence the greater part of the city folk were all smartly dressed up.

As for the move to Stavanger, I filled in all the application forms for a Norwegian residence permit, so the company will submit this to the police on Monday. If they think I am not too dodgy a character, then its as easy as going to the police station after arriving in Stavanger and getting a stamp put in my passport. Still have to find out about my accommodation and transport though. I hope this will happen soon, as actually I have to move out of the London apartment by the 21st (eeek)

Ok, that's all folks!