With just ten years in which to install 6GW of offshore wind capacity, French developers, equipment suppliers, ports and civic authorities are gearing up for the first of two 3GW tender calls expected this autumn.
The 6GW will be crucial if France is to hit its target of generating at least 23% of final energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020, especially now that the onshore market seems likely to stagnate in the face of restrictions imposed by the new Grenelle 2 law (Windpower Monthly, June 2010).
There are also high hopes that the 6GW will trigger the establishment of a solid industrial base - and lots of jobs. Indeed, the tender is likely to require candidates to demonstrate how their projects will help stimulate the local economy.
France's offshore potential is estimated at around 90TWh/year, divided between its Atlantic, Channel and Mediterranean coasts, each with a distinct wind regime.
The 6GW will tap just a small share of this, yielding some 18TWh/year from roughly 1,200 turbines, and representing an annual investment of more than EUR1.5 billion, according to the French trade association, the Renewable Energy Syndicate (SER). The French government wants as much of that expenditure as possible to be local.
France will have to move quickly to forge an industrial sector in this competitive and fast-evolving market, but the country has plenty going for it. It has good port and shipbuilding facilities, marine sciences and technologies, composites, metalworking and electrical engineering.
It also has a dense network of subcontractors supplying the onshore sector, including a number of international players, some of which are also active offshore (Windpower Monthly, April 2010).
The government now hopes more companies will take the plunge, soaking up at least some of the spare capacity left by the global downturn, particularly in the shipping, metallurgy and automotive industries.
This is not all happening in a void, of course. SER estimates that offshore projects totalling 13GW are under development in French waters. Some are confidential, but many are in the public domain (see table, page 110).
Of these, the first phase of the 105MW Cote d'Albatre project, owned by domestic developer Enertrag France and Germany's Prokon Nord, was supposed to come online this year.
Instead, it is languishing in the courts (Windpower Monthly, March 2010). Cote d'Albatre was the only project retained after a 2004 tender call for 500MW of offshore capacity.
Two years later the government replaced competitive bidding with a guaranteed premium purchase price, setting the tariff at EUR0.13/kWh.
While the wind industry considers the tariff to be on the low side, developers continue to scout for sites and progress their projects.
The most advanced is Deux-Cotes, a 705MW facility developed by leading owner-operator La Compagnie du Vent, now majority-owned by energy giant GDF-Suez.
The project is currently the subject of a national public debate (Windpower Monthly, May 2010).
Now the new tender has thrown everything up in the air again.
The energy and environment ministry argues that an industrial base will develop more readily if the pace of development is properly managed.
This will also give the necessary visibility to the industrial sector over a minimum of ten years and guarantee a stable legal framework.
Industry minister Christian Estrosi agrees, asserting that the offshore tender will provide an opportunity to create industrial clusters and to convert certain areas hit by the crisis in shipbuilding.
He is calling on developers, turbine suppliers and component manufacturers to co-operate in producing ambitious industrial development plans.
These could result in thousands of new jobs. La Compagnie du Vent estimates the Deux-Cotes project could employ up to 2,000 people during construction and at least 150 on a permanent basis.
The feasibility studies alone involved 30 different companies and nearly 100 people. Philippe Jan, director of business development at the Nantes Saint-Nazaire Chamber of Commerce and Industry, says it works on the principle of 500 to 1,000 temporary jobs per 100 turbines during installation and one permanent job per turbine for operation and maintenance.
With this in mind, the government has launched various initiatives to support and mobilise the sector. In 2009 it set up the Grenelle de la Mer, a national summit to determine an integrated policy for France's marine resource.
The strategy for marine renewable energies is still under development, but one result so far is the Plan Energies Bleues (Windpower Monthly, September 2009).
Among other things, it seeks to accelerate development of the most promising new technologies, such as floating turbines.
These and other research projects are piloted by France's two marine competitive clusters, the Pole Mer Bretagne, at Brest in Brittany, and Pole Mer PACA, near Toulon in the southern Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur (PACA) region.
Their role is to identify and promote the emergence of innovative projects in new markets, including helping developers create partnerships with research institutions and helping them secure finance. Brest will also be home to a national technological platform for marine energies, another body charged with expediting innovative technologies.
A crucial source of funding for these projects is the demonstrator research fund, launched in 2009 under the auspices of the French national energy agency, Ademe.
The EUR400 million fund supports the development of new technologies at an advanced stage in the energy sector, including renewables, smart grids and energy storage.
State and regional authorities are investing in France's port infrastructure to prepare for the expected burst of activity once the result of the tender is known.
The prime candidates are Le Havre, Brest and Saint-Nazaire, all of which see offshore wind as a chance to revive their struggling economies.
"The development of the offshore wind industry is one of our economic priorities," says Michael Hidrio, industrial development project leader at the Le Havre development agency.
Further south, Bordeaux is also working hard to attract business, while smaller ports could provide bases for operation and maintenance.
Over the past year, the port authorities and development agencies have all been busy positioning themselves, talking to developers and subcontractors, service providers, training colleges, as well as research bodies, to assess what they can offer and what needs to be done.
Initially, they will most likely be called on for construction work and pre-assembly and for making foundations, towers and components. And the projects are not only in French waters.
Last year Vestas chose Dunkirk as its operations base for the 300MW Thanet project in England's Thames Estuary, and Le Havre, Brest and Saint-Nazaire are all within striking distance of southern England.
Later, as the market takes off, the ports hope to lure turbine manufacturers to open production lines. Saint-Nazaire, at least, aims to become a "super-hub" along the lines of Germany's Bremerhaven, where turbine manufacturers and component suppliers set up shop alongside research-and-development facilities.
Meanwhile, authorities have identified numerous local companies ready to diversify into the sector. At Saint-Nazaire, for example, the shipbuilder STX France estimates offshore wind could represent 20% of its activity by 2012.
Its primary goal is to manufacture vessels for turbine installation and laying cables, though it could also make bedplates for the turbines, as well as towers and substations.
The company recently formed a partnership with Paris-based Technip, a global leader in the construction and installation of offshore oil and gas platforms, which also supplied the platform for the Norwegian HyWind project, the world's first industrial-scale floating turbine (Windpower Monthly, July 2009).
Ship owner Louis Dreyfus (LD) Armateurs wants to move into port logistics, development of specialised vessels, and installation and maintenance of cables for offshore plants.
Its Marseilles-based subsidiary, LD TravOcean, is already engaged in laying submarine cables in the UK. Now LD Armateurs has teamed up with French renewable-energy developer-producer Neoen.
Neoen is working on three offshore projects totalling around 600MW, with another three at an earlier stage of development.
Italy's Saipem is active in the UK offshore sector, largely in turbine installation, while its French subsidiary has carried out preliminary studies for several developers. Saipem France also sees an opening in building a vessel capable of transporting and installing a turbine complete with its support structure in a single operation.
Whether they go ahead depends on the outcome of the tender and the size of the market in France. "We are ready to go if it is justified," confirms assistant director Jacques Ruer.
EADS Astrium, subsidiary of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space company (EADS), is also keeping a close eye on the market. EADS Astrium's long-term aim is to design and manufacture large blades for offshore use, building on its experience with high-performance composite materials. Later this year, the company will open a new production line for medium-size blades for onshore turbines and, alongside it, a workshop for building prototype 55-metre blades for offshore.
While Siemens and Vestas produce the lion's share of offshore turbines, there is still plenty of room for newcomers in this fledgling market.
They and all the other big players - Alstom, Areva Wind, GE Energy, Nordex and Repower - turned up to talk to the port authorities, subcontractors and government agencies at a meeting held by the energy ministry in early July.
It is unlikely that any of them plan to manufacture or even assemble turbines in France in the near future, especially given the temptations of the much bigger and more certain UK market.
Areva Wind, the only French-owned supplier, produces its Multibrid turbines in Bremerhaven, Germany. However, it does not rule out a factory in France.
Nevertheless, there is plenty of work to be done. The turbines represent only about half the cost of offshore installations. Onshore, they represent 70-80%. Port handling, logistics, cables, cranes, vessels, foundations and grid connections all weigh heavily as projects head out to sea, which is good news for local employment.
Towers are also likely to be sourced locally.
Earlier this year, the French media reported that Repower is considering opening a tower factory at one of the Atlantic or Channel ports.
"Repower is initialising talks with candidate suppliers," says Olivier Perot, managing director of Repower France. This might consist of making onshore towers first, before extending the collaboration offshore - possibly also supplying projects in nearby UK and Belgian waters, he says.
If the tenders proceed as planned, France is poised to develop an industrial offshore sector. Exactly how big it is and who gets involved remains to be seen.
As Jean-Jacques Le Norment, project manager at Brittany's Economic Agency, warns: "It is not too late for France to develop an industrial sector, but we can't wait any longer."
DEEP-WATER DEPLOYMENT - FLOATING TURBINES
- In its 2009 report on the green economy, the French government identified floating wind turbines as a priority sector offering great growth potential.
- French developer Nass&Wind is leading a consortium of industrial heavyweights and research institutes based in Brittany to develop its WinFlo free-floating turbine (Windpower Monthly, February 2009). Meanwhile DCNS, a world leader in naval defence systems, is working on the floating platform. Italy's Saipem is also involved.
- The turbine will be assembled onshore and then towed out to sea, which substantially reduces the installation and maintenance costs. "The aim is for a complete park using WinFlo turbines to be equal in euros per megawatt to conventional fixed turbines," explains Frederic Le Lidec, director of DCNS's marine energy incubator. The consortium hopes to install a full-size 3.5MW prototype at sea in 2012 or 2013 and start commercial production from 2015, probably at Brest.
- Lille-based Nenuphar is working on a direct-drive vertical-axis turbine around 90 metres high. The Vertiwind's low centre of gravity means the floating platform is cheaper and the whole unit can be assembled quayside. Designer Charles Smadja claims a 30% reduction in investment and operations-and-maintenance costs, and shorter delivery and installation times compared to other offshore turbines. The company is testing a scale model onshore. It hopes to produce a full-size prototype in 2011 and roll it out commercially from 2014.
THE FIRST OFFSHORE TENDER CALL - HOW IT WILL WORK
In May, France's energy and environment minister, Jean-Louis Borloo announced he would launch a tender for 3GW of offshore wind capacity this autumn. While precise details are not known, broad outlines have emerged.
The 3GW will be divided between five and ten zones identified by the regional authorities as suitable for offshore wind. One or more lots within each zone will then be offered for tender.
The minister will fix a maximum electricity price for each lot, or zone, and also stipulate the cost of the connection to specified substations.
While developers will have to pay for the connection, costs can be shared among adjacent projects.
Candidates will be selected in late 2011, primarily on the basis of the electricity price and the technical maturity of their projects.
The candidates' financial and technical capacities will also be assessed, as well as the extent to which they plan to mobilise local industry and workforce.
Successful candidates must then submit detailed feasibility studies within a year. If those are approved, developers can start the authorisation process, with construction of the first projects scheduled for 2015. The government says it will keep a close eye on progress.
While many observers consider the timetable to be tight, the zones and tender-call process give more visibility to developers and other stakeholders, argues Jean-Mathieu Kolb, director of offshore projects at owner-operator La Compagnie du Vent.
The ministry believes it is the best way to foster a local supply chain, and will allow authorities to see where to channel investment in such things as port facilities and grid upgrades.
It should also improve planning and, therefore, public acceptability, the ministry maintains. Not only were all the main players consulted over identification of the zones, but they also take into account sea depth, accessibility, fishing grounds, grid capacity and other constraints.
While this should, in theory, make administrative procedures easier and reduce the chance of projects being contested, not everyone in the industry is quite so optimistic.
LEARNING TO SWIM - OFFSHORE FARMS OF 250MW AND ABOVE IN DEVELOPMENT
PROJECT, DEVELOPER, MW
Deux Cotes, Compagnie du Vent, 705
Deux Iles, WPD Offshore, 600
Baie de St-Brieuc, Vent d'Ouest/Ventis, 500
Cote d'Albatre II, Enertrag, 480
Trois Estuaires, Enertrag, 420
Ile de Re, Enertrag, 400-480
Presqu'ele de Guerande, Enertrag, 400-460
Haute Falaises, WPD Offshore, 300
Caen, Poweo, 300
Rhea, MaiaEolMer, 250-300
St Malo, Neoen, 250-300