There is still no offshore wind farm in operation, or even fully permitted, leaving the country with less than ten years to achieve its targeted 6GW of offshore capacity by 2020.
The year started well when, in May, the French government announced a series of competitive calls for proposals for 6GW of offshore capacity, to be built within zones. These were to be launched in the coming weeks and the first call for proposals for 3GW launched in the autumn, said then-energy minister Jean-Louis Borloo.
But by the end of the year neither had materialised, partly because of disagreement over the zones and the terms of the requests. Observers believe the offshore tender decisions got bogged down between ministries following a cabinet reshuffle, reassignment of the energy portfolio and Borloo's resignation.
Part of the aim of the tender is to develop an offshore industrial sector in France. "Many French companies are involved in the maritime market," says Nicolas Wolff, president of the French Wind Energy Association. "All they need is the green light."
Much will depend on the speed of project selection and the ease of the permitting process. A report in December by research firm PricewaterhouseCoopers on France's offshore energy sector identified significant potential, as long as the tender winners fulfil their promise. This potential is for the domestic market, as well as providing for growing demand across Europe.
One potential area for development is floating turbines for deep-water use. Government grants were recently awarded to two teams building demonstration models. Winflo, led by French developer Nass&Wind, received EUR13.4 million, and Vertiwind, a vertical-axis turbine designed by Nenuphar, received EUR7 million. Both turbines should start sea tests in 2012.
Meanwhile, projects totalling around 13GW are under development in French waters. These include the 105MW Cote d'Albatre facility, co-owned by domestic developer Enertrag France and Germany's Prokon Nord. The project is now stuck in the courts following appeals against the siting permit issued in 2008.
Deux Cotes, a 700MW development by French owner-operator La Compagnie du Vent, was the subject of a national public debate during the permitting process last year, and the developer is now conducting further studies of fishing and landscape integration. This project falls within one of the five zones being offered in the first call for proposals.
The timetable for 2020 is extremely tight, given that selected projects have yet to pass the construction permitting process and may be challenged. A lot is riding on what happens over the coming months.