Offshore potential faces obstacles

FRANCE: France could establish a viable offshore wind-power sector with its programme for 6GW of installed capacity by 2020, but the industry faces "serious obstacles", according to independent economic research consultancy Xerfi.

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In a recent report on the challenges confronting the sector to 2015, Xerfi acknowledges that France has a number of strengths, including world-class expertise in aeronautics, composite materials, shipbuilding and electrical and marine engineering.

It adds that the wind tenders have been designed to encourage the emergence of a French industrial base. Before that can happen, however, the sector must overcome some major hurdles.

At stake is around €20 billion of investment over the next 20 years being allocated under two government tenders. The outcome of the first 3GW round should be known this month.

High costs

Xerfi estimates offshore wind-generated electricity will still cost EUR183.6/MWh in 2016, excluding grid connection. That is two and a half times more than onshore wind and twice the cost of nuclear power, the report notes, explained by continuing high prices for turbines and construction, and low productivity compared with hydro and gas generation.

"The ability of energy companies to produce competitive offshore wind energy will be one of the major challenges," Xerfi asserts. In addition, the deteriorating economic situation could cause funding difficulties, while appeals against projects are "unavoidable". The fact that environmental impact studies are not carried out until after bids are submitted adds further uncertainty.

Xerfi also believes that forging a competitive industrial sector in France "looks difficult" in the absence of any major French turbine manufacturers. Existing manufacturers already have a supply chain in place, leaving little room for local companies to enter the market. Nevertheless, French groups Areva and Alstom, both breaking into the offshore market, "could eventually compete with the global wind-power majors and thus organise their own network of subcontractors". Both groups have indicated they will establish factories in France if they are allocated a significant share of the capacity out to tender.

Other potential problems Xerfi cites are inadequate port facilities and access to skilled labour. While some French ports, such as Le Havre, Brest and St-Nazaire, already have good infrastructure, others need to be developed and reconfigured to allow sufficient capacity for storage and assembly. Philippe Gouverneur, president of offshore wind at renewable-energy association SER, disagrees. Given that little will be built in French waters before 2017, and later if decisions are appealed, he argues that the ports have time to adapt their facilities to meet the requirements. The same applies to training programmes, Gouverneur believes.

Instead, Gouverneur is more concerned about grid connections being ready in time. "It is not easy for RTE (the transmission system operator) to build new high-tension lines," he points out. Again, new lines are often delayed by appeals. Either way, it seems France still has an uphill struggle to realise its ambition of creating a viable offshore industry.

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