Analysis - Areva quiet on Huby replacement

FRANCE: Areva was unable to give any reasons for Jean Huby's sudden exit from his post as head of Areva Wind in Bremerhaven, Germany. However it coincides with problems for the manufacturer surrounding faulty turbine components.

Areva M5000 turbine at the Alpha Ventus wind farm

The issue came to light in Areva's half year 2013 report, released 24 July 2013, of a supplier's warning regarding "the possibility of defects in components used in the manufacture of wind turbines."

Areva said the components were being inspected and any of them found to be defective would be replaced. The company expected that the supplier involved will bear the costs, penalties and contractual claims associated with these measures. But the Areva group's liability insurance "may also be brought to bear", implying it too will have to shoulder additional costs.

Jean Huby became chief executive officer at Areva Wind and executive vice president of the wind unit at Areva Renewables in Hamburg, Germany, in May 2011. His arrival came in the aftermath of another quality control failure in 2010 in connection with two gearboxes out of six Areva machines at the Alpha Ventus test offshore station in Germany. Areva said this was down to gearbox overheating related to the use of sub-standard materials in one of the nacelle sliding bearings. All six nacelles were replaced as a preventive measure.

Coincidentally, Huby seems to have been replaced by a specialist in quality control. The wind division is now headed by Arnaud Bellanger, previously a vice president for purchasing in the nuclear division of the French majority state-owned company. Quality control in the nuclear sector is of huge importance, and this is likely to be applied to Areva's wind turbine assembly.

Ironically, German offshore wind station developer Windreich had eulogised over quality at Areva Wind. On 26 July, it praised the Areva turbines built in Bremerhaven "from almost exclusively German components from leading suppliers such as Renk Augsburg, Liebherr, Schwäbische Hüttenwerke, Schaeffler and so on. Careful quality control and Areva's worldwide unique 10,000 PS teststand bring further quality security," Windreich said. This came just two days after Areva's document containing the component warning had been released.

Project uncertainty

Less than a month later, on 22 August 2013, Huby signed a cooperation agreement for the supply of 130 5MW Areva Wind M5000-135 turbines for the Baltic Eagle and Ostseeschatz projects in the Baltic Sea with Willi Balz, the founder of Windreich, which owns of the projects.

But just two weeks after that, on 5 September 2013, Windreich filed for insolvency. This could delay or even jeopardise Areva Wind's supply of turbines to Windreich's 80 turbine MEG 1 offshore station project, which had hoped to reach financial close in June 2013. On 30 September 2013, a letter to Windreich bondholders said constructive talks were under way with key suppliers, potential investors and the banks involved.

Also adding to Areva's uncertainties, if Balz sells Baltic Eagle and Ostseeschatz, the cooperation agreement with Balz could be torn up by the new owner.

Meantime, Germany's offshore sector is floundering in the doldrums which does not bode well for Areva Wind's Bremerhaven assembly works. After two years without new offshore investment decisions, first due to offshore transmission cable delays, followed by federal government policy announcements in spring 2013 heralding but not clarifying feed-in tariffs changes, offshore turbine manufacturers urgently need new business to keep their works open.

With the slowdown in German offshore wind and Areva's announcements in November 2012 on planned new assembly works in France and Scotland to deliver to offshore projects in France, the UK or Belgium, the future of the Bremerhaven assembly works could start to look precarious if no new contracts are awarded soon.

Despite Windreich's assertion about the Areva's Bremerhaven turbine assembly using "almost exclusively German components", the company could plan to shift the bulk of its manufacturing to France. In 2012, Areva CEO Luc Oursel spoke about plans to make a 100% French turbine by attracting component manufacturing plants, including Scottish-owned Moventas and Swiss-owned ABB to the Haute-Normandie region of France.

For the time being, the Bremerhaven works is busy with supplying 80 turbines to the Global Tech 1 project and 40 to the Trianel wind farm Borkum (also known as Borkum West 2 phase one), both now in the installation phase. When Windpower Monthly questioned Trianel on whether there is a problem with component defects, the developer said to ask Areva.

Areva said 16 October 2013 that "it is not the rotor blade but a component inside the rotor blade" that is at issue and that "the problem has been resolved." No details were revealed on the number of blades affected nor on the cost of rectifying the defective components.

Areva Blades production facility is in Stade, near Hamburg, where the Areva nuclear division is dismantling a nuclear power station. The blades factory was acquired in 2009 from Prokon Nord Energiesysteme, from which Areva also acquired the "Multibrid" offshore wind turbine technology in 2007. Areva Blades is the exclusive manufacturer of blades for Areva's 5MW offshore turbine.