A wind turbine from the nuclear business

A single wind turbine towering over the highway near Boulogne represents the proud entry of France's nuclear industry into the business of wind plant manufacture. The J48 design, with a nominal rated capacity of 750 kW, has been developed by Jeumont, a 100% affiliate of the French nuclear group Framatome. Its erection on the Dannes-Camiers hills in June, albeit two months late, has revealed that Jeumont was serious when it announced two years ago that it was switching its business from manufacture of electrical components for the military to wind.

The turbine is to be joined by five more to complete the plant. Each will have 48 metre blades to come from an unspecified supplier at a cost of FFR 33.5 million, of which one-third is subsidised by the EU. Electricite de France (EDF) is buying the power at FFR 0.36/kWh.

The turbine is a direct drive, variable speed design, based on a modular generator with disc shaped permanent magnets, making it compact and thus reducing mechanical stress on the hub and maintenance, according to Jeumont. In addition to the blade tip brakes, an electrical braking system is to be experimented with at the Widehem site. The R&D work has cost FFR 19 million, provided by Jeumont, the regional government, the EU Thermie program, and, to a lesser extent, federal energy agency ADEME.

Over 80% of all components are of French origin. Little has been made known about the electrical characteristics of the J48, but they are said to be especially good for grid integration and progressive connection. The machine has no price tag. Jeumont is using it exclusively in its own wind developments and thus has no reason to publicise details.

The market entry of Jeumont as both a turbine manufacturer and developer is not seen as an entirely positive development in France. Industry observers fear that Jeumont will be slow to crank up its turbine production, effectively braking the growth of the French market. The company has scored power purchase contracts under earlier rounds of France's EOLE program for development of nearly one hundred turbines, to be delivered before 2002. In the recent round of tenders it won contracts for two further projects of ten machines each.

For a company used to building submarine engines one at a time, fast upscaling to series production of wind turbines might not be so easy. The visible support on hand from the energy ministry and from EDF may be a mixed blessing, says one of Jeumont's competitors. It fears the French government may continue to opt for limited tenders for some time to come to allow Jeumont plenty of time to get its wind turbine production up to speed.

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