France's only home-grown manufacturer of large wind turbines, Jeumont SA, has begun mass production of its first model, the J48. The company is hoping the technology behind this 750 kW machine will enable it to grab a large share of the domestic market when the building of wind farms begins in earnest in France (as expected) over the next twelve months. Jeumont plans to move immediately into export and simultaneously develop larger turbines.
Jeumont was new to wind when it started designing the turbine in 1997, but it is determined not to join the ranks of large companies that have tried to enter the industry but failed, including Boeing, Westinghouse and MAN. Jeumont executives point to a number of factors in favour of success. The growth potential of the home market promises a huge demand for turbines and as a French company, Jeumont's local business knowledge gives it an advantage over established foreign manufacturers even though it has had to catch up with technology.
To enter the market and stay in it will require sustained investment. Jeumont could hardly have a stronger industrial base: it is a subsidiary of multi-national nuclear energy group Framatome ANP, which is part of the new, partly state-owned Areva nuclear group. Jeumont's core business is in electromechanical engineering for nuclear power plants, navy ships and submarines, and industrial energy production. It also builds superconductor magnets.
Wind turbines are smaller than most of the machines Jeumont is used to making, such as 50 MW generators for gas-fired power stations. But they are seen as an integral part of the product range. Semi-built wind turbine nacelles now occupy a bay of the Jeumont factory near the Franco-Belgian border, adjacent to a bay of fittings destined for nuclear power stations. "It is not a paradox in France that the nuclear industry is promoting the wind energy," explains Jeumont's Yves Duretz. "Both nuclear energy and wind energy are clean energy. We think of them as complementary."
The company sees wind as a natural (and highly profitable) application of its existing technology. The Jeumont turbine uses a direct drive generator running at the same speed as the rotor blades. It claims several technological advantages over its competitors for the variable speed, stall controlled technology. By eliminating the gear box, efficiency is increased while reducing the time and cost of maintenance; and the use of permanent magnets reduces the size of the generator by 40% making for a smaller nacelle than would otherwise be needed in a direct drive machine. The turbine is designed to be modular, making parts easy to manufacture under licence in other countries and it can be produced in versions suited to different climatic or geographical requirements, especially for use offshore.
Jeumont was prompted to look at wind turbine manufacture by the French government's EOLE 2005 program to promote wind energy. The signs in the late 1990s indicated the government's commitment to a strong renewables policy. Jeumont made the decision to go straight for a medium sized turbine. "We started at 750 kW," says Duretz. "We were not interested in starting with lower range because we were using direct drive."
Jeumont makes an interesting contrast with the other main French turbine manufacture, Vergnet. While Jeumont is a newcomer with huge research and development resources to enable it to perfect large machines and attract volume sales, Vergnet has much longer experience in the field but has chosen to stay specialised in small turbines. The two are complementary players in the new French market and unlikely to come into direct competition.
A research program paid for by Jeumont, the EU Thermie program, the regional government of Nord Pas-de-Calais and the French environmental agency, ADEME, led to the production of the first J48 prototype. It was erected at Widehem near Dunkirk in 1999. Later, five more turbines were installed on the site which straddles the A16 motorway south of Boulogne. The J48 reached cloning stage in 2001.
Jeumont's transition from nuclear and conventional energy to renewables is being watched with scepticism by some long standing wind campaigners in France. Initially there were doubts about the technical and economic viability of Jeumont's turbine because of the company's lack of experience with renewables. Some leading wind farm developers were reluctant to back a new product whiich was still undergoing trials, preferring to plump for well-proven turbines built by foreign manufacturers.
All along Jeumont has known that it will have to win over its critics. The realities of business means that its achievements are not always acknowledged as much as the problems it is working to overcome. From a standing start -- and with an almost non-existent French wind market to help it -- Jeumont has designed and built a turbine that it says is ready to compete with turbines from the stables of established manufacturers in Denmark, Germany and the USA.
"When you start in a market it is always difficult. It takes time when you are learning," says Duretz. "We have to prove ourselves." The company is satisfied with the performance of its turbines so far. "Our availability factor is pretty good. We targeted 95% and the bulk of our six turbines are at this level."
Jeumont comes to wind with an electromechanical background which, it says, will bring fresh ideas to the wind turbine. It may be new to wind but it has 20 years' experience in variable speed generators. And now that the R&D stage is almost over it has plans to reduce production costs by mechanisation. Producing the generator's stator, mounting the magnets and manufacturing the coils are all being automated. Industrial robots are expected to be used soon in the manufacturing process.
Slow market entry
Winning acceptance for the J48 has not been helped by the slow start to the French market. The year 2001 was a false start to the market as producers waited for the government to come up with its price decree (finally delivered in June), and for planning permission applications to grind through bureaucracy.
Both these factors affected Jeumont not only as a turbine manufacturer but also as a wind farm developer. The company took the decision at the outset to develop its own wind power stations as proof of its commitment to the success of its turbines. "It was necessary for Jeumont to be very early in the decision making chain -- to take out options on sites," explains Duretz. As well as Widehem, Jeumont has a controlling stake in four other wind farms: Escales-Colinhac in Aude (southwest France) and Guimaëc, Plougras and Ploumoguer in Brittany. Between them these projects will account for 50 turbines. Once complete they will be sold on to other operators.
Planning delays and some wind farm developers switching tentative orders from Jeumont to other manufacturers meant the company had to reduce its planned production runs from 50 turbines for the French market last year and 100 more in 2002. Fifteen turbines are now in production at its factory in northern France and the company expects to build a further 80 machines during 2002. "It has been rather slow but it will speed up next year," says Duretz. Factory space at Jeumont's factory in northern France, near the Belgian border, has already been earmarked for expansion.
Jeumont confidently expects its wind farms to act as showcases for export customers. Duretz believes they will see the advantages of the Jeumont technology: "Our targets are Spain, Canada (for which we have a cold-climate model), Asia and China -- where Framatome has a very good reputation." The main selling point is the direct drive, variable speed generator which will enable higher levels of production and require lower maintenance costs, he says. Jeumont is also stressing the modular nature of its design: most elements of its turbines (everything except for the generators) can be assembled in the customer's own country giving added value.
With the J48 now in production, Jeumont has plans to make a much larger turbine, to be rated at 1.5-2 MW. "The principle of our design is well suited to the multi-megawatt class," says Duretz. Offshore is an obviously attractive application. Four adapted J48s -- made corrosion resistant and fitted with electric brakes -- will be erected in France's first offshore wind farm at Breedt to gain information to be used in Jeumont's next generation turbine. In a sense, as Duretz points out, it is offshore that is likely to drive Jeumont's future models: "If you design a turbine for offshore we think it is easier to go back onshore." The company's technicians are talking about a subsequent 3-5 MW turbine specifically for offshore use.
Jeumont hopes all this will lead to wind turbines accounting for a sizeable chunk of the company's turnover by 2004 or 2005. But to take the generous chunk of the domestic turbine market that it so desires, and scoop up in the export market, it will need to convince developers that its technology has been perfected and its turbines have cost and other advantages over those of rival established competitors.
Bruno Civel of the French renewables monitoring group, Observ'ER, thinks the company should be given the benefit of the doubt. "Jeumont is technologically ten or 15 years behind other manufacturers. They have the know-how, the ambition and the money. They are competent but late. They will win or lose. I hope they win and that we will have a successful French turbine."