While the wind industry accounted for no more than about 20% of the 140 exhibitors at this year's Salon des Energies Renouvelables -- the largest renewable energy show in France -- the sector's big turbine manufacturers were out in force. Vestas, Gamesa, Enercon, GE Wind, Siemens, Repower, and Nordex were among the 30 or so industry exhibitors to put on impressive displays in Lyon, as did French Vergnet, a maker of small turbines. But it was Spain's Ecotècnia that no one will forget in a hurry. The nacelle of its new ECO 80 1.67 MW machine was one of the biggest crowd pullers at the four day event, making sure the 14,000 visitors attending were in no doubt wind power had come to France.
The organisers of the biennial show are national energy agency ADEME, the Rhône-Alpes regional authorities, and the main renewables associations, including the Renewables Energy Syndicate (SER) and the French Wind Association (FEE). According to them the turnout and quality of exhibits by the wind sector this year was a vast improvement on the shows in 2003 and 2001.
"Several companies made a really big effort to reflect a dynamic industry," says SER's Antoine Saglio. The strong presence of turbine makers is "an indication of the very strong interest in the French wind power market," he says. Florent Suplission of conference organiser Sepelcom agrees. "Instead of small companies with modest stands, exhibitors are now big industrialists with a well-designed presence. That these companies consider the investment worthwhile shows how far the sector has advanced."
Ecotècnia's display -- the first time a complete wind turbine nacelle has been exhibited at the show -- was designed as a dramatic way for the company to launch its turbine to the increasingly competitive French market, says the company's Jean-Michel Zarza. The Lyon show, he say, is becoming the major reference for wind in France: "It is the only commercial event for professionals at a national level." The company, which also scooped the show's trophy for innovation in the wind sector, used the exhibition to reveal plans for the development of two new machines. A 2 MW version of the ECO 80 is planned for next year, while a 3 MW ECO 100 will be ready for delivery early in 2007.
Other wind industry exhibitors agree with Zarza about the importance of the show for business in France, with most suggesting the level of interest has been positive. "It has been a good opportunity to consolidate existing contacts," adds Sylvie Bentz-Morand of Vestas France, which also celebrated signing a contract with Mistral Energie for 11, V52 850 kW turbines at the show (page 8).
While the organisers may have been disappointed by the low turnout of wind project developers, with only Ostwind and DEWI from Germany and Eneria and Théolia from France mounting exhibits, others were not perplexed. As one wind exhibitor noted, developers have plenty of work in France at the moment. Permits have been granted for at least 850 MW, much of it expected online within the next few years. Indeed, by the end of 2006 alone, ADEME estimates French wind capacity could double to reach 800-900 MW. So while the developers already have their hands fairly full, the expected boom in development means a far more competitive market for manufacturers.
The only disappointment voiced by exhibitors from all sectors was the absence of a senior member of government. "It was an important opportunity for the government to underline its support for renewables," one says. Environment Minister Serge Lepeltier was due to give the inaugural address but had to withdraw at the last minute.
The minister's absence was all the more notable because of the controversial amendments to the French energy law currently going through parliament (page 26), a subject inevitably touched on at the conference sessions which ran parallel to the exhibition. Of these, one focused on wind power. A fairly low-key affair, it largely consisted of a review of wind development progress in France and comparisons with other markets, notably the leading one of Spain. Meanwhile, Hervé Saulignac, the councillor in charge of energy for the Rhône-Alpes region, noted his region currently ranks fourth in France for installed wind power but hopes to improve upon this. While just 27 MW is installed in the region to date, siting permits for a further 100 MW have already been granted while applications for another 100 MW are under consideration, he said.