French floating wind flagship raises its sails

France’s first floating wind turbine, the 2MW FloatGen, has been inaugurated in the west coast port of Saint-Nazaire.

The flagship – developed by French outfit Ideol and built by civil engineers Bouygues Travaux Publics (BTP) under a €25m ($29.6m) EU technology accelerator programme – will head out in the coming weeks for the SEM-REV ocean-energy test site off Brittany for a two-year trial, with wheels already turning on a multi-gigawatt pipeline of projects using the design off Ireland, the UK, Japan, Taiwan and France.

“FloatGen marks a crucial stage in Ideol's history and confirms our position as an international leader [in the offshore wind sector], stated Ideol chief executive Paul de la Guérivière. “But it is also an important moment for this new, emerging sector which is currently entering the phase of commercial deployment.”

Benoît Lange, BTP commercial director, said: “Our investment in the FloatGen project demonstrates [our] desire to highlight, within the marine renewable energy sector, our vast experience in the realisation of port and marine infrastructures, internationally and within France. Concrete floaters, produced on an industrial scale, will offer a competitive solution for offshore wind power.”

Armel de la Bourdonnaye, director of the École Centrale de Nantes, which operates the SEM-REV testing site, added: “SEM-REV, which was truly visionary [when it was conceived of] in 2007, has become a research tool with global reach and is now absolutely crucial to the development of this new industrial sector in France.”

The FloatGen, which flies a 2MW Vestas V80 turbine, is a pioneering industrial design. Built around an open-centred 36-metres-square, 10.8-metre-deep ‘damping pool’ platform made of reinforced and pre-stressed concrete – an industry first – the unit will be anchored in 33 metres of water with a new-generation semi-slack mooring system that uses six super-strength nylon lines.

Unlike some floating wind concepts, the Ideol model, which is engineered to be scaled-up to be topped with turbines as large as 12-15MW, is designed to be deployed in water depths as shallow as 30 metres, with a view to competing with ‘conventional’ bottom-fixed offshore wind turbines.

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“It is a great moment for the entire French industry – not least because this is the first offshore wind turbine of any sort off France, not just floating. It is a very positive step,” Ideol chief sales officer Bruno Geschier tells Recharge.

“This is a feat of great engineering – considering all the complexity of the entire structure, and the integration of the turbine, the platform, the mooring system. But we have done it and we have every reason to believe that moving it into mass production will be massive cost reduction driver.”

Christening of the FloatGen unit at the Darses Quay was attended by an international group of some 300 project stakeholders, as well as dignitaries including Sébastien Lecornu, secretary of state to France’s minister of state, the minister for ecological and sustainable transition, Bruno Retailleau, president of the Pays de la Loire region, Saint-Nazaire mayor David Samzun and Francis Bertolotti, chairman of the Nantes Saint-Nazaire Grand Port Maritime supervisory board.

Once switched on at SEM-REV, the FloatGen unit, which will flow electricity via an 11km export cable to France’s onshore electricity grid, will be put through its operational paces with an eye on “confirming the technical feasibility and economic viability of floating wind turbines, as well as demonstrating that Ideol’s technological solution is the most competitive one on the market,” said Geschier.

“This experience will enable us to bring some valuable insights to the wider industry: to the EPCI [engineering, procurement, commissioning, installation] contractor, to the developers, to the utilities, to the asset owners as to what floating wind can do now – and what we will able to do in the future,” he added.

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Forecasts of the build-out of floating wind power around the world vary. Some, including UK consultancy BVG Associates, puts it “conservatively” at around 5GW by 2030 turning at a competitive levellised cost of under €65/MWh ($133/MWh). But others are more optimistic, with Norway’s Statoil, which will formally inaugurate its 30MW Hywind Scotland floating wind array next week, one company that is of the opinion the market could be already larger than 12GW by this date.

France, which though it has awarded offshore acreage in three tenders has yet to see a single bottom-fixed turbine yet installed in its waters, is betting on kick-starting its sector with floating technology.

The country has four demonstrator projects underway for construction in the Mediterranean and Atlantic waters starting in 2020 and, spurred by its national industrial advocacy body FEE, could tender 2GW of floating wind "in early 2018 " as a springboard to having 6GW turning by 2030.

Ideol is part of consortium led by developer Quadran Energies Marines that was tapped by the French government earlier this year to build a 25MW four-unit array, dubbed the EolMed project, off the coast of Gruissan, in the Atlantic.

The International Renewable Energy Agency sees industrial-scale floating wind as a “key [cost-reduction] driver” in opening up new, deeper-water markets to offshore wind power production in the next decade, hand in hand with the upscaling of turbines towards nameplates of 15MW.

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