Oil supermajor Shell has taken over French floating wind developer Eolfi, in the latest sign of the fossil fuel industry’s intention to broaden its focus in the offshore energy space.

The acquisition, which is subject to regulatory and ministerial approvals and is expected to be completed next month, is seen by Shell as “enhancing [the company’s] existing wind team … and [providing] an opportunity to leverage [Shell’s] offshore experience and project management expertise”.

“Eolfi has been a pioneer of floating wind development. We believe the union of Eolfi’s expertise and portfolio with Shell’s resources and ability to scale-up will help make electricity a significant business for Shell,” said Dorine Bosman, VP for offshore wind at Shell.

Alain Delsupexhe, founder of Eolfi, stated: "Eolfi joins the Shell group at a time when the market for floating wind is taking off globally.

“[Our] heritage in floating wind combined with Shell’s offshore expertise and global footprint will enable us to expand offshore, but also onshore with our wind and solar PV projects as part of the Shell New Energies division.”

Eolfi CEO Vincent Fromont underlined to Recharge that the ambition of the acquisition was to create “a number one with a global footprint for floating [wind power]”.

“There are pioneers in floating, of course, but there is no true market leader. In [Shell acquiring Eolfi] we see as a tipping point,” he said.

“Oil & gas companies are entering the market because they need to accelerate their energy transition. This will change the market, which to this point has been led by the utilities. These [oil & gas companies] know how to work globally, know how to work in international industrial partnerships, they have strong political connections around the world.

“These are they building blocks to a strategy which we feel is really going to disrupt the [offshore energy market].”

Eolfi, which is staffed by 65 personnel in offices in Paris, Lorient, Marseilles and Montpellier, has developed over 200 onshore and offshore renewable energy projects in five countries, and since 2012 has focused on floating wind power.

Eolfi is leading one of four developer consortia building 25MW floating wind array projects that are slated to be online off France by 2021 , as well as having plans to develop 2.5GW off Taiwan, via a deal with Spain’s ACS Cobra, developer of the Kincardine project in the UK North Sea.

Eolfi’s first French project, Groix, being built with partner China General Nuclear in the French Atlantic in 54-71 metres of water, will use MHI Vestas 9.5MW V164 turbines mated to steel advanced-semisubmersible hulls from Naval Energies.

Shell took an early interest in floating wind technology, in 2015 investing in Principle Power’s WindFloat concept. More recently it bought a controlling stake in Stiesdal Offshore Technologies’ innovative TetraSpar, which is set for prototype testing off Norway next year, and formed a joint development agreement with floating wind specialist CoensHexicon for a project off the city of Ulsan in South Korea.

Upon completion of the acquisition, Eolfi will be a wholly owned subsidiary of Shell and be fully integrated.

Soren Lassen, senior offshore wind analyst at Wood Mackenzie, noted: “Although floating wind remains a niche today, it is no longer being approached as a niche. Shell’s acquisition of Eolfi is a testament to this.”

“The acquisition expands Shell’s pool of expertise within floating wind. In turn, the acquisition will make Shell better equipped to seize opportunities in the floating wind sector as the sector continues to unfold – not least in the French market which we forecasts to be a major floating wind market.”

Though Europe, with over half of the total floating wind capacity installed and expectations for some 300MW off its coasts  by 2021, is the current market pace-setter, Asian plays in Japan and Korea, as well as the US Pacific, have recently heaved into view with international-scale ambitions, with California most recently seeing set-up of a coalition that is calling on the state government to support construction of 10GW of floating wind by 2045.

Norwegian energy giant Equinor set out a road map in 2017, when it brought online the world's first floating wind array, Hywind Scotland, which forecast 12-15GW of moored units turning by 2030 at a levellised cost of energy of €40-60/MWh, the current price of conventional offshore wind power.

· Update adds quotes from Eolfi’s Vincent Fromont and Wood Mackenzies Soren Lassen