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Floating wind turbine, the new frontier of marine energy?

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Would the installation of five Hywind turbines off the Scottish coast this summer mark the historic debut of floating wind turbines, even though the Hywind experiment had already started in 2009 in Norway? Offshore wind farms are numerous in England, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark and they have been producing for several years now. What about France? On the occasion of the second edition of the FWP (Floating Wind Power) Atlantic Forum, an international event dedicated to the industrial development of floating wind power, which will take place from 2 to 4 October 2017 in Saint-Nazaire and Lorient, hosted by the Regions of Pays de la Loire and Brittany, Louis Schweitzer, General Commissioner for Investment, offers us an Open Forum.
 
The Brittany Region and the Pays de la Loire Region have chosen to commit themselves to the construction of a real industrial sector of renewable marine energies: From the port of Brest, the maritime capital of Brittany, the Region is investing to write a new page in its Atlantic history on marine energies. Since 2015, three tidal turbines have been assembled there, those of EDF-DCNS and Sabella. Part of the floating wind turbines of the Eolfi project will be designed there.
From 2018, new port areas developed by the Region will see the day in Brest to receive these industrial activities connected with the various MRE sectors. And it is from this new polder that the floating wind turbines will leave to be anchored off the Ile de Groix in the spring of 2021(1), which will represent the electricity consumption of 20 000 households.
All the ingredients seem to be in place to successfully structure the nascent floating wind energy industry in this region: geographical components, industrial assets, scientific and technical knowledge, and political will.
With an installed capacity of around 12,000 MW at the end of December 2016, after 15 years of public support, the French wind energy sector is now ranked fourth in Europe. And the ambitions are high: the Multiannual Program of Energy (PPE) officialized at the end of 2016 foresees, in low estimate, a doubling of the installed capacity by 2023, confirming the major role held by wind energy in the French strategy of energy transition.
The falling cost of offshore wind energy, the existence of abundant, high-quality deposits, the problems of managing the electricity supply-demand balance, the opportunities for structuring a local industry, as well as spatial constraints that may limit the deployment of onshore wind farms are four factors that are pushing countries to promote the development of offshore wind energy. This is especially the case in Europe, which should remain the leader in this market, with more than 60% of the wind farm installed offshore by 2030.

 
 
Wind power in Europe, unquestionable growth: The figures speak for themselves. 6.1 gigawatts (GW) of additional wind power were installed in Europe in the first half of 2017 (Source: WindEurope, July 2017). Of these, 4.8 GW of onshore wind capacity and 1.3 GW of offshore wind capacity (mostly installed wind).
Offshore wind is therefore one of the main trends in energy transition. Increasingly competitive, it would produce up to twice as much energy as onshore wind.
 
« L300 million in 2016 in the floating wind power sector, as part of an overall financial commitment by the State of more than one billion euros. The public authorities therefore wished to send a strong signal to private players about the emergence of this market.
The aim of the Future Investment Program and this financing is to set up industrial sectors capable of succeeding in this emerging market, whether in France or abroad. Its three main objectives are excellence, innovation and cooperation. The consortia that have been formed in response to the call for projects are responding fully to this call.
Today, however, we must not consider that the essential is done, quite the contrary. The Community notification of State aid, an exercise undertaken with the project partners, has still to be carried out, the risks in the context of the studies before the final investment decision is taken, and finally the projects have still to be implemented.
The end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017 were essentially devoted to contractualisation with project leaders. I would like to reaffirm the IAP strategy for the 4 pilot farms that we are financing, namely the speed with which these farms will have to be operational. Indeed, in the field of renewable energies, and particularly marine energies, competition with other technologies should encourage us collectively not to waste any time.
While floating offshore wind represents a new frontier in the field of marine energy, the ability of other renewable energy technologies to advance rapidly should not be underestimated.
However, this technology has some major advantages: the first is that the floating offshore wind turbine is based, for wind turbines, on the developments already made for fixed offshore wind turbines.
Of course, to say that the floating offshore wind turbine would only be standard offshore wind turbine where the mast would be replaced by a simple float would be an obviously reductive vision of all the difficulties, of all the risks which remain to be lifted: to operate objects of several hundreds of tons and several hundreds of meters in diameter in an environment as hostile as the sea can be.
The second is of course the competence of French and more broadly European players in the field of offshore in general. In terms of players, manufacturers in the para-oil and para-gas sector find in this new market an opportunity to develop their historic skills. SMEs and TIEs are positioning themselves with a risk-taking that reflects an entrepreneurial audacity that I would like to commend.
The Community notification of state aid is the next big step in the field of floating wind pilot farms and, I hope, but I am not too worried, the European Commission's authorisation in 2018.
But the real challenge lies in the ability of pilot farms to convince the market, both national and especially international, of the relevance of this technology.
This is why, beyond the objective of speed, we must not forget the objective of reducing or controlling investment and operating costs.
This is a subject on which we are in phase with the project partners. Not only for reasons of the necessary saving of public money, but also and above all because the credibility of the deployment of this technology on international markets is at stake.
As in any industrial adventure, there is a major risk for all players, whether public or private.
It is the role of the Investment Program to be at your side to accompany this risk-taking because we are, I am convinced, on the verge of entering a new energy era. If tomorrow renewable energies become a major part of the energy landscape, it will not be on the basis of political will alone, but because the solutions developed as part of this transition are economically the best. I hope that floating wind power will be one of them! »
 
Louis Schweitzer, Commissioner General for Investment
 
(1) The selected siting area, with a surface area of 17 km², is located 11 km south of Groix and 25 km north of Belle-Ile.

 
Salon FWP - Floating Wind Power from 2 to 4 October 2017
 
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