France: DCNS Turns to Harnessing Ocean Energy
World leader for naval defence, DCNS has turned its knowledge of the sea and its unique experience of new technologies into an advantage to position itself on the renewable energy market. An ambitious plan that is already well on its way to being implemented.
The theoretical potential of marine energy is unparalleled. Each year, the oceans receive a quantity of solar energy that is one thousand times greater than world demand. They redistribute this energy in the form of winds, currents, waves, etc. According to Ifremer, marine energies could potentially represent a net contribution of 17.2 TWh/year in 2020, and contribute to the objective of increasing renewable energy production in line with Grenelle Environment Project.
Marine energies: seven families of technologies
To capture marine energies, seven families of technologies coexist at different levels of maturity. The most well-known is the fixed offshore wind turbine. It is the most mature of the renewable marine energy technologies and is similar to land-based wind turbine systems, which convert the wind’s kinetic energy into mechanical energy then electrical energy using turbines. Fixed wind turbines are installed on foundations directly set on the continental shelf.
Alongside fixed offshore wind turbines, we find floating offshore wind turbines, which allow the installation of energy-conversion systems far from the coast in areas where the depth exceeds 50 metres. This system allows the exploitation of stronger and more consistent winds, thus giving access to denser energy resources whilst minimising the visual impact from the coast.
The other technologies used to convert marine energies are tidal turbines (which harness the energy of tidal currents), wave-energy conversion systems (which harness wave energy), ocean thermal energy conversion systems (which harness the temperature gradient between surface waters and deep waters in tropical seas), tidal dams (which harness tidal energy) and reverse osmosis (which consists of purifying seawater by a filtering system).
These technologies are at different levels of maturity: fixed wind turbines are now sufficiently mature to allow large-scale commercial contracts. Similarly, certain tidal turbines are ready for industrialisation and certain projects for farms are being developed.
However, three other technologies, related to waves, wind and thermal energy, are still in the development phase and, for the most advanced of these, are at the stage of sea demonstrators.
DCNS is positioned on the marine energy market
In the frame of its Championship growth strategy, DCNS aims to generate one-third of its revenue in the energy sector by the end of the decade. In parallel to its naval defence activities in France and internationally, the Group intends to develop on the marine renewable energy market in particular. Its knowledge of the sea, its capacity to deliver technologically complex turnkey maritime projects and ensure availability over 25 years has led DCNS to orient its choices as a function of the degree of technology maturity, alignment with the Group’s expertise and of course the capacity to attain energy costs that will allow the emergence of a market. The Group has thus selected the areas of offshore floating wind turbines, tidal turbines, wave-energy conversion systems and ocean thermal energy conversion systems.
For these four technologies, DCNS aims to develop its capacity and offer turnkey energy farms. Its goal: access the market by capitalising on its know-how as integrator, equipment supplier and high added-value service provider, and at the same time complete this know-how through partnerships, investments or external-growth operations.
For offshore floating wind turbines, DCNS has developed Winflo technology, which will lead to the realisation of a 1MW demonstrator connected to the power grid, with launch foreseen for 2014. The installation of a pilot site will then allow the validation of the economic model prior to the installation of commercial farms with units of higher power (from 5 to 7 MW) by 2020, initially in France then globally.
For tidal turbines, DCNS became the majority shareholder of the Irish company OpenHydro in March 2013. Already chosen by EDF for the project to build a farm off the Paimpol-Bréhat coast, it has also been preselected by other energy providers, in particular in Canada and Scotland. In parallel, in France and subject to a government call for tender, DCNS plans to invest in an industrial facility in Cherbourg as of 2014-2015. The aim is that this plant should become the European industrial nerve centre for tidal turbines. The Group anticipates the creation of 1000 jobs for this plant alone.
For ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), DCNS installed a land-based OTEC prototype on Reunion Island in 2012. This small-scale reproduction of the energy production system of a future OTEC plant contributes to the validation of the potential of this technology. The French Overseas Departments and Collectivities (DOM-COM), the Caribbean and Asia could benefit from floating plants as soon as 2014.
For wave-energy conversion systems, DCNS is currently evaluating several technologies: in particular it signed a letter of intent in 2011 with the Finnish energy provider Fortum in relation to the development of wave energy in France. In parallel, DCNS is also deploying the “Houles Australes” project off Reunion Island, which will allow the testing of technology from the Australian company Carnegie Wave Energy Limited.
At this stage, DCNS is amongst the very first industrial groups to invest in these types of technologies, and is undoubtedly the only one to invest in all four segments at the same time.
A key position considering that the need for alternative energies has never been so urgent, with an estimated increase in demand of 30% by 2030 according to the International Energy Agency. Just one nautical mile to go from naval defence to marine energy, and DCNS is already there.
Press release, July 31, 2013; Image: dcns