EDF ENERGIES NOUVELLES: France can now be part of the offshore wind story

Being awarded the concession to develop three French offshore wind farms is not only a great opportunity for EDF Energies Nouvelles (EDF EN) to further expand its renewables portfolio but also a great opportunity for the country’s industrial sector and offshore wind knowledge base. Offshore WIND interviews Béatrice Buffon, EDF EN Deputy Chief Executive Officer, as the French energy giant presses on with the development of its three French offshore wind farms. 

Mrs Buffon is tasked with heading up EDF’s offshore wind projects in French waters. She says that even if France is a less mature market than Germany, Denmark and the UK, with offshore wind and floating offshore wind France is not so late compared to the other countries. “We want to be part of the development of the industry.”

EDF EN has some 10GW of renewable activities in operation or under construction worldwide. Wind accounts for around 85% of its portfolio, solar for 10% and other activities the remainder. With regards to offshore wind the company currently has one project in operation and more than 2GW in the pipeline.

First offshore wind project: C-Power

The French company took its first steps into offshore wind with the Belgian project C-Power (Thornton Bank Offshore Wind Farm). The third phase of this project came into operation in the summer of 2013 when a further 110.7MW was added to the wind farm, giving it a total capacity of 325.2MW. And actually highlighting how long these developments take to come to fruition, Mrs Buffon, who has an engineering background, adds that she was involved in the initial negotiations way back in 2003.

Teesside & Navitus Bay

Teesside, near Redcar in the UK, is EDF EN’s second offshore wind farm and their first UK wind farm. This project, including the design, engineering and construction was handled entirely by the EDF Group. Commissioning took place in September 2013. Teesside has 27 turbines generating 62MW and is owned jointly by EDF Energy and EDF EN and managed by their joint venture EDF Energy Renewables.

Currently, the company is pressing ahead with the development of another project in the UK, the 970MW Round 3 Navitus Bay wind farm, near the Isle of Wight. The British project is a joint venture between EDF ER and Eneco Wind UK Ltd, which was formed in April 2012.

Navitus Bay is at the moment in the consenting phase. In May, the British Planning Inspectorate confirmed that Navitus Bay Development Limited’s formal application for development consent has been accepted and that it will progress to the pre-examination stage. Members of the public could provide comments on the application and were informed of its progress. This consulting period lasts for four years. The examination period started last September and the Secretary of State will make a final decision by September 2015.

Three French projects

A consortium led by EDF EN with DONG Energy, wpd and in partnership with Alstom, won the right to develop three projects in the first French offshore tender in 2012 – the 498MW Fecamp offshore wind farm, Courseulles-sur-Mer, which is 450MW and the 480MW wind farm Saint-Nazaire.

After the success in the government tendering process, a year of public debate followed. Mrs Buffon: “This process went very well, with a lot of interesting discussions and debate. I think this was a very beneficial consultation process.” Then in April 2014, EDF EN met the milestone for the draft proposal submission and on October 23, another important milestone was reached when the applications according to the tender specifications had to be submitted. EDF EN hopes to have all the authorisations delivered by the end of 2015/early 2016. The grid operator RTE is expected to have its authorisations ready in the same period end-2015/ early 2016.

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All three projects will feature Alstom Haliade 6MW turbines but they will have different foundations. Fecamp will use gravity-based foundations, while the other two developments will have monopiles.

Overall, the French tendering process for the offshore farms has run smoothly considering it is ‘relatively new’ to the country, Mrs Buffon says. There are some differences between the French system and that of the UK and Belgium, where the company has had experience. The French tenders were very much seen as a chance to boost industry, jobs and know-how, she explains. Coupled with this, any company applying for a concession is obliged to do a lot of preparatory work upfront.

Building a national industry

“In the French tender there was a clear focus on the creation of manufacturing capacity and related industry. The industrial plan was a 40% consideration in the State tender, the electricity price was another 40% and 20% concerned the environmental aspects.” Therefore, it is key to have a strong industrial partner, she stresses. EDF EN teamed up with Alstom for the turbine manufacture, which was willing to develop production facilities.

“It was very important in the tendering process in 2012 that the French industrial sector could speed up and develop capacity in the wind energy sector.”

Alstom confirmed that four production facilities (for nacelles, generators, blades and towers) will be set up in France. The first stone of the two Saint-Nazaire factories for nacelles and generators were laid in early 2013. These facilities were inaugurated on 2 December 2014 and will begin operations in the first half of 2015. Alstom is also expanding engineering capacity in Nantes, which will be the heart of its offshore engineering activities.

“The French government supports the offshore wind industry. This is certainly seen as an opportunity for the industrial and French maritime sectors. Offshore wind is bringing a lot of opportunities for French businesses and gives the industry a chance to develop its skills and step up.”

7,000 jobs

Additionally, 5,000 jobs are likely to be created directly and indirectly through Alstom’s expansion, she points out, and overall, this is more in the region of 7,000 jobs.

Previously, for onshore wind for instance, France has relied more heavily on contractors from abroad, Germany and Denmark etc., but now it develops its own industry, she comments. “Initially France was late to wind development but now we develop both on and offshore industries. We want to be part of the development of the industry and that is why France launched the offshore tenders. We can be part of the story, French industries have their skills and have plenty to offer.”

Detailed preparatory work

Another difference between the French consenting procedure and the UK one is that potential developers have to do more work up front. “When you submit an application in France you must be very precise about exactly what you will be installing, the type and specification of the turbines and foundations, etc. In the UK the consenting process is more flexible and open regarding the types of foundations and turbines. This means we have been doing more engineering studies up front and carrying out several geological studies.” However, even though the two consenting systems are different, it does not mean that one is much faster than the other. “We just have to be more specific about what we will install. It doesn’t mean that the consenting system is shorter, it just takes more preparatory time.”

Mrs Buffon stresses that EDF EN had already learnt from its first two projects that it was important to have a detailed engineering plan straight away. “We defined our engineering studies addressing the risks and minimising them in terms of the technology used and in doing thorough investigations into the seabed and metocean conditions.”

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“We looked at what we could share throughout the projects and how to organise the contractual and technical side.” This led to a detailed engineering plan for the foundations, offshore substations, cables etc. We wanted to make sure everything was covered properly.

“The water and soil conditions of our French wind farms are very different from what you see on the German and UK sites. It is not a case of ‘copy and pasting’ a wind farm from the North Sea.”

EDF EN’s studies showed that Fecamp was best having gravity-based foundations and Courseulles-sur-Mer and Saint-Nazaire, monopiles. For the latter two, monopiles were considered the best option both technically and economically, she adds. “C-Power is gravity-based and jackets, Teesside uses monopiles, and now for the French farms we have monopiles and gravity-based, so we have experience with all of them. This means we have better knowledge of the challenges and risks as well.”

“The seabed conditions are very different at the three French sites. In the tender preparation we did several test drillings. Saint-Nazaire has a very hard seabed, Courseulles-sur-Mer is mainly soft clay and limestone whereas Fecamp is chalk based.” EDF EN will be performing more exploratory drillings and geotechnical investigations next year, she adds.

150m diameter rotor turbine

For the turbines, the decision was more straightforward, with Alstom the exclusive supplier. The Alstom Haliade 6MW direct-drive turbine was chosen.

This 150m diameter rotor turbine, with blades stretching 73.50 metres is the largest turbine ever installed in the sea. Each turbine can supply power to the equivalent of about 5,000 households. The first Alstom Haliade 6MW was installed onshore at its Le Carnet site, near the mouth of the Loire river in France and then a second, offshore at Belwind. “This turbine is adapted to the wind conditions we have.”

Foundation tenders

For the foundations’ contractors and the offshore stations, the company is launching European tenders and it expects to receive bids next year and take a decision by end 2015, early 2016.

EDF has a presence in 18 countries when it comes to its solar and onshore wind portfolio. While EDF EN is optimistic regarding the future of renewables, it recognises that there are challenges that have to be overcome. The fact that the French government is supporting offshore wind by launching the State tenders is undoubtedly to be applauded, but at the same time, Mrs Buffon is aware that the renewables 2020 targets are challenging.

“There are 8GW installed onshore in France today but the targets for 2020 are challenging.” However, France is definitely playing a significant role in the renewables story now, she stresses.

Floating wind turbines

“From EDF’s point of view, we are active in on and offshore wind, and also in tidal and floating wind energy.” Floating wind is a good opportunity for the French to develop a new technology. A floating prototype with a vertical axis is already installed onshore, and EDF EN has started the development of a pilot project, which will be established in the south of France at Provence Grand Large.

Today, EDF is not looking elsewhere in Europe. “We have these four large, offshore projects under development. We want to consolidate them before going on to other projects. We take it step by step and want to be ready for the next French tenders.”

Mrs Buffon explains that while she is confident overall about the future of offshore wind, she stresses that the industry must face the challenges head on to be successful. “We have to optimise the supply chain and the marine logistics to decrease costs. This cost reduction is a target in all the countries!”

Innovations in offshore wind

Competitiveness is achievable, Mrs Buffon stresses. Utilities and the industrial suppliers have to decrease prices.

Recently, EDF EN tested a new floating, gravity-based foundation by building one for a met mast.

“This is innovation – a gravity based foundation, weighing several thousand tonnes, that you can transport by floating it.

Small vessels can be used instead of the huge installation vessels with big cranes, which decreases the price of installation dramatically. The Cranefree Gravity foundation concept has been developed by Seatower, a Norwegian Company, but financed by EDF EN and the Region.

“This will help driving the costs of offshore wind down. Turbine costs are responsible for 40% of the wind farm operation. Everything from cable installation to substations should become cheaper.

“It is natural for governments to help the offshore wind sector to start off. But we need all the industry participants to work on reducing the costs as governments won’t be subsidising the sector at the current level in 10 years time!

“We have to deliver these cost reductions in the coming 10 years. I think this will be THE condition for the successful development of the offshore industry in the future.”

Helen Hill