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French regions want to bring floating wind power to the forefront


Gathered in Marseille for the FOWT conference, the international actors of the floating wind energy and the representatives of the French regions pleaded for a better support of the government to this future industry.
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FOWT 2020 is the great international mass of the floating offshore (photo: F. Dubessy)
FOWT 2020 is the great international mass of the floating offshore (photo: F. Dubessy)
FRANCE. France has all the assets to develop floating wind turbines (skills, infrastructures, common will to move forward together, and coastline), but is still waiting for a firm political will from the French government.

This is the great lesson of the FOWT (Floating offshore wind turbines) conference, which is being held in Marseille on 7 and 8 September 2020. The four French regions concerned - Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, Occitanie-Pyrénées-Méditerranée, Brittany and Pays de la Loire - came out in force to carry this message, already relayed in April 2019 during the FOWT 2019 in Montpellier. At the time, the words had carried since the French government had then decided to increase the volume of calls for tender in the matter: 1 GW against 750 MW, two commercial calls for tender in 2022 of 250 MW in the Mediterranean against one planned, plus another in 2024/2025 of 500 MW.

With the second largest maritime surface area in the world (11 km² of maritime area and four sea fronts in metropolitan France), France has the second largest offshore wind energy deposit in Europe, after Great Britain.

The announcement of a sum of €30bn allocated to energy transition in the recovery plan adopted by the French government on Thursday 3 September 2020 gives reason to hope for a further step forward. "We are going to negotiate hard with Bercy," promises Carole Delga, President of the Occitanie-Pyrénées-Méditerranée region.

The Regions at the heart of the projects

Sponsored by the French Ministry of Ecological Transition, the Aix-Marseille-Provence Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCIAMP) and France Energie Eolienne (FEE), this seventh edition of the international event dedicated to floating offshore wind power wants to drive home the point. It returns to the Marseilles city, five months after the planned date due to coronavirus and with a digital and face-to-face format, where it was born in 2014.

"The regions, partners with the FOWT co-organisers since 2019, are among the main contributors to the development of the sector, through their investments in infrastructure, their support to business ecosystems and their political support in this pivotal period to promote ambitious development prospects for floating wind energy," said Bruno Geschier, president of the FOWT committee, in introducing the symposium. Renaud Muselier, president of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region but also of the French Regions, was not shy to remind it. "Floating offshore wind energy has all the assets in the regions to be one of the pillars of this energy transition. An exceptional wind resource with an average wind speed of more than 40 m/s thanks notably to the Mistral, very favourable ground conditions allowing optimal anchorage and "simple" meteoroceanic conditions, with a limited swell height and little current, and a dynamic eco-system with numerous start-ups, SMEs, industrials, and port facilities," he said.

"Japan relies on French know-how, so it takes a government will to do it on this French flagship," he continues, while being astonished: "everything here is operational, the proof is that we sell abroad. But, here in France, we are still waiting for the authorisations to start...".
The Provence Grand Large pilot farm (run by EDF with a renewable concession until 2026) will be the only test site in the Mediterranean Sea dedicated to floating wind energy. Located off the coast of Port-Saint-Louis du Rhône, in the Gulf of Fos, at the end of 2021/beginning of 2022, it will be composed of three wind turbines each developing 8 MW. Regional aid worth €1.5m has been granted to the Grand Port Maritime de Marseille (GPMM) to adapt the quays to the floating wind turbine infrastructure. The Feder committee of 17 July 2020 gave a favourable opinion for a €5M grant to the company Provence Grand Large.

The Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur Region aims to develop 750 MW by 2030/2031.

"Do not make the mistake of photovoltaic"

Renaud Muselier and Carole Delga together to promote offshore wind energy (photo: F.Dubessy)
Renaud Muselier and Carole Delga together to promote offshore wind energy (photo: F.Dubessy)
"We have the objective in the Southern Region, by 2050, to supply with the floating wind turbine electricity equivalent to one to one and a half nuclear power stations," reveals the president of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region. He complains of "under-used energy" and intends to remedy this.

Just like Carole Delga, her counterpart in the Occitania-Pyrénées-Mediterranean region, for whom, "offshore wind power is an important response to the climate emergency. It will mark the 21st century. France has everything to lead an energy revolution". Carole Delga will have two 10 MW pilot farms in her region, scheduled for commissioning in 2022. "600 jobs have already been created", the president of the Occitanie region congratulates herself. She has also invested 234 M€ in the extension of the port of Port-la-Nouvelle whose new quay will serve as a rear base for the assembly and maintenance of the offshore wind turbines of the two projects developed off the Occitan coast. A Semop (semi-public company with a single operation) will be founded from spring 2021. "A shareholder region makes it possible to reassure bankers and be a patient investor," comments Carole Delga. A green hydrogen plant, made from electricity supplied by offshore wind turbines, will also be set up. The Occitania region plans to install commercial parks with a total power of 1 GW in 2030 and 3 GM in 2050.

"It is necessary to allow the sector to structure itself and allow it to amortise all the R&D investments. Let's not make the same mistake as with photovoltaics. We are still on schedule to keep the know-how here and create jobs," she insists. Professionals in the sector are now developing abroad, as they are unable to do so in France, and in particular in Japan and South Korea where the Total Group (associated with Green Investment Group, a subsidiary of the Macquarie Group) has just signed a contract on 1st September 2020 for five giant wind farms with a combined power of 2 GW.


​4,000 jobs in prospect in the South of France

A total of four pilot farms have been authorised on French territory, one per region. "The stakes this year are commercial. We have to get to the commercial farms," Maurice Wolff stresses. For the elected member of the CCIAMP, "we are right to push this sector, because we have the competences and we are in the right timing with the sanitary and economic crisis".

His namesake Nicolas Wolff, president of FEE, insists on the three obstacles to its development. "It is necessary to simplify the legislation on participation in public debate, which causes a lot of delay to projects, to deal with contentious appeals in the most efficient way possible, and we propose that the Council of State be the first and last resort. We are also asking the authorities for long-term planning," he said.

"The first offshore projects in France are eight years old, but none of them are yet operational," raises Jean-Michel Lopez, Deputy Director General of the Brittany Region. He will host the eighth edition of Fowt from 13 to 15 April 2021.

The world market for floating wind turbines is estimated at 3,500 gigawatts (GW) worldwide, including 600 GW in Europe and 50 GW in France. Its potential is three times greater than that of conventional wind farms. According to the Mediterranean Sea Pole, this activity could create more than 4,000 jobs in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur and Occitania by 2030. In these two regions alone, some 430 players in the sector - two-thirds of which are in the South-West of France - have already been identified as Ideol (La Ciotat), Eolfi (Marseille), SBM Offshore (Monaco and Carros), Principia (La Ciotat), Valeco (Montpellier), ...

With 3,000 jobs created in 2019 in the sector, the number of new hires has increased by 50% compared to the previous year.

Frédéric Dubessy

Monday, September 7th 2020

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