They successfully bid in the Scotland leasing round, now marine renewables specialists BayWa r.e and Elicio are back together to apply for the floating wind farm scheme in Southern Brittany. Interview with Aldrik de Fombelle, offshore wind development manager at Elicio, based in Saint-Nazaire, and with Corentin Sivy, head of wind power at BayWa r.e. in Nantes.
Can you tell us about this consortium and how it stands apart from the other short-listed bidders?
Aldrik de Fombelle: As a consortium, we’ve already achieved success with our bid in the ScotWind leasing call. We’re proud to be awarded a floating wind project for nearly 1GW. Building on this achievement, we’re now looking to the French market. Elicio already focuses 100% on marine renewables and has been pioneering in offshore wind in Belgium for almost 15 years. We’ve built and developed offshore farms with over 1.1 GW. This track record has enabled us to shift to floating wind.
Corentin Sivy: We’ve been working in the offshore industry for two years but our group has extensive experience in renewable energy (solar, biogas, biomass, deep geothermal and wind). Three years ago, we decided to get involved in offshore wind and two years ago we set up an experienced team split across Nantes, Lorient and Montpellier.
A.de F.: By joining forces, we can offer our strong background in offshore wind and draw on our close ties with local communities, especially in Brittany and Pays de la Loire. This puts us in a good position to engage with stakeholders, including policy makers, the fishing industry, industrial clusters, economic players, institutions and academia. Our success with ScotWind shows we have our place. And our teams are young, passionate and ready. Local communities have a wide range of expectations about things like fishing, environmental impact, value creation for local businesses and of course training provision. We’ve got a lot of experience in dealing with these matters and our strength lies in building a project with and for these communities.
C.S.: It’s important to note that no all consortia adopt such an approach. They may have proven technical solutions but local communities don’t always benefit. What we do is thoroughly assess the existing industrial potential so that we can put it to the best use possible. We did this in Scotland and it paid off. We therefore plan to do the same here in France. The Atlantic coast offers great assets for the growth of a marine renewables industry with its industrial and financial capabilities, its vibrancy and natural resource!
For you, what is the main challenge facing the construction of the first commercial float wind farm.
A.de F.: I can see three challenges: the port and industrial infrastructure needs to be developed so that it can cater for large components. For example, floaters measure 100m long and 30m high! Only Brest and Saint-Nazaire can handle these over-sized components. Policy makers in Brittany and Pays de la Loire are aware of these emerging needs and there are plans to increase capacity. The French state, as part of its France 2040 plan, has earmarked some €300m for floating wind. The new infrastructure will not only serve the current wind farm project but also future ones, both in France and abroad.
The second challenge is to adapt supply chains and industry networks. Both Brittany and Pays de la Loire have a strong maritime tradition, but their industry is not yet structured to cater for the specific needs of marine renewables. We can call on the support of clusters such as Neopolia and Bretagne Ocean Power to predict needs and to engage with industry players so that they’re ready in good time.
The third challenge is about upskilling and training. For some professions, there are known recruitment issues. This is especially true for welders who are even more important in offshore wind. We need to liaise closely with the local and regional authorities to ensure the right skills are in the right place in time for the construction of the wind farm towards the end of the decade.
C.S.: Another challenge is that some politicians don’t support marine renewables. There are two misconceptions about the sector and we struggle to debunk them. Some people think that marine renewables are an imported industry whereas France has a third of the EU’s production capacity in offshore wind. It took ten years to achieve this. Cost is another misconception. Yes, offshore wind was very expensive upfront, fifteen years ago. But now, the technology has matured. In the latest tenders for fixed-bottom wind, the price stands at €44/MWh and for the current one the goal is to go below €150/MWh, whereas today, the market price stands at €300/MWh. This means real savings already for the taxpayer. Then there’s the fight against climate change and the creation of local jobs. Offshore wind will be an economic driver and it will help us be more independent energy-wise – it will wean us off burning and importing gas from countries like Qatar, the USA and Russia.
A de F.: We should remember that the French offshore wind sector pledged to create 20,000 jobs by 2035. Some 5,000 of these now exist even if the sector has only just got off the ground with its two offshore turbines, Floatgen and the prototype off Le Coisic, and the very first turbines for the Saint-Nazaire wind farm being installed at the moment.
What are the strengths and weakness of France’s offshore wind sector in your opinion?
A.de. F: The sector enjoys various strengths. France is home to two of the only three plants in Europe that manufacture offshore wind turbines. This represents a third of production capacity. A very strong political will is clearly visible in France with the government’s future calls for expressions of interest and tenders on the way to improve infrastructure. Not only does the country want to shift to carbon-free energy but it also seeks a leadership role in global floating wind with its four pre-commercial floating wind farms set to be commissioned in 2023/2024. This will give us a head-start over everyone else. We hope to use these fours wind farms as a way to develop the skills base here. I would remind everyone that floating wind represents 80% of all offshore wind potential. This is because the Channel, the North Sea and Baltic Sea offer too few zones that are sufficiently shallow.
A weakness is that we were slow off the mark, with too much time between awarding contracts and the actual construction of the wind farms.
C.S.: Another weakness is how the sector is perceived by some. We only hear those who speak out against these technologies. But according to many polls, these people are in a minority. Unfortunately, wind power bashing has developed over the last three years, especially in the run-up to the presidential election, with some political parties clearly wanting to put a stop to the industry.
A.de F.: There is a positive side to this wind power bashing though: it has helped kick the sector into shape. It has got us all to plan future offshore developments better, to anticipate conflicts of use and to engage more when siting new zones.
What is your strategy for ensuring local communities benefit economically from the project?
A.de F.: At the moment, we’re in a long stage of project planning and listening to local stakeholders. We’ve identified many of them including Les Chantiers de l’Atlantique, Akrocéan and Innosea.
The construction contracts will be signed in five or six years’ time but now is the time to prepare. Economic and industry stakeholders can add themselves to our suppliers database via a website . The database will allow us to have updated information and to reach right across the industrial fabric. What we want to do here is to build our project alongside first-tier subcontractors as they will have a key role to play. This aligns with the local content charter we signed with Neopolia and Bretagne Ocean Power and others.
Do you specific expectations of the local manufacturers and institutions?
C.S.: The regional authorities have a key support and coordination role locally, as do elected officials who wish to ride on industry growth to develop community-level projects. And we could also support such projects. The regions are able to foster grassroots initiatives in communities so that everyone can benefit from the floating wind project in some way.
A.de F.: We already work with Solutions&Co, Neopolia and many local businesses. We know that this is just one project and that there will be others. The project therefore needs to set in the wider context, in line with regional ambitions brought to bear by the regional authorities, agencies and clusters. It’s all about teamwork and pulling together.