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Offshore Wind Journal

Offshore Wind Journal

Time for another U-turn, Monsieur le Président

Mon 10 Dec 2018 by David Foxwell

Time for another U-turn, Monsieur le Président

David Foxwell reflects on France’s new energy policy, the reaction in regions of France affected by it and the signal it sends to leading turbine manufacturers.

It has been another good year for offshore wind in many countries but not alas in France where, inexplicably, the industry received only a very meagre allocation in the latest national energy plan.

As highlighted in June 2018, France had the potential to be a major player in offshore wind, but without a clear plan setting out ambitions and goals, it seems less and less likely to realise that ambition.

In November, President Macron said France would phase out more than a dozen nuclear reactors, close coal-fired plant and invest heavily in solar power and onshore wind. But the commitment to offshore wind amounted only to 5.0 GW by 2028. Industry was seeking a commitment to twice that and recently reiterated its demand for 1 GW annually. As highlighted previously by OWJ, industry bodies active in the sector have gone so far as to call the energy plan a “worst case scenario” for the offshore wind industry and for regions of the country active in it.

Politicians in parts of the country that stood to benefit from offshore wind are up in arms, and rightly so. But what kind of signal does the plan and its dearth of a commitment to ‘eolien en mer’ send to companies planning to invest in manufacturing in France? Of course, they also have opportunities to export turbines built in France but cannot have been encouraged by the dearth of offshore wind in the domestic plan.

Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy intends to build factories to manufacture nacelles and blades for offshore wind turbines at Port of Le Havre. GE Renewable Energy is building its massive new turbine in France and must also be a little concerned. None of the turbines installed in UK waters are British designs but it is clear to everyone that the government there strongly supports offshore wind. Does President Macron’s administration and, if it doesn’t, what conclusions should manufacturers draw about where to invest in future?

In the Haliade-X, GE is developing what could be a world-leading offshore wind turbine. It has invested heavily in it and in production facilities in France. In November, GE said LM Wind Power’s blade manufacturing site in Cherbourg had the requisite number of employees it needs to begin building blades for the Haliade-X.  

The company plans to build the nacelles for the Haliade-X in St Nazaire and the blades in Cherbourg. Its predecessor, the Haliade 150-6MW was adopted for windfarms in Belgium, the US, China and Germany, but compared with its main competitors Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy and MHI Vestas, the number of units sold is minimal. As of now, the Haliade hasn’t been installed on any French offshore windfarm.

Siemens Gamesa and GE both have export markets to address and will build factories wherever the financial incentives, facilities and logistics seem best. The Haliade-X is already being bid into projects around the world, but there’s nothing like being able to roll out a new product in your home market in order to demonstrate its export credentials. At the moment, the Haliade-X’s ‘home market’ looks a little threadbare.

The gilets jaunes movement demonstrates just how easily things can go wrong if government doesn’t get policy right. No one has taken to the streets in Brittany, Normandy, New Aquitaine, Occitanie, Pays de la Loire and the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur protesting against the energy plan, but there is little doubt that politicians there want to see another U-turn from the President because they know that jobs and investment are at stake.

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