France kick-starts its offshore wind energy aspirations

France officially joined the offshore wind power sector on Tuesday with an announcement by President Nicolas Sarkozy that the government would initially invest more than €10 billion on sea-based wind farms off northern France.

About 10,000 jobs will be created in the French offshore wind energy sector, Sarkozy said, adding the first 600 wind turbines are to be installed in five areas off Normandy, Brittany and Loire-Atlantique.

“Our aim is to have an outstanding national sector emerge to build the means to produce these offshore wind turbines and to look towards exporting them,” Sarkozy was quoted as saying.

The first five offshore wind farms could represent a total capacity of 3,000 megawatts (MW), enough capacity, according to one website, to power both Lyon and Marseille. As a way of meeting is renewable energy target of 23%, France has said it wants at least 6,000 MW of offshore wind power installed by 2020.

“We are launching this first tender covering five development areas for offshore wind power in order to give the industry’s players greater visibility,” Sarkozy reportedly said.

France, which gets most of its energy through its extensive nuclear power facilities, is expected to pick the winning offshore candidates in early 2012.

Tuesday’s announcement, which was originally expected in September, followed a press release last week that Alstom and EDF Energies Nouvelles had agreed to respond jointly to a call for tenders launched by the French government regarding its first offshore wind farms.

Under the agreement, Alstom would be the exclusive supplier of 6 MW offshore wind turbines, based on leading technologies available on the market from 2013 onwards.

France enjoys Europe’s second largest wind potential, and the wind resource is well distributed across the country. With nearly 4,500 MW of onshore wind power installed at the end of 2009, France is the fourth largest market in Europe after Germany, Spain and Italy.

The French onshore wind energy market grew by 1,088 MW in 2009 (up from 950 MW in 2008), representing 41% of all new generation capacity installed in France.

EWEA statistics also show that wind turbines in France generated 7.8 TWh of electricity in 2009, a 40% increase from 2008, but still only 1.6% of total power consumption.

By Chris Rose,