The French wind energy sector?s fears seem to have been fully justified

The French wind power sector’s fears seem to have been fully justified. The unstable domestic context in which the sector is developing and the new obligations introduced by the Grenelle 2 bill (wind turbines subject to approval as facilities classified for environmental protection (ICPE), minimum of five wind turbines per wind farm, wind energy development zones included in regional climate, air quality and energy schemes) got the better of wind energy growth in 2011.

Domestic market installations for the twelve months are estimated at 642.7 MW as against 1 459 MW in 2010. At this pace France will miss its onshore target of 19 000 MW by 2020. However, the number of applications for onshore wind turbine grid connection in the pipeline – that RTE puts at 1 131 MW (18 projects) on 31 December 2011 – suggests that there should be a return to growth in 2012.

Electricity output grew strongly in 2011 and provides welcome news. As RTE points out, wind power output increased by 23% over its 2010 level (11.9 TWh up from 9.7 TWh in 2010) and in the space of twelve months wind power coverage across the country rose from 1.9% in 2010 to 2.5% in 2011.

The creation of a French offshore wind energy sector is taking shape in the medium term, with the submission of ten bids for the initial 3-GW tranche of the first offshore tender on 11 January 2012.

The financial and industrial stakes are high with investment amounting to around 10 billion euros for a maximum capacity of 3 GW in five selected areas: Le Tréport (750 MW), Fécamp (500 MW), Courseulles-sur-Mer (500 MW), Saint-Brieuc (500 MW) and Saint-Nazaire (750 MW). A second call for projects should be announced in April to cover the 6-GW target in 2020 set by the Grenelle Environment Round Table.

Most of the utility majors are lining up to bid, EDF, GDF Suez (France); Dong Energy (Denmark); Iberdrola (Spain) and RES (UK), while the German utility E.ON is sitting this one out. This initial tranche should benefit the French offshore turbine manufac¬turers, Areva and Alstom, who are on 9 of the 10 bids, while the German manufacturer Siemens is only on one bid. The bidders will be shortlisted in April 2012 and finally retained during 2013 at the end of a final risk elimination process to confirm the project’s feasibility. The wind turbines installations will be commissioned one-by-one between 2015 and 2020.