QUB-MOSES researcher participated at the Coastal Transition: Blue Economy conference
January 18, 2021
QUB to host the next MOSES webinar
February 16, 2021

Ifremer hosted a webinar about Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE)

Date : 7 January 2021, 10h-12h30.

Participants:

  • Mrs Anne-Marie Cuesta (Bretagne Pole Naval, General Delegate)
  • Jacques Dubost (head, Brittany ORE business coordination group, BPN)
  • Jean-François Daviau (founder and former chairman and CEO of Sabella SAS, currently a board member of Sabella, board member and technical adviser of BPN),
  • Regis Kalaydjian (Ifremer, MOSES project)

Note: due to a technical error, there is no recording of this webinar.

The webinar was about Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) in Europe, the Atlantic Area and Brittany in particular, with the goal of providing the MOSES project with operational information on the state of the ORE industry, and contributing to the outline of a sustainable growth scenario for the Atlantic ORE sector. The webinar was organized with the participation of Bretagne Pole Naval (BPN), Brittany industry association representing regional maritime companies. BPN delivered a report to Ifremer within MOSES, on ORE projects in Brittany.

The webinar was organized by topic, based on a brief questionnaire circulated earlier to participants. It was held in French language.

The debate aimed at identifying the main issues raised by ORE development as aimed at by the strategies prepared by the EC and the French government. Brittany benefits from the recent development of submarine current turbines and the running of a large size tidal plant, built long ago. But in France, offshore wind farms are only at the stage of projects. A few of them are due to be installed shortly now, including one located on the north coast of Brittany. The debate benefitted from participants’ wide engineering experience and their activity in Brittany.

As there is no recording, below is a summary of the meeting

 

Introduction and preliminary remarks

The webinar was about Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) in Europe, the Atlantic Area and Brittany in particular, with the goal of providing WP7-Action 6 with operational information on the state of the ORE industry, and contributing to the outline of a sustainable growth scenario for the Atlantic ORE sector. The webinar was organized with the participation of Bretagne Pole Naval (BPN), Brittany industry association[1] representing regional maritime companies. BPN delivered a report to Ifremer within the MOSES project, on the ORE industry in Brittany.

The webinar was organized by topic, based on a brief questionnaire circulated earlier to participants. It was held in French language. The present note is a summary of the debate.

At first sight, the development of OREs in the Atlantic Area complies with all sustainability requirements and is desirable as such. However, it faces a range of difficulties, including the economic and environmental sustainability of installation of ORE units and over their operational phase. Technology competitiveness is also essential and varies depending on the different types of ORE. The debate summarized below aimed at identifying the main issues raised by ORE development as aimed at by the strategies prepared by the EC and the French government.

Participants’ experience was largely based on ORE projects in Brittany. This region benefits from the recent development of submarine current turbines and the running of a large size tidal plant, built long ago but still operational. But in France, offshore wind farms are only at the stage of projects. A few of them are due to be installed shortly now, including one located off the Northern coast of Brittany. The debate benefitted from participants’ wide engineering experience and their activity in Brittany. Obviously, since the French ORE sector is not the most developed one in the EU, a participation of people from other Atlantic countries’ ORE sectors would have been largely beneficial to the debate.

 

Summary of the debate

 

  1. What are the main technical and economic conditions to local enterprises for accessing ORE markets ? What are regional companies’ strengths and weaknesses on Brittany’s ORE markets ?

J.-F. Daviau (JFD) :

  • ORE markets are international markets. Local specificities do not play an important part. Brittany companies are competing with companies from other French regions or other countries. Given their limited size, they can compete as subcontractors rather than principal contractors.
  • However, while the manufacturing part of ORE markets is largely international, logistics is more determined by regional conditions and the type of ORE. E.g. certain marine zones with good wind conditions are not adapted to bottom-fixed wind farms owing to bathymetry conditions. There is no alternative but floating turbines. This has an influence on the manufacture of turbine bases and on the logistics required, where local companies can play their part.
  • Other example: submarine current turbines are adapted to zones where submarine currents are strong, e.g. the “Raz Blanchard”[2]. Such local conditions impact decisions in terms of logistics.

A.-M. Cuesta (AMC) :

  • In the report delivered by BPN to Ifremer, a survey of regional companies describes the product and service categories that companies provide to ORE developers as concerns the first ORE projects in Brittany. Most contracts account for modest parts of bigger procurement contracts.

J Dubost (JD) :

  • Given the delay taken by ORE projects procurement procedures in France, foreign companies have an initial cost advantage over their French competitors in terms of co-ordinated tender submission capacity. But while local companies depend on large size developers to get market shares, their skills compare with foreign competitors in certain specific market segments.
  • In France, key decisions were taken a few years ago at a national scale in terms of selected ORE manufacturing production sites and dedicated port terminals. These decisions have not prioritized Brittany. Main ports and logistics facilities are outside the region. Brittany companies’ market shares are limited to maintenance, assembly and storage rather than manufacture, ports and supply services.
  • In the future, the need to increase ORE production capacity – although this is not on the agenda in the short term – may be an opportunity for Brittany to get more manufacturing and logistics capacity. Generally speaking, the selected marine zones for ORE projects influence the location of production and logistics sites.

 

  1. The BPN report suggests that among the regional businesses which are involved in the ORE industry, many participate in several ORE projects, while a few are only on one project. What are the main drivers of local businesses’ ORE market involvement?

JD :

  • Companies’ strategies are mostly determined by their core activities and existing skills. However, companies generally think they need to diversify their markets.

JFD :

  • Companies’ core activity is indeed critical. E.g. submarine current turbine blades are manufactured from carbon fibre, and Brittany companies have experience in sailboat building and the manufacture of carbon fibre sails. The manufacture of current turbine blades also requires skills and experience in rudder and foil manufacture (the Brittany sailboat building sector has such skills) but the base of turbines is metal-made.

JD :

  • However, despite Brittany’s comparative advantages, the blade manufacturing unit has been built in Normandy, near the port of Cherbourg. Its location in Brittany would have been more efficient for logistics reasons.

JFD :

  • This choice of location has probably been influenced by the selection of a site off Normandy for the first offshore wind project in France. As regards marine current turbines, logistics facilities in Brest and maintenance services in Lorient (Southern Brittany) are sufficient. Supply vessels are not necessary. Turbines are installed using jack-ups.

 

  1. What are the main difficulties for OREs in terms of cost-effectiveness and profitability?

JFD :

  • As regards offshore wind, fixed-bottom turbines have a levelised cost of energy (LCOE) of around EUR50/MWh, while floating units are at EUR80 to 100/MWh, depending on the distance to the coast. There is still some way ahead in having floating wind turbines fit for the commercial phase although some over cost is generally accepted, given the potential of this technology. Maintenance costs of floating farms are not seen as a major problem as the different technical aspects of maintenance are under control. The main weakness of this technology is submarine cables linking turbine bases to the seabed. Cables are subject to fatigue and vulnerability to environment and other marine activities, which increases maintenance costs. This requires floating farm zones being exclusively dedicated to that activity, given the risks associated with cables, while some flexibility is allowed with fixed-bottom units, less sensitive to damage from fisheries and navigation.
  • On the other hand, more location flexibility is secured when floating farms are sufficiently remote from the coast, as other marine activities are much less impacted by the existence of an exclusive zone. But if floating farms were located remote from the coast, it would be too risky to have an electric cable linking farms to onshore landing points. A hydrogen-based technology, whereby hydrogen would be produced on the spot by electrolysis and then transported onshore, is the preferred option. Technically, this option has common features with operations on an oil platform.
  • Cost issues are also related to investment lead time and the slow decision-making process of the administrative proceedings for ORE procurements. E.g. the fixed-bottom farm project of Northern Brittany (off Saint-Brieuc Bay) was contracted in 2012 at a purchase price of around EUR200/MWh. Such price is no longer in line with current costs with a EUR50 to 60/MWh LCOE (see above). The price has then been renegotiated downward. Other projects were subject to similar renegotiations.

 

  1. In France, the “Multiannual Energy Programme” is the main guidance document, published in 2019 by the government. It outlines the state’s objectives in terms of energy consumption and supply for the two successive five-year periods of 2019-2023 and 2024-2028, and describes a pathway to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. What is the impact of the Programme on regional businesses’ strategies and their capacity to access ORE markets?

AMC :

  • The BPN report gives an account of businesses’ first reactions to the Programme, which was still too recently published to be assessed in details. The reactions are positive. Purchase prices of ORE production by the grid are not seen as a major cause of concern.

JFD :

  • The initial draft Programme was severely criticized for its lack of ambition in terms of ORE. A revision was urged by the industry, and the final version is now acceptable with a yearly tender for a 500MW ORE capacity. Local companies are comfortable with that scheme.

JD :

  • While purchase prices do not really influence the regional ORE industry’s strategy, administrative constraints are a problem. These include environmental constraints related to the impacts of OREs on marine activities and the slow administrative process implemented to solve the constraints. Several ORE projects were subject to complaints and legal actions, which compounded the administrative process. The Northern Brittany farm has just been cleared to start construction (despite persisting opposition from local fisheries).
  • For environmental reasons, in terms of offshore wind energy, the regional authorities prioritize floating farms. E.g. the floating farm foreseen to start operation in 2022 of Southern Brittany has a capacity of around 30MW and would be the first phase of a more important project with the development of a 250MW floating farm, followed by a second one of 500MW in a neighbour zone. To implement this project, the fixed-bottom farm of Northern Brittany is a useful start. It helps local companies to gain experience in terms of coordinated submission to future tenders for floating farms of any size and in specific activities such as logistics and staff training.

JFD :

  • Logistics facilities in Brest and maintenance service capacity in Lorient are key to such coordinated submissions.

AMC :

  • As regards the slow administrative process following complaints filed against ORE projects, the Senate[3] has proposed an amendment to the Multiannual Energy Programme providing a simplification of administrative proceedings for procurements.

 

  1. How do local businesses manage to adjust staff number and skills to the requirements of ORE markets?

JFD :

  • Sabella has no recruitment problem because its core activity is engineering projects, and the ORE industry – more generally Blue Energy – is attractive to young engineers.

AMC :

  • Staff recruitment and training require a sizeable and continuous flow of business. In addition, staff training requires time. So, for wind energy, the regional industry would need a seamless move from fixed-bottom farms to floating projects without a long lead time between the two phases. But given the current decision-making process, it is now certain that we will have to live with a 4- or 5-year lead time. Such ups and downs will be difficult to manage for the local industry.
  • The Northern Brittany wind farm project was also illustrative of the difficulty to convince developers to subcontract with local businesses. This difficulty showed the necessity to have well-established relationships between developers and the local industry. In turn, this requires a reliable flow of projects.

 

  1. What are the main categories of environmental conditions that apply to ORE projects? Impacts on navigation and fisheries? Transmission cable landing facilities? What else?

JD :

  • As said about question 4, environmental issues are a major cause of slow administrative and decision-making process in terms of marine energy development. They concern a) initial construction (local environmental disturbances) and b) operation (primarily impacts on other marine activities).

JFD :

  • Marine protected areas are open to ORE projects. So the installation of a pilot submarine current turbine was allowed in the Fromveur Strait of the “Iroise Sea”[4]. Such turbines work well at around 35m depth, where the current is still strong and waves less disturbing. Currents are weaker at 50m.

    Iroise Sea, sourcre Wikipedia

  • The upside of submarine current turbines is that it is feasible to have a higher density of units than wind turbines, as submarine units can be placed closer to one another. In addition, in areas like the Fromveur Straight where marine currents are strong, fishing techniques are limited. Trawling and shipping are forbidden and the use of other fishing bottom gears is too risky. Therefore, in the operational phase, turbines cause no major additional constraints to commercial fishing, nor to navigation. The Fromveur strait is therefore estimated to be able to sustain the working of some 1,500 turbines amounting to a 2GW power potential, i.e. equivalent to 4 wind farms.
  • However, among the environmental impacts from submarine current turbines in the operational phase[5], ultrasounds must be mentioned as a source of disturbance to mammals. Their impacts have been studied by Ifremer and their intensity appears to vary depending on locations. But environmental impacts tend to be more important from floating current turbines than fixed-bottoms.
  • The major weakness of submarine current turbines is their cost. Their LCOE is still at EUR300 to 500/MWh[6]. It must be noted that each project consists of new prototypes in the absence of standardization, with specific technical characteristics and costs.

 

  1. The European Commission has just issued a Communication to the Parliament and the Council setting up an ORE strategy with the goal of speeding up ORE projects[7]. Subject to available fundings, these objectives could have significant impacts on the EU’s ORE markets. Do they influence regional businesses’ strategies in terms of investments or exports? Or do businesses prioritize member states’ decisions?

AMC :

  • In Brittany, regional businesses are primarily motivated by the national “Multiannual Energy Programme” previously discussed. For regional businesses, the EC represents a key booster and a major facilitator for ORE projects.

footnotes

[1] https://www.bretagnepolenaval.bzh

[2] Raz Blanchard: strait between the Channel Islands and the Norman coast.

[3] Senate: the French upper house.

[4] Iroise Sea stretches off west Brittany, from the coast to Sein and Ushant islands. Fromveur Strait: near Ushant, zone with strong currents (locally up to 9 and frequently up to 7 knots).

[5] Including biofouling.

[6] As compared to fixed-bottom wind turbines LCOEs estimated at around EUR70 to 90/MWh in Germany, the UK and the Netherlands.

[7] COM(2020) 741 of 19 November 2020. “An EU Strategy to harness the potential of offshore renewable energy for a climate-neutral future”. The EC’s objectives are an offshore wind energy capacity of 60GW in 2030, and 300GW in 2050 in Europe as compared to 12GW in 2019, i.e. an average annual 4.8GW increase over the target period. The objectives also include a 40GW capacity in “ocean energy” (current turbines, tidal plants, wave energy and ocean thermal energy conversion) and emerging sources (floating wind and solar) by 2050.