Climate

The World’s First Floating Wind Farm

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Two weeks after passing a law that completely re-envisions the country’s energy system, France is already making moves to bolster its wind potential by inviting companies to submit proposals for floating wind farms off both its northern and southern coasts.

On Wednesday, France’s environmental agency ADEME posted a tender document calling for proposals for wind farms comprised of between three to six turbines, with the capacity for at least five megawatts per turbine, at three sites in the Mediterranean and one site in the Bay of Biscay, off the southern coast of Brittany.

The call is part of a push by the French government to encourage the transition of France’s energy system from one that relies heavily on nuclear to one that produces at least a third of its energy through renewable technology. Monetary investments from the French government will come from the “Investments for the Future” program launched in 2010. According to Reuters, the government has made 150 million euros ($163.53 million) available for the project, a third as investment subsidies and two-thirds as loans.

To begin the bidding process for the project, companies will have to propose how much capacity they would want to build and specify what sort of feed-in tariff they hope to get for any electricity produced. According to the tender document, turbines must have a demonstrated lifespan of at least two years, though the government expects the projects — if chosen and constructed — to last at least 15 to 20 years. Projects will be selected not only on their technical merit and financial feasibility, but also the extent to which they would contribute to the growth of a floating offshore wind industry in France, Reuters reported. The tender will be open for submissions through April 4, 2016.

In early July, France Energie Eolienne (FEE) — the country’s largest wind lobby — released a statement calling for a robust, country-wide investment in wind energy. If France was to meet its goal of receiving 32 percent of its energy from renewable sources, as specified in the new energy law, FEE recommended that it needed to drastically increase its construction of wind turbines, including 21 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind power by 2030 — 15 GW from fixed farms and 6 GW from floating ones. It also recommended that France speed up the permitting process associated with wind construction, which in France can take two to three times as long as elsewhere in Europe.

France, which obtained just five percent of its power from renewable energy (excluding hydropower) in 2014, lags far behind its European counterparts in wind production. In 2014, the United Kingdom generated enough electricity from wind to power over 25 percent of U.K. homes, with the total percentage of the U.K’s electricity supplied by wind growing by 1.5 percent from 2013. And in December of 2014, Germany broke a countrywide record, generating more power from wind than ever before. Both feats pale in comparison to Denmark, however, which generated almost 40 percent of its overall electricity from wind power in 2014 — breaking a world record.

A big source of that wind power — and the reason that these records will likely be broken in 2015 — can be attributed to offshore wind farms. 2015 is already the biggest year on record for European offshore wind, with a total of 584 electricity-generating turbines coming online across the Netherlands, the U.K., and Germany in the first half of 2015, according to the European Wind Energy Association. Those turbines tripled the grid’s capacity compared to a year ago.

France currently has no offshore wind installed — fixed or floating — but has goals to increase their production to include six gigawatts of offshore power by 2020.

Both Portugal and Norway each possess a single floating turbine — Portugal also has plans to construct a 25-megawatt floating wind demonstration farm, as well. Yet the relatively new technology has not been deployed on an industrial scale in Europe, making France’s proposal unprecedented for the continent. Earlier this week, Japan installed a seven-megawatt floating wind turbine 12 miles off the coast of Fukushima, considered to be the largest floating wind turbine in the world.

The United States has been slower to implement any kind of offshore wind wind technology, let alone floating wind turbines. These turbines boast the clean-energy of a wind turbine without the potential logistical and aesthetic drawbacks of having a turbine so close to shore. Fixed offshore turbines need to be shallow enough that they can be driven into the ocean floor — the ideal depth is around 50 feet but fixed substructures can go up to three times as deep under current technology. Floating turbines aren’t hindered by the depth of the ocean floor, since they aren’t driven into the floor but anchored using concrete-blocks or other mooring systems. This makes them ideal for the west coast of the United States, which has a short continental shelf and a lot of deep water close to shore.

A Seattle-based power company has plans to install a 30-megawatt floating farm off the Oregon coast, though that project has been hampered by a lack of funding due to a stalled bill in the Oregon state legislature. For the time being, the United States’ sole floating wind turbine is located off the coast of Maine — a one-eighth-scale prototype installed in 2013.