France’s wind energy sector, both onshore and offshore, continues to provide plenty of work for the heavy lift and project logistics community, and ports are preparing for a surge in activity.

Energy security has been a French concern for years, if not decades, owing to the finite nature of coal, gas and oil. This year, however, has seen extra pressure on traditional fuel sources as a result of the war in Ukraine.

Rystad Energy warned that Europe will suffer a power crunch this winter. The research and business intelligence company said: “Our analysis shows that the power generation balance in Europe is severely challenged in a scenario where gas supply is significantly reduced, because there is not much flexibility to ramp up considerably from other sources. Any other alternative would require a large decline in power demand.”

Investment fears

The situation in France is just as worrying. Late September saw some companies announce production cuts and pauses – as well as partial unemployment – in order to ensure they could pay their energy bills. The extra costs could also put investment in alternative energy at risk, the French Senate warned.

Domestically, onshore wind energy currently contributes 9 percent (19 GW) of the national energy mix. Hopes for a cleaner energy future that is less susceptible to geopolitical volatility rest largely on this source and, increasingly, offshore wind too.

France will be the second-largest contributor to offshore wind energy capacity additions in Europe during 2022, Rystad Energy said. The country inaugurated its first commercial offshore wind project in September (the 480 MW Saint-Nazaire development owned by Eolien Maritime France) and is expected to add around 3 GW of offshore wind capacity between 2022 and 2025. Construction is currently under way on similar-scale offshore wind farms at Saint-Brieuc (496 MW) and Fécamp (500 MW).

In March, the French government launched tenders for floating wind farms at two sites in the Mediterranean (off Narbonne and Fos-sur-Mer), each with planned capacity of 250 MW and the potential for extensions to a total capacity of 1.5 GW. The tenders are now in their second phase, with successful bidders to be announced in late 2023 and the farms expected to be commissioned by 2030.

Among the bidders for the Mediterranean sites is RWE Renewables France, which is also investing in the 44 MW Les Nouvions onshore wind farm in the northern Hauts-de France region, which is expected to be commissioned in 2023.

Earlier this year France committed to building 40 GW of offshore capacity across 50 wind farms by 2050 as part of its plan to cut CO2 emissions. Giles Dickson, ceo of trade association WindEurope, said: “The French offshore sector deal is a big step forward… [but] France should not forget onshore wind. It is one of the most effective tools for quick decarbonisation.” forward… [but] France should not forget onshore wind. It is one of the most effective tools for quick decarbonisation.”

While the French onshore wind energy sector has been tracking at a high level in recent years, “we now witness a clear shift towards the offshore fields, which require more complex and technically innovative solutions”, said Eric Martin-Neuville, executive vice president freight forwarding at Geodis.

Olivier Rosensveig, regional director of Western Europe at transport engineering and heavy lift specialist Sarens, said the French market is particularly active. “Offshore is of course in full expansion. We are very pleased to have contributed to the construction of the Fécamp offshore project: this is a very technical project due to weight and access options, and a very time-sensitive project. We will see more of those projects in the coming year as this chapter is just starting. We are already engaging with our clients also on the next challenge of the wind industry: floating technologies. But onshore is still very active in France.”

Overseas successes

More generally, Martin-Neuville believes the transformation of the French market from good to great will be the success of its industrial companies overseas – for instance, Valorem’s agreement with Finnish wind power developer Megatuuli to collaborate on 1.5 GW of wind projects in the Nordic country by 2025.

The two companies previously collaborated in multiple wind power projects including Saunamaa in Kurikka/Teuva, Suolakangas in Kauhajoki, and Kalistanneva and Matkussaari in Kurikka, Megatuuli noted. These projects, investments amounting to almost EUR500 million (USD485 million), are currently in operation or under construction.

Another major project with French involvement is the Moray East development – which is majority owned by Ocean Winds, a joint venture between French energy company Engie and Spain’s EDP Renewables – in Scotland’s outer Moray Firth. The last turbine was installed in September.

The commissioning work that will enable the project to achieve its full output of 950 MW is expected to be completed before the end of the year.

Marc Sagot, sales manager at Breakbulk Project Agency (BPA), part of shipping and logistics provider Naxco France, noted that “tension in the strategic energy market can accelerate projects in that market, and spark new ones”, as evidenced by the acceleration in offshore wind energy plans.

Indeed, Martin-Neuville believes the development of the wind energy business on French soil has provided, and will continue to provide, significant opportunities, both in terms of capacity additions and related transmission infrastructure.

Ukrainian impacts “In addition, our teams in the aid and relief sector have been busy with a specific focus on the territories impacted by the Ukrainian conflict,” he said. “The war in Ukraine has mobilised our aid and relief team but also impacted overall activity, with an increased level of work in the oil and gas part of the business with a growing list of investment projects – mostly fast-tracked in the gas transformation and the transportation side, LNG plant being one example.”

The economic forecast for Europe in general is rather gloomy, with inflation and recession being major concerns at the time November/December 2022 91 of writing – a situation that is not likely to improve over the next year or two.

However, Martin-Neuville noted: “The logistic side of the project market is often counter-cyclical to the economic situation. Projects are often conceived and funded during a period of expansion and delivered during the following downward cycle.

“The combination of large investment made over the past two years and of the urgent investment generated by the change in energy supplies will further enhance the demand, and we remain rather confident on the level of activity for the next two to four years.”

Looking ahead to the next stage of the cycle, Sagot said: “The combination of global health, military and climate crises has created an extremely uncertain environment which is not terribly favourable to large industrial projects in the medium to long term, particularly those in the infrastructure sector.”

Overall, the mood in France is positive with regard to project demand – but there are difficulties to overcome. During the past three years, the main operational challenges related to oceanfreight capacity limitations. “The combination of a high level of demand from the wind energy business and the opportunistic usage of multipurpose vessels to carry containers has generated shortages and has had a significant impact on pricing,” Martin-Neuville explained.

Capacity relief

There are signs that this trend is coming to an end, however. Container rates are falling sharply, and multipurpose tonnage chartered by box lines is returning to its traditional workspace.

There are also broader challenges relating to the sustainability of the industry. Jean[1]Louis Cadoret, general manager at LD Seaplane and Louis Dreyfus Freight Solutions (LDFS), said: “The main challenge is to reduce the carbon footprint of our ships. Transport constitutes an essential link in our economy. This makes the stakes of decarbonisation of the sector even more significant.

“Our parent company, Louis Dreyfus Armateurs (LDA) Group, pays particular attention to the protection of the environment. This concern manifests as a policy of dynamic innovation, a commitment to reducing vessel speed and the certification of the business to ISO 14001 standard since 2018.”

LDA Group is carrying out environmental research in a couple of areas. In the short term, it is researching “energy sobriety – rapidly reducing our energy needs” – and optimising fleet usage. Examples include adding suction sails (bound4blue will install three eSAIL systems in 2023 on vessels owned and operated by LDA); recovering heat from engines or other heat sources; improving hydrodynamics; and the benefits of trochoidal propellers.

In the medium term, LDA Group is researching carbon-free solutions.

Ports, meanwhile, face their own challenges. A spokesperson for Ports de Normandie explained: “The constantly increasing size and weight of components means we must continually adapt our ports – by gaining 39 ha of sea at Cherbourg to install renewable marine energy; by constructing a 15 tonne per sq m quay that is in some areas capable of withstanding 50 tonnes per sq m; by the development of the outer harbour at Caen-Ouistreham (to receive ships up to 27.4 m wide); by gaining 3 ha of sea to install the maintenance base for the Courseulles offshore wind farm and a project to extend the outer harbour at Dieppe (up to 20 ha) as well as acquire more land.”

Infrastructure overhaul

Cherbourg also wants to make changes that would allow it to receive vessels dealing with floating wind power and to store floats in the harbour. Already, the mainstay of activities at Ports de Normandie are offshore wind (fixed and floating), tidal and onshore wind energy.

As for some of the other problems facing the project logistics industry in France, Ports de Normandie said: “We need to shorten the timescales for invitations to tender for renewable marine energy and installation procedures so that more wind farms see the light of day… We need to work closely with the authorities to adapt the road network in order to ensure it serves our ports better.”

The spokesperson admitted that the varying cost of raw materials is having an impact on the cost of development work at Normandy’s ports.

Nonetheless: “At Cherbourg, logistics work continues for Van Oord for the St Brieuc wind farm. 200 piles have arrived from Spain and are in storage at Cherbourg awaiting onward transport to St Brieuc.

“We have also just finished work on EDF’s hub (operated by Siemens). The first imported components (blades and masts) will arrive at the end of this year and into the first quarter of 2023, totalling 71 wind turbines. Pre-assembly of the masts will be completed at the port. Dedicated ships will collect the assembled masts directly from the port and take them out to sea for installation at the Fécamp wind farm.”

Hub development Looking ahead to 2024 and 2025, Ports de Normandie highlighted the Courseulles and Tréport wind farms; Cherbourg is positioning itself to be a logistics port for these sites.

Elsewhere, with the aforementioned Mediterranean offshore floating wind farms in mind, Port-la-Nouvelle has been developing its capacity to handle the necessary components.

Noting that the port has traditionally handled cereal and other agricultural exports destined for North Africa, the European Investment Bank (EIB) – which is providing EUR150 million (USD145.4 million) of the EUR340 million (USD329.6 million) that will be spent on refurbishing both Port-la[1]Nouvelle and Sète – said: “The plans call for Port-la-Nouvelle to be transformed into a Mediterranean hub for the construction, logistics and support of offshore floating wind farms. The hub will also eventually produce green hydrogen from the clean energy generated by the wind farms.”

Port-la-Nouvelle outlined: “The port extension work began in 2019 under regional project management with the construction of a new 2.5 km breakwater and the extension of the existing 600 m breakwater. A 250 m heavy lift quay [with water depth of 11 m on 200 linear metres] and 7 ha of open storage have been built in 2022 for the construction of the offshore wind pilot farms. It includes the first phase of a green terminal for renewable marine energies.”

Construction of floating wind turbines at the port’s assembly site will begin in 2023, with six 10 MW turbines being installed at pilot projects located off Gruissan and Barcarès.

A second 300 m quay (water depth 16 m) and additional 23 ha of land will be used for the mass industrial production of commercial wind farms by 2028-2030; Port-la-Nouvelle is already working with the bidders on tenders relating to the aforementioned 250 MW developments at Narbonne and Fos-sur-Mer. Completion of the first phase of construction is expected in 2023.

Shirley Moussavou, EIB loan officer for the Port-la-Nouvelle project, remarked: “The new infrastructure supports the efforts to develop greener port activities and to decarbonise energy production and, as such, is an additional step towards reaching our goal for carbon neutrality at the European level. Floating offshore wind farms are also at the forefront of the energy transition agenda in France.”

”The new infrastructure supports the efforts to develop greener port activities and to decarbonise energy production.” – Shirley Moussavou, Port-la-Nouvelle

Sarens’ Rosensveig, believes the prospects for renewable marine energy are interesting but the market presently remains limited. “Regarding green hydrogen, we are involved in some very preliminary discussions. We believe this will have a significant impact on the energy mix of tomorrow which will, in turn, have a large impact on our operations. However, hydrogen is just starting to phase up, so it is a bit early to measure the whole impact on our market.

Nuclear market

“Looking ahead, the nuclear market will be large again in France in the coming years. Wind and hydrogen will continue to have our attention. Traditionally, we have also been quite present in the construction of large infrastructures such as ‘le grand Paris’ [the Grand Paris Express network comprising 200km of mainly underground rail and 68 new stations, which is expected to be fully operational by 2035]. We will continue to support our clients on those activities. Finally we are also looking at increasing further our footprint in France, following up on several years of consistent growth in the country.”

This article has been taken from HLPFI’s Nov/Dec 2022 edition, read more here.