France economy

France solves California offshore wind problem


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Between drought, wildfires, mudslides and more, California seems to be a big ball of problems these days. Access to offshore wind power is one of those issues in the “what not” category. The Pacific coast is full of renewable energy potential, but the water is too deep for conventional offshore wind turbines. The Golden State is missing thousands of new jobs and bundles of economic activity, except maybe not, if all goes according to plan in France.

Offshore wind power: France to the rescue

Offshore wind technology that can conquer deep waters is a simple platform that allows wind turbines to float on the surface instead of having to be fixed to the seabed. Of course, the devil is in the details, including the challenges posed by rough seas and salt water corrosion as well as the small matter of transferring all those clean kilowatts from an offshore location to shore, in addition to address objections from other marine stakeholders.

So, it’s not that simple. The floating offshore wind industry has made its way into the global clean energy portfolio, but activity has accelerated in recent years. Recent projects include Les Éoliennes Flottantes du Golfe de Lion (EFGL) floating offshore wind farm hosted by France.

The 30-megawatt project will feature three 10-megawatt turbines planned for a site in the Gulf of Lion Natural Park about 16 kilometers from the coasts of Leucate and Barcares in the French Mediterranean.

The new wind farm also represents a strategy to bypass objections from the fishing industry, as it is located in a marine reserve.

Floating offshore wind power finally has its heyday

It’s a safe bet that wind power players in California are interested in the EFGL project. The company behind the floating platforms for the new wind farm is Principle Power, a company that first crossed the CleanTechnica radar in 2009 with an experimental floating wind turbine project supported by the US Department of Energy.

In 2014, Principle Power was demonstrating its floating wind power technology off the coast of Oregon, again with support from the U.S. Department of Energy, and the company continued to help guide the floating wind industry here in the United States.

All of this activity has put the United States in pole position to lead the world in floating wind technology. Too bad some state and federal policymakers (you know who you are) missed the boat by creating new jobs in the US offshore wind industry, but it allowed France to capitalize on the lessons learned as Principle Power honed its technology.

“EFGL will see the deployment of the 3rd generation of WindFloat® technology, which builds on lessons learned from previous projects and includes important innovations in modularization and manufacturability to further increase deliverability and competitiveness”, s’ Principle Power enthusiasm.

More jobs abroad – For France

The EFGL project could have huge implications for the entire US wind industry. Floating or not, offshore wind has been slow to take off in the United States even as other countries have leapt forward. The EFGL project will demonstrate how offshore wind is integrated into energy transition, economic development and nature conservation.

According to Principle Power, the project will create nearly 400 direct and indirect jobs in the long term. About 100 additional manufacturing jobs will be created during the construction process, which will be housed in a facility that had previously been targeted for oil and gas infrastructure.

As indicated by its location in a nature reserve, the new offshore wind farm will feature a number of modifications aimed at promoting biodiversity while discouraging invasive species.

Among these, an artificial fish habitat developed by the Ecoocean firm, which will be installed on one of the floating platforms. Called Biohut, the habitat has already been tested on an observation buoy in the marine park.

“The researchers observed a real increase in the biodiversity of species in and around BOB and, above all, no invasive species were observed on the structure,” explains Principle Power, adding that “This project is very important for us because the WindFloat® technology used is going to be a little different from what we used to do. We have optimized the structure based on the experience we have gained.

Next steps for floating offshore wind in California… and in Maine?

It looks like the EFGL project is on track to start operations in 2023. Meanwhile, Principle Power is stepping things up a notch.

A new 270 megawatt offshore wind project is taking shape in South Brittany, and among those vying to develop it, Ocean Winds, a mashup of the well-known companies ENGIE and EDP Renewables. Last week, Ocean Winds announced its collaboration with Principle Power to design floating turbine platforms.

These are peanuts compared to California’s offshore wind potential, which easily reaches the gigawatt scale.

Moreover, California must step up the pace if it wants to claim the first floating offshore wind farm in the United States. The little old man from Maine could beat California in the fist. A few years ago, the Pine Tree State was on the trail of new floating wind technology that could allow it to probe its rugged coastline for offshore wind power, only to be distracted by politics. Now it looks like the project is back on track.

More green jobs for the United States, but who is going to work them?

Last year, the American Jobs Project organization released a report predicting the overall job creation potential of California’s offshore wind industry to be around 17,500 direct and indirect jobs.

This is only based on a conservative estimate of installing 18 gigawatts in offshore wind capacity by 2045. The state actually has a technical potential of 112 gigawatts. Many of these extra gigawatts are out of reach, but more could be up for grabs.

In an interesting twist, oil and gas developers could speed things up in the offshore area by leveraging their offshore knowledge base and investment strength.

The cost of floating offshore wind remains an obstacle, but fans of the technology point out that wind speeds are more optimal further offshore, increasing the potential for maximum efficiency extraction from each wind turbine.

Another question that remains to be resolved is who is going to work all these new green jobs. After all, we are in the midst of a serious labor shortage. Millions of American workers quit their jobs during the pandemic, and many have left the workforce altogether to care for children and other family members.

More support for child care, family care, education and skills training would help, so keep an eye out for this Build Back Better bill circulating around Congress.

Follow me on twitter @TinaMCasey.

Photo: Offshore floating wind turbines by the winds of the ocean.

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