Version française
RSS feeds
Home > News > Inventing floating offshore wind turbines, by Daniel Averbuch Ocean Energy Program Manager, and Eric Heintzé Director of Applied Mechanics Research Division ...


Inventing floating offshore wind turbines, by Daniel Averbuch Ocean Energy Program Manager, and Eric Heintzé Director of Applied Mechanics Research Division ...

With a view to reinforcing its position in the renewable energies segment, IFPEN is set to apply its expertise in the offshore petroleum sector to wind power.
What are the challenges? To install these electricity generators not on land or artificial islets but on floating structures.

Parc Vertiwind - HR

  • Is the fact that IFPEN is now turning to marine energies not a somewhat unexpected move?
Eric Heintzé


E.H.: Not at all! If you are not convinced, you need to remember that IFPEN has extensive experience in offshore exploration and production. We have significant expertise, both with respect to the platforms and the mooring lines, pipelines, risers or umbilicals linking the seabed to the surface. So why not apply this expertise to marine energies? That is the question we asked ourselves. Proof that we are committed to this field, one of our strategic priorities Renewable Energies, incorporated in our performance contract drawn up with the State, includes the development of innovations in the renewable marine energies sector. And, since last year, I have been co-leader of one of the working groups within the Alliance nationale de coordination de la recherche pour l’énergie (Ancre or French National Alliance for Energy Research Coordination) dedicated to hydraulic and offshore wind turbine marine energies.

  • Which marine energies do you intend to work on?
Daniel Averbuch

D.A.: In 2009, a very extensive bibliographic study, conducted internally, made it possible for us to analyze four themes in which we have expertise and which could be developed industrially in the next ten to twenty years: These are offshore wind power, ocean thermal energy - using differences in temperature between the ocean bed and surface -, tidal energy (marine turbines) and wave power.
Thereafter, a strategic analysis revealed that the offshore wind power sector - and especially floating offshore wind turbines - offered business sectors in which we can leverage our expertise and interesting mid-term potential for both French coasts and abroad.

  • What prompted this choice?

D.A.: First of all, economic reasons: the economic potential of floating wind turbines is estimated to be 10,000 TWh/year; in addition, France has the second biggest maritime domain in the world and therefore has a very interesting exploitable surface area. Furthermore, in comparison with the phenomena observed on land, it offers greater predictability, making it possible to anticipate the quantity of energy that will be supplied to the grid. Finally, for bathymetrical reasons : in Northern European countries, where maritime domains are relatively shallow (generally less than 30 m deep), we are seeing a very significant increase in the number of offshore wind turbines installed, based on similar techniques to wind turbines on land, but with foundations adapted to the characteristics of seabeds. But this technology can only be used to a very limited extent in French waters, where depths very quickly exceed 50 meters. Hence the idea of developing ad hoc systems: floating wind turbines, i.e. installed on a platform anchored to the seabed. Several studies have demonstrated that France has a floating wind turbine potential that is eight to ten times higher than that of fixed turbines.

  • So is the technology completely new?

E. H.: At present, there is only one prototype of an industrial-scale floating offshore wind turbine in the world – Hywind - installed off the coast of Norway and developed as part of a project involving Statoil, Enova, Siemens and Technip. While this wind turbine does indeed produce electricity, numerous questions remain, particularly in terms of its economic viability. Floating offshore wind turbines will only be competitive in comparison with fixed turbines if the price of the floaters can be halved. It is therefore necessary to come up with new concepts, drawing on our expertise in the offshore petroleum field in order to offer a floater/wind generator pairing that is technologically optimized, adapted to maritime conditions and economically viable.

  • What stage is IFPEN at?

E. H.: The research program has been launched this year. We need to review the overall design of wind turbines and take into account requirements specific to installation on a floater. In a standard wind turbine, the electricity production system is located some hundred meters above the ground. But in the case of a floating offshore wind turbine, it would be very useful to be able to install this component that weighs several hundreds of tonnes at floater level.
It will thus be necessary to rework the various elements of a wind turbine one by one in order to see how they adapt to the marine environment. This year, we are starting work on the implementation of a wind turbine design chain that we will use on a standard wind turbine, in order to effectively master the main elements design. In particular, we will study their size and weight. We then plan to adjust the floater technology to reduce the cost. As part of this project, we are developing simulation software for the dynamic behavior of floating wind turbines. We will thus be in a position to develop a comprehensive system approach and propose an initial design by 2012-2013.

  • So does floating offshore wind power really differ much from fixed wind power ?

E. H.: At present, fixed offshore wind turbine technologies are a transposition to the marine environment of what happens on land. But with floating wind turbines, specific problems need to be taken into account. And, in particular, the question as to whether it would be better to develop vertical or horizontal-axis wind turbines.

  • Do we have an idea of the role this technology might play in the future ?

D.A.: Altogether, the wind power sector has enjoyed average growth of 30% per year on a worldwide scale over the past 10 years, achieving an installed power in the region of 160 gigawatts (including 2 offshore) in 2009. Last year alone, over 37 gigawatts of new capacity was created (Source Global Wind Energy Council).
For the time being France does not have any operational offshore wind farms. For 2020, the Grenelle de l’environnement (France’s Environment Round Table) has set a target of 25 gigawatts from wind power, 6 gigawatts of which should come from marine energy, including fixed and floating offshore wind power, as is illustrated by the offshore wind power call for bids launched this year.
In the next 10 to 15 years, the development of offshore wind power – and of marine energies more broadly – is therefore likely to be considerable. With the potential to create over 150,000 new jobs in Europe. I think that alone more than justifies our efforts.

+ Research themes > Renewable energies > Marine energies


links list

  • Print page