In the quayside shipyards of Saint-Nazaire, the main commercial port on France’s Atlantic coast, gusting winds and lashing rain do little to dampen the enthusiasm of the Ideol team of engineers involved in the construction of the Floatgen wind turbine. The imposing 62-metre-tall edifice has just been completed and is on its way to be settled in an offshore test location and begin immediate full operation. The stakes for this demonstration project are high, as are hopes for its success. It is France’s first foray into offshore energy production, and it is an initial foray into a floating solution that could, if expanded into full-scale installations, provide energy for millions of people. As an example, projections of the production for 2030 just off the Mediterranean coast are for 3 GW, which amounts to the electricity supply for 6.8 million people.
The adventure began in 2010, when engineers Paul de la Guérivière and Pierre Coulombeau conceived the innovative concept of a floating wind turbine, which they believed would prove an indispensable addition to wind turbines that are built onto a base fixed to the sea floor.
The main advantage of a floating wind turbine is that it can be installed in depths of 35 to 45 metres and more, deeper than is possible with fixed seabed installations. With the stronger, yet more constant winds found at these locations, a floating wind turbine can produce energy on a more regular basis, which reduces final energy costs. Being farther away from the coastline limits the visual impact, and the negative impact on marine wildlife and the seabed is limited by the fact that the turbine floats. In addition, a floating wind turbine can more easily be disconnected.