Harnessing the wind at sea
Offshore wind power is one of the most promising sources of renewable energy. In France an innovative program is under way: the installation of an offshore wind turbine that floats. Meet Ideol, an innovative new company.
Established: 2010 by Paul de la Guérivière and Pierre Coulombeau.
Head office: La Ciotat, France
Permanent employees: 60
Area of expertise: maker and supplier of the foundation system in the field of floating offshore wind power, in partnership with a number of large corporate groups.
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 200-foot-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 production for 2030 just off the Mediterranean coast are for 3 GW, which amounts to the electricity supply for 6.8 million people.
By 2030, just off the Mediterranean coast, floating wind power production could reach an estimated 3 GW.
Paul de la Guérivière, CEO of Ideol
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 115 to 130 feet or 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.
To realize their dream, the two innovators founded Ideol, based in La Ciotat, just east of Marseille. The company procured a patent for its square-ring platform that can accommodate any kind of turbine. The platform has a central opening that serves as a damping pool (also patented). Simultaneously, a European consortium was set up with seven partners, including Bouygues, a world leader in civil engineering, and the Ecole Centrale de Nantes, to launch a full-scale test with the support of the European Union’s FP7 program (the 7th Framework Program for Research and Innovation).
The objective was to demonstrate that floating wind turbines would be both technically feasible and economically viable. The demonstration project was to take two years and was budgeted at $30 million.
Construction would take place in Saint-Nazaire, at the mouth of the Loire River just downstream from Nantes.
SKF takes part in the Floatgen adventure
SKF was commissioned by Ideol to perform the initial audit of the condition of the Vestas V80 turbine purchased for the Floatgen project. A team from SKF Solutions Factory France came on site to examine the main bearings, the quality of the grease and the electrical system of the generator (Baker analyzer). A vibration online condition monitoring system was installed for the whole kinematic chain of the turbine (main bearings, gearbox, generator) that will enable the vibration condition of the machine to be monitored remotely.
“Once we were established in Saint-Nazaire,” explains Serge Gracia, strategic projects manager at Ideol, “this extraordinary but exciting adventure became a day-to-day reality. For each of us, there was pride in being the first to demonstrate the Ideol floating solution and in taking part in building the first floating offshore wind turbine in France.
“We are proud of our work,” he continues. “We’ve overcome technical challenges, and in less than two years we’ve succeeded in building the foundation and developing and creating the transition part and the tower, and we’ve conducted tests.”
Ideol coordinated the entire project and purchased and prepared the turbine. The company asked SKF Solution Factory France to perform a thorough audit, and the turbine was loaded with sensors that would enable SKF to ensure remote vibratory monitoring when installed at sea.
Once the concrete floating system was built, the Floatgen wind turbine was assembled on a wharf apron. In August 2017 it was placed in the water, and following its inauguration on October 13, 2017, all operational tests were successfully completed – in particular those evaluating the power production capacity of the turbine.
The wind turbine has now been transported to the SEM-REV test site of the Ecole Centrale de Nantes, 12 miles offshore, where the infrastructure necessary for its grid connection was already in place.
In terms of employment, the construction phase of the floating foundation has generated as many as 70 jobs in Saint-Nazaire, not including jobs generated with subcontractors and members of the consortium.
On the economic front, in addition to some $24 million in income for the French suppliers involved in the project, Floatgen is, for Ideol, a starting point for a series of deployments, an essential step in confirming its world leadership in this new technology. Major projects are already in the pipeline, including a wind farm with four 6 MW turbines off Perpignan, in the south of France.
Fair winds seem to be in the future for Ideol.