Barely launched, is the future offshore wind farm on the islands of Yeu and Noirmoutier already outdated? This is, in any case, the reproach made by some actors opposed to the project, while the construction phase of the facilities is due to start in the coming weeks.
This renewable project has just obtained the final investment decision, allowing the first phases of its construction to begin this summer. Led by Ocean Winds - a joint venture dedicated to offshore wind and owned 50/50 by the two energy companies Engie and EDP Renewables - it is due to see the light of day in 2025, more than 10 years after winning in 2014 the call for tenders launched by the State a year earlier. Representing an investment of approximately 2.5 billion euros, the EMYN project provides for the construction and installation of a wind farm located 11 km off the coast of the Ile d'Yeu and 16 km off the island of Noirmoutier, which will supply nearly 800,000 people with electricity each year, equivalent to the population of the Vendée. And this, thanks to 62 wind turbines with a unit capacity of 8 megawatts (MW), a third lower than the so-called "new generation" wind turbines.
And this is precisely where the problem lies: "The planned models are 8 MW old generation wind turbines. In the current standard, machines are much more powerful, such as the Haliade X from General Electric (12 or 13 MW)," regrets Emmanuel Vrignaud, president of the association NENY (No to wind turbines between Noirmoutier and Yeu). The representative regrets that "no collective decision was reached" that would have made it possible to postpone the project and thus bring it up to date. "We would have preferred to review the copy with the latest generation wind turbines: they are larger, can be installed further from the coast, and we could increase their number from 60 to 40 wind turbines for the same efficiency," details the opponent of the project, who believes that this wind farm "is also obsolete because of its too close proximity to the Vendée islands".
Indeed, the offshore wind energy sector takes so long to come out - at least 7 years before a park is commissioned - that by necessity, technologies evolve" in the meantime, confirms Jérémy Simon. The deputy general delegate of the Renewable Energy Union (SER) assures, however, that "we can not come back and change the whole project after the fact": this situation is "quite classic" in offshore wind, according to the SER, "because of the rapid technological evolution of machines, exacerbated by the very long development time of the first projects". "This is valid everywhere in Europe. When we look at the projects commissioned in 2022, most wind turbines have capacities equivalent to 8 MW while we are able to market much more powerful turbines,"continues Jérémy Simon. The representative, however, refuses to talk about obsolescence, preferring to emphasize "a long-term effect" of the launch of projects. A reality that, according to him, must push the actors of the sector to "accelerate the procedures of instruction and reduce the time necessary for the realization of a project".
"A product already honed and certified"
Indeed, it is impossible to rethink a project of such magnitude today, otherwise all the studies will be restarted, including those of impact. And too bad if technologies have evolved since then and are now more efficient. For the leaders of the EMYN project, this long time of conception, design, approval is "implicit at the time of purchase of the turbine". "It's a normal process to have a certain number of years between choosing the turbine and installing it. It depends on the country, but it always takes between 5to 10 years," says Paolo Cairo, director of the Yeu-Noirmoutier wind farm. According to him, "if we decided to do a project today in 2023, with turbines with a power of 14MW, it would only be ready in 7 years".
He refers to praising the power of the future wind turbines of the park, produced by Siemens Gamesa in its plant in Le Havre: "An already well-honed and well-certified product whose maintenance will be easy [...] more than sufficient to meet the production commitment and reach the site's total capacity of 500 MW". And to add: "It is true that we would have the possibility of having larger turbines and moving them further from the coast, these are axes on which all developers are working, but again, we would only have it in 7 or 8 years". A new law, promulgated on March 10, aims according to the government to accelerate the production of renewable energies. And this, in particular by "simplifying procedures". It remains to be seen whether this will significantly shorten the deadlines, as technology evolves at high speed.