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French marine renewables specialist pulls out of tidal energy

31 July 2018

French renewable energy company Naval Energies has decided to stop investing in tidal turbines and concentrate its efforts on floating offshore wind and thermal energy conversion. The company had been an important developer of tidal technology with ongoing projects in France, Japan and Canada that could now be threatened.

Artist's impression of Normandie Hydro project - Image: Naval Technologies
Artist's impression of Normandie Hydro project - Image: Naval Technologies

According to Offshore Wind Journal, the company said that the market for tidal turbine energy was diminishing but in contrast, the market for floating offshore wind is developing quickly.

"This gap between the technology and demand on the market, and the lack of commercial prospects over the long term, have forced Naval Energies to bring its development work in tidal energy to an end," the company said.

It pointed to limited deployment opportunities of just 100MW to 150MW in France until 2028, the lack of any route to market through price support contracts in the UK, and sensitivity over the cost of the technology in Canada.

"It is with regret, but also responsibility, that we are taking the decision to stop developing tidal-turbine energy," said the firm's CEO Laurent Schneider-Maunoury. "In future, Naval Energies will focus its development on floating offshore wind and ocean thermal energy conversion, which are receiving support from the public authorities."

This is a blow to supporters of tidal energy generation. As recently as 24 July 2018, the company deployed a tidal turbine in Canada and connected it to the grid, the second time it had installed a 2 MW turbine in the Bay of Fundy.

This decision has also led to the liquidation of the company’s Dublin-based subsidiary OpenHydro last week with debts approaching a reported €280m, according to a Business Green report.

The Irish subsidiary was closely involved in the operation of a new tidal tubine plant in Cherbourg and the Normandie Hydro pilot project involving the installation of turbines off the Normandy coast, which only recently received all the necessary authorisations from both the French government and the EU.

Normandie Hydro was to have involved OpenHydro installing seven of its turbines on the sea floor in the Alderney Race (Raz Blanchard) between the Channel Island of Alderney and Cap de la Hague on the Normandy coast, with EDF Energies Nouvelles then taking over operation of the facility.

Estimates for energy extraction show that the Alderney Race offers one of the largest potential tidal resources in Europe with a maximum potential of 5.1 GW, which exceeds a previous estimate for another tidal hot spot, the Pentland Firth in Scotland, by 35%.

In a statement Naval Energies said provisional liquidators from Grant Thornton had been appointed who would "now act on behalf of OpenHydro and will make the decisions regarding all OpenHydro subjects".

EDF Energies Nouvelles said it would need to take time to analyse the situation.

A Naval Energies spokesperson said the firm was looking into the possibility of finding a different use for the Cherbourg plant and that there were several interesting options on the table.

OpenHydro also has operations in Canada and Japan, the future of which also remain unclear.

Naval Energies explained in its statement last week that it had faced challenges in finding a route to market for its tidal turbine technology and would there be focusing its efforts on its floating wind turbines and marine thermal energy conversion businesses.

However, Business Green said UK-based marine energy developer SIMEC Atlantis Energy had expressed interest in potentially filling OpenHydro's shoes in the French demonstrator project, and also using any spare capacity in the Cherbourg turbine assembly plant.

SIMEC Atlantis is the developer behind the MeyGen tidal array in the Pentland Firth between the island of Stroma and the Scottish mainland, the largest tidal stream project in the world, which began generating electricity last year.

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