After years as nuclear powerhouse, France makes play in offshore wind

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This image, from Sept. 2022, shows French President Emmanuel Macron speaking with workers on board a boat during a visit to the Saint-Nazaire Offshore Wind Farm.

Stephane Mahe | AFP | Getty Images

A facility described as “France’s first commercial-scale offshore wind project” is fully operational, multinational utility EDF said this week.

The news represents a significant step forward for the country’s offshore wind sector, with more projects set to come online in the years ahead.

In a statement Wednesday, EDF said the 480-megawatt Saint-Nazaire Offshore Wind Farm would help to “support the French State’s energy transition goals, which include targets to generate 32% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.” EDF’s majority shareholder is the French state.

Located in waters off the south west coast of France, the Saint-Nazaire project consists of 80 turbines. Its first electricity was generated in June 2022.

Looking ahead, EDF said the wind farm would “supply the equivalent of the consumption of 700,000 people with electricity every year.”

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While the Saint-Nazaire project represents a significant shot in the arm for France’s nascent offshore wind sector, the country has for decades been something of a powerhouse when it comes to nuclear.

According to the World Nuclear Association, France is home to 56 operable reactors. “France derives about 70% of its electricity from nuclear energy,” it adds.

In wind power, the country has an established onshore sector. Its offshore industry is by contrast miniscule, with a cumulative capacity of just 2 MW in 2021, according to figures from industry body WindEurope.

This is set to change in the coming years. “Offshore installations are finally set to take off as of 2022, and we expect 3.3 GW of offshore wind installations from now until 2026,” WindEurope’s Wind Energy in Europe report, which was published in Feb. 2022, said.

In a statement, EDF Renewables’ CEO Bruno Bensasson expressed pride in commissioning what he called “France’s first industrial offshore wind farm.”

“Over the past 10 years, this project has contributed to the construction of the offshore wind power industry in France and has mobilized a significant number of jobs during construction and now in the operating phase,” he later added.

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