For more than 20 years, France has been betting on onshore wind power. With a production capacity of almost 19 GW, covering about 8% of its national electricity demand, the country is at the top of Europe's largest wind energy producers. Yet there is still huge growth potential: on land, but especially offshore. The ambitions are high: President Macron's government wants to double its output on land by 2050 and create an additional 40 GW of capacity at sea, which it must build from scratch.

With 11 million km² of sea area, France has the second largest sea area in the world after the United States. A unique opportunity to address the much-needed energy transition. Although France had placed offshore wind energy high on its agenda for years, the fishing community, environmental organisations and local political interests put a brake on the dossier. Open discussions with all parties around the table have now resulted in an energy pact in which France and the energy market commit to installing a total offshore wind energy capacity of 40 GW by 2050, with due consideration for marine ecosystems.


Late-bloomer with strong ambitions

"Compared to other European countries, France "adopted offshore wind energy rather late", states Pierre-Emmanuel Guillot, Asset Management Director at EDF Renewables and responsible for operating the Saint-Nazaire wind farm."The Saint-Nazaire wind farm was therefore a very positive signal for the French energy market. It symbolises our country's ambitions to shift up a gear in offshore wind power."

Since the end of November 2022, the Saint-Nazaire offshore wind farm connected to the French grid. The first of 50 French wind farms by 2050.  "The annual production amounts to 1.7 TWh, which corresponds with the energy demand of 700,000 people. By way of clarification, this corresponds with 50% of the residential energy demand of the Loire-Atlantique department, and with 20% of the total energy demand."

Transparency above all

To build the Saint-Nazaire wind farm, the teams of EDF Renewables and Jan De Nul worked intensively together for three years. "Even before the first on-site activities took place, we regularly went on site", explains Guillaume Gourdet, the EDF Renewables manager responsible for installing the turbines at the Saint-Nazaire wind farm. "Together, we scheduled consultation moments with all project stakeholders so that we could identify all action points."

Guillaume looks back positively on the journey he made with Jan De Nul. "This project was completed successfully. I characterise our cooperation as very efficient and transparent. Yes, we experienced technical problems, but we could always fall back on a very competent and solution-oriented team."

Foundations on hard rock

The project team soon faced its first challenge. The seabed off the French coast is particularly rocky and rugged, which is quite a challenge for the legs of a jack-up installation vessel such as the Vole au vent. "In the first year, we focused mainly on seabed preparation”, Guillaume continues. "Never before had a jack-up installation vessel 'jacked up' on such a surface. We needed a specific working method. We developed it together and defended it before our stakeholders, from port authorities to engineers.  In the end, we were able to demonstrate that our approach was environmentally sound."

So what was the solution? Pre-cutting. We decided to cut the seabed locally first at 75 out of 80 positions to provide a stable work platform for the Vole au vent. A job made to measure for Jan De Nul's Cutter Suction Dredger Fernão de Magalhães.

Historic moment

In the second year, the design took further shape and the project team made sure all parties were on the same page. The installation itself started in April 2022 and the very first French offshore turbine was in place on 13 April. Finally, on 22 September, the last of 80 turbines connected to the French grid – well within the pre-set target dates. A historic moment that the French press and politicians watched with great interest. Even President Macron mentioned it on his personal Twitter account: "The Saint-Nazaire wind farm is finally operational. It took 10 years to see the light of day. All turbines are installed and the first electricity is coming ashore. It will be necessary for the coming winter. This wind farm contributes to our energy transition."