Offshore wind power, a sector “entering maturity”, according to economists

The wind turbines of the Burbo Bank offshore wind farm on the skyline of the Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, northwest England, July 21, 2023.

Teenage crisis, growth crisis… Economists find it difficult to describe the difficulties currently shaking offshore wind power. For Elie Cohen, research director at CNRS, it is simply a “entry into maturity”. “The conditions which governed its formidable development are less and less met, he observes: there are fewer and fewer spaces to accommodate wind turbines, the projects are located further and further away and are therefore more and more expensive to operate to send the electricity produced into the distribution networks. »

This specialist in the energy sector recalls that, less than ten years ago, States guaranteed an electricity price of 130 euros per megawatt hour, before gradually getting closer to zero. “The industry has become less appetizing during the Covid-19 pandemic and we are now entering a new era”, believes Mr. Cohen. He draws a parallel with other sectors, which also appeared in the era of cheap money, “with debt at all levels and the need to have continuous streams of income to repay it” : mobile telephony, Internet, m distribution… “These buildings are no longer standing, because of interest rates that are crushing revenue flows”he summarizes.

“Structural constraints”

Professor at ESCP Business School in Paris, Jean-Marc Daniel does not think that the current situation portends the worst. But, as a warning, it refers to the major industrial errors that France may have committed in the past: the craze at the beginning of the 20the century, for acetylene lamps capable of replacing electricity, which had led to serial bankruptcy filings; the Calculation plan launched by Charles de Gaulle in the 1960swhich was to ensure the country’s autonomy in information technology and ended, there too, in chain bankruptcies; Minitelwhich appeared in 1980 and which inspired François Mitterrand to say a famous phrase: “Everyone envy it, no one buys it. »

In certain respects, the wind turbine crisis is more reminiscent of the Airbus A380, victim of its gigantism and its unsuitability with airport runways and departure lounges that are undersized in relation to its size.

Also read the survey: Article reserved for our subscribers Offshore wind power: clouds are gathering over the sector

“Industrial failures are inherent to industry, tempers Hervé Joly, research director at the CNRS and business historian. The real subject of offshore wind power is the structural constraints imposed by the extraordinary intermittency of this energy source, whose production can vary from 2% to 80% of production capacity almost from one day to the other. »

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