There was no fanfare, no fireworks and for many, the developments made by Alstom just over a week ago, slipped quietly under the radar.
However, while the news was, in some respects, lost in the cacophony of conference noise, this doesn’t diminish its significance.
And the completion of the sea installation of the first 6MW Haliade turbine, at the Belwind site off the coast of Belgium, really is important.
For, in an instant, it became the largest offshore wind turbine ever installed at sea.
That’s something that marks the close of Alstom’s early-stage testing programme. And it’s something that also marks the start of an important new phase of commercial development, innovation and growth.
Naturally, it’s easy to get lost in the numbers. With a 150-metre rotor diameter, a 15% increased yield when compared to the existing offshore fleet and a structural weight of over 1,500 tonnes, it’s no small machine.
However, those facts and figures become small fry when set against Alstom’s long-term ambitions for the unit.
Indeed, let’s not forget that while the turbine installation fires a shot across the bows of other major manufacturers, it’s the exclusivity deal signed earlier in the year with EDF Energies Nouvelles and Wpd Offshore that makes this latest milestone of particular interest.
For its part, Alstom has always signalled its commitment to the domestic market; having invested heavily in its Saint-Nazaire and Cherbourg plants.
And, of course, let’s not forget that the development of the direct drive unit was only ever undertaken in response to the French government’s call for tenders back in July 2011. A move that set out early-stage French plans to install 3GW of offshore wind power by 2015.
And while our comments on the French market – and the relatively low levels of competition that exist within it – have already been well documented, there’s no denying that France is now beginning to deliver against that vision.
In part, that’s why the French supply chain service market has suddenly experienced such an uplift in activity, with domestic boat builders and the multitude of parts and logistics firms gearing up to capitalise on the future push.
But here’s the thing. With unconfirmed rumours circling that Alstom already has further contract and delivery news on the cards and with Siemens effectively locked out of all offshore French developer sites, it’s not so much about the announcement of a new turbine, it’s about the inherent structure of a new market.
In an industry that’s clamouring for innovation, perhaps this effective ring-fencing of 3GW of confirmed tender agreements and development sites should be viewed more as an industry test case and an affirmation that you don’t necessarily need the same tried and tested players to make a new market work.
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