Fifty people who are engaged in Northern Ireland’s offshore wind energy sector have seen the future. A recent trip to Marseille by the group, coordinated by Invest NI and hosted by Monaco-based SBM Offshore, the energy company behind the proposed North Channel Wind project, revealed the scale of next generation offshore floating wind turbines during a visit to the Fos sur Mer site of Port de Marseille.
The port, which houses the Provence Grand Large (PGL) assembly yard for the floating turbine bases, provided clear evidence that the future is offshore and that, given a fair wind, Belfast could be part of it.
Representatives from SONI, NIE, RenewableNI, Belfast Harbour Commission, Foyle Port and Invest NI, together with private sector leaders from a range of companies including Kilkeel-based Seasource Offshore and the local North Channel Wind leadership team led by Niamh Kenny, were given unprecedented access to the French assembly operation. North Channel Wind is developing the floating plans as a joint venture between SBM Offshore and NMK Renewables.
“It is inspiring to see the French floating wind turbines ambition so close to completion,” says Niamh who also chairs Renewable NI’s Offshore Wind Committee. “PGL and our partners SBM Offshore are aiming to integrate the turbines to the floating bases later this summer for deployment offshore in the Mediterranean.”
“The extent of the supply chain involved in the project, which will see three pilot turbines each 174m tall, shows clear evidence of the economic benefits such a project generates,” she says.
“We cannot underestimate the significance of this floating wind proposal which will herald a new era of industry led by clean energy generation. It is comparable to the ship building sector of the sixties which was adopted by a number of Asian economies as it became a lead economic driver. The emergence of offshore wind technologies promises to do the same for a new generation of industry players, creating jobs not only in the energy sector but growing other areas including hospitality, education and health due to the sheer numbers of people who will be engaged,” she says.
“What we saw in Fos sur Mer is something we want to replicate in the ports of Northern Ireland through the North Channel Wind project. Floating offshore wind could play a key role in reigniting Northern Ireland’s legendary engineering and manufacturing traditions, placing the country at the lead of the pack, whilst boosting energy security and decarbonisation. The move towards floating offshore wind is now progressing and Northern Ireland stands to benefit because of its geographical position and its proven commitment to generating clean electricity and to exceed its decarbonisation targets. Northern Ireland has committed to 80% renewables by 2030 and this will only be possible with the advent of floating offshore wind.”
The Marseille visit also allowed the private and public sectors to get to know one another’s roles, to swap notes with the French hosts and gain a clear understanding of the challenges and opportunities which lie ahead.
“Foyle Port and Belfast Harbour were briefed directly by SBM Offshore engineers on matters of port, logistics and assembly requirements for assembling the floating bases and integrating the turbines,” says Niamh. “This was a rare and valuable opportunity to make distant projects much more accessible and immediate. We are very grateful to Invest NI for facilitating this unique visit.”