DCNS: planning for a EUR1bn business

In 2008, French naval defence company DCNS made the decision to diversify its portfolio of activities and invest in a wide range of 'ocean energy' technologies, including tidal. We look at the company that acquired OpenHydro and what they hope to achieve in the short and long-term.

By Andrew Williams on Oct 9, 2013

This article has been amended on 14 October, 2013.

Following its acquisition of Irish company OpenHydro, French naval defence company DCNS has since become one of the major players in the global tidal energy market. Alongside fellow French energy company Électricité de France (EDF), it is also developing the Paimpol-Bréhat project in Brittany which, when complete, has the potential become the world's largest tidal energy plant.

Strategic Growth

Over the past five years, DCNS has invested heavily in a number of 'ocean energy' technologies - in the process becoming the only company in the world currently involved in the simultaneous innovation and development of all four key technologies in the sector, including offshore wind turbines, wave energy, ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) and tidal turbines.

Last March, the group's commitment to tidal was further enhanced following its acquisition of a majority and controlling share in Ireland based tidal turbine design, manufacture and installation company OpenHydro - as well as its 2,500 m² (27,000 sq ft) European assembly facility and technical centre, located next to Greenore Port in Ireland's County Louth, which enjoys convenient access to sea transport across the continent.

The key aim of the takeover was the industrialisation and commercialisation of the innovative tidal energy turbine technology developed by OpenHydro - an 'Open-Centre Turbine' that is designed to be deployed directly on the seabed.

OpenHydro has developed an innovative tidal turbine capable of producing electricity at a competitive price and have already formed commercial partnerships with several customers.

Paimpol-Bréhat Project

According to James Ives, chief executive at OpenHydro, the company is developing projects in a number of areas across Europe and in North America. In total, eight OpenHydro tidal turbines have been tested at sea 'over several years,' mainly at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) on the Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland, and with EDF at Paimpol Bréhat in Brittany.

"These turbines have proven their effectiveness. The latest turbine tested at EMEC operated for close to 5,000 hours with a 98% availability rate," says Ives.

In October 2008, partner company EDF chose to use the OpenHydro technology as a key component of the Paimpol Bréhat project - which is set to be among the first group of tidal turbine farms in the world to be connected to the electrical grid.

During the initial stages of this initiative, which is now underway, OpenHydro has been responsible for the design and assembly of the turbines - and is being closely supported by DCNS, who are taking charge of manufacturing the blades out of composite materials, as well as the subsea base foundation. A total of four 16m Open-Centre turbines will be deployed at the site when the project is complete - each one rated at 2MW and running to some 22m in height, with a 72ft diameter and a total weight, including the foundation units, of 850 tonnes.

The Paimpol Bréhat project also runs alongside a France Energies Marines (FEM) project - one of the five test sites that are being implemented and coordinated by the marine energy umbrella organisation for the different types of marine renewable energy technologies. As part of a collaborative arrangement, the two projects each share part of the infrastructure connecting the offshore area to the electrical grid - sharing the investment costs and enabling FEM to carry out a range of studies relating to aspects such as the surrounding ocean current and the environmental impact of the scheme.

Cherbourg Facility

According to Ives, the characteristics of tidal turbines are such that they 'must be assembled and maintained as close as possible to the tidal sites in which they will be operated.' In this light, he reveals that 'industrial facilities' will be established in each of the regions where OpenHydro will be the prime contractor for tidal turbine farms.

This should be the case, for example, at Cherbourg near the Alderney race and le Raz Blanchard. An industrial facility will be created in France if DCNS wins the call for tenders that the State should launch [soon]. An agreement on spaces reserved in Cherbourg to create this plant was signed in March 2012 by DCNS and Ports Normands Associés.

Looking ahead, DCNS’s goal is to achieve annual sales of at least EUR1bn by 2025 on the tidal energy market. By 2020, the Group also hopes to have installed a total of 1 gigawatt of power - split across several countries - and OpenHydro has partnerships with 'leading electricity suppliers' worldwide, including in the United States, Canada, France, Ireland, Scotland and the Channel Islands.