Shell has acquired the floating wind specialist Eolfi. The French developer will become a subsidiary of Shell New Energies.

Eolfi is building a three-turbine pilot project off the north coast of France in waters too deep for fixed bottom structures. It will use MHI Vestas turbines. It also has a portfolio of onshore wind and solar assets. Shell has confirmed that these are all included in the deal.

Floating wind can be used in deeper waters and farther from shore where better wind conditions can often be found. This opens new markets in Europe, Japan, Turkey and other locations around the globe.

Shell is already active in the floating wind space, with a trial off the coast of Norway set to be developed next year. Through a partnership with Innogy, Shell will test Stiesdal Offshore Technologies’ Tetra Spar floating foundation. Shell has a two-thirds stake in the €18 million ($20 million) pilot project.

With Eolfi, Shell can add some developer expertise to its own deepwater know-how.

“Eolfi has been a pioneer of floating wind development. We believe the union of Eolfi’s expertise and portfolio with Shell’s resources and ability to scale up will help make electricity a significant business for Shell,” said Dorine Bosman, VP of offshore wind at Shell, in a press statement.

Soeren Lassen, Wood Mackenzie Senior Research Analyst, told GTM the investment by Shell was a clear sign the concept was no longer being treated like a niche.
"The acquisition expands Shell’s pool of expertise within floating wind. In turn, the acquisition will make Shell better equipped to seize opportunities in floating wind sector as the sector continues to unfold – not least in the French market which Wood Mackenzie forecasts to be a major floating wind market."
Shell already has one fixed offshore wind project in operation. The 108-megawatt NoordzeeWind project is a 50-50 joint venture between it and Vattenfall. Shell is the sole offtaker.

It also has 50 percent stakes in the Mayflower and Atlantic Shores joint ventures that are building up to 4.1 gigawatts of total capacity off the coast of Massachusetts and New Jersey, respectively.

Since its founding in 2004, Eolfi has almost 500 megawatts of onshore wind and 150 megawatts of solar either built or shovel-ready. It also has project rights for another 350 megawatts of onshore wind and has won 85 megawatts in the French government’s solar tenders.

"Eolfi’s heritage in floating wind, combined with Shell’s offshore expertise and global footprint, will enable us to expand offshore, but also onshore with our wind and solar photovoltaic projects as part of the Shell New Energies division,” said Alain Delsupexhe, founder of Eolfi.

Eolfi’s R&D includes patented lidar buoys to monitor wind resources at sea and floating wind optimization software. It is also in the early stages of developing a compressed-air underwater storage technology and a vertical-axis floating turbine.

Oil greases the wheels

In addition to making a longer-term contribution to Shell’s ambitions in the power sector, floating wind can also enjoy operational benefits with oil and gas drilling operations. The more mature floating projects proposed are exploiting the advantages made possible by their oil major patrons.

Norwegian oil and power firm Equinor is leading the pack. It recently signed a deal for the 88-megawatt Hywind Tampen project. It is the largest floating project to have reached financial close. Equinor could move the bar even higher if its discussions with the Korean National Oil Company lead to a positive decision on the 200-megawatt Donghae 1 project.

That project, which shares its name with a gas field, is exploring the potential of housing the substation for the array on an existing gas platform.

The Hywind Tampen project off the coast of Norway will not send power back to shore. Instead, it will connect with two oil and gas fields providing power to drilling operations.