The Interview: Jean Huby, CEO, Areva Wind

Jean Huby became chief executive officer of offshore turbine specialists Areva Wind in May 2011, having first joined the Areva Group in 2008 as vice president for Strategy. Huby was involved in the final acquisition of wind turbine manufacturers Multibrid and the subsequent development of the 5-MW M5000 turbine. This dedicated offshore machine is manufactured at Areva Wind’s main production facility in Bremerhaven in North Germany. With the first prototype installed in late 2004, six machines are currently operating on two types of foundation at the Alpha Ventus site, some 45 km off the coast of Borkum, Germany.

Q: What are the most important directions for turbine design?

JH: What I hear from utilities and investors is that reliability is really top in their minds. Innovation is, of course, always welcome when it improves performance, but it shouldn’t come at the risk of low reliability. Our medium-speed drivetrain gives a lot of margin for improvement. It has a very low head mass of 310 tonnes with the rotor. The Vestas 7-MW machine also seems to be going in the direction of a medium-speed drivetrain. We see competitors moving away from the Danish system which has been successful, but is showing its limits in terms of reliability and also head mass.

Around 2018-19, we will see a new generation of machines and if we want to bring the cost of energy drastically down, then we will need much larger machines. I don’t believe we will jump straight to 15 MW or 20 MW, it will take time before the new technology necessary to achieve this is sufficiently proven to gain the confidence of developers and investors. We are gathering a lot of data and a lot of experience on the installed base which we can then feed back into the next generation of turbines to decrease the cost of energy. We want to limit the mean time of intervention to once a year and to handle more things remotely. 

‘We had a very strong programme to de-risk [the M5000’s] development. We have taken advantage of the experience and all the data we have gathered from Alpha Ventus.’ (Source: Areva Wind/Jan Oelker)

Q: How has the slide bearing issue [a temperature rise detected and resolved in 2010 with replacement nacelles] affected today’s M5000 design?

JH: There was a long period of analysis involving external experts, and also a teardown of the original prototype to see how the machine was faring after almost seven years of operation. We stopped production and didn’t restart until we were completely confident there wasn’t a problem. The machines we are producing now have exactly the same design of slide bearing that we had on the original prototype back in 2004.

The lesson from Alpha Ventus was that it was a supplier quality control issue, not a design issue. We have taken steps to strengthen our supplier and overall quality control. Frankly this is something we should have done earlier, perhaps a missed opportunity in the early years of integrating Multibrid with Areva. A third of my supplier quality control team comes from the nuclear area, bringing the best practice of the group into this activity.

Q: The wind market is hard to plan for. How can you avoid running into trouble?

JH: You’re right, it’s a tough market. We see it as a strategic challenge for everybody. Offshore is different to onshore, with much bigger projects; you have huge campaigns for which you have to ramp up quickly. You have to make difficult predictions as to what will happen.

At Areva we have prepared ourselves for this very big installation wave that we see coming. We don’t believe in a hub serving the whole of Europe. Having a local industry footprint is important as is working in flexible partnerships. A balanced presence across markets is a way of de-risking our growth.

‘The lesson from Alpha Ventus was that it was a supplier quality control issue, not a design issue. We have taken steps to strengthen our supplier and overall quality control.’ (Source: Areva Wind/Jan Oelker)

We see a completely new scale of industry emerging. It’s challenging but it’s also very appealing if you look at the growth potential and the strong commitment of certain EU governments.

Q: You are tendering for 3 GW in France and recently announced plans to build a factory in Le Havre. Any developments?

JH: This is a business where you need proximity between the industrial facility and the wind park. Clearly we are hoping we will get sufficient volume in France to build this factory. If we have this volume in Normandy and Brittany then clearly it makes sense to build long-lasting partnerships with industries in territories near these sites. As well as the factories, there are maintenance services and partnerships with universities to help improve our technology.

Q: Which global markets look most attractive to you?

JH: In the short term, North Sea, the Channel and Baltic Sea are our main three markets. Areva as a group has a strong presence and strong partnerships in the USA and China. We are definitely looking at these markets closely. Today we see China as a market which it is just starting. It will be big. There are many [domestic] manufacturers in China and strong competition. It’s not a market that’s always easy to penetrate for foreign companies. In the US, there is great potential, but today it is still just potential.

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