Concerns about shortages of subsea cables for offshore wind farms have been aired recently, but one of the world’s largest manufacturers, Nexans, believes the cable sector will be able to meet the rising demand.
Nexans has already doubled capacity at its Norwegian factory, in part to meet growing demand from European offshore wind developers for export cables. Meanwhile, its Hanover plant produces inter-array cables for offshore wind farms.
The company has also been extending its global manufacturing footprint, and although new capacity in markets such as the US and China is not focused on offshore wind, there is always the possibility of upgrading facilities if new offshore wind markets emerge.
More recently, Nexans has signalled its intention to position itself for emerging the Chinese high voltage market. It acquired a 75% stake in China’s Shandong Yanggu Cable Group this summer.
"We have a strong presence along the value chain in the European offshore wind cable market," Pierre Kayoun, vice president of Nexans’ high voltage and underwater cables business, told Windpower Offshore. Indeed, the company’s offshore wind market share is widely thought to be in double digits.
Kayoun estimates the value of Europe’s offshore wind export cable market to have grown to about €1bn per year. He judges the sector’s inter-array cable market to be much smaller, at about €200m.
With just three main suppliers of export cables for offshore wind farms – Prysmian, ABB Cables and Nexans – it is little wonder that some within the offshore wind industry have called for other cable manufacturers to enter this market, if only to increase competition. Yet Kayoun argues that there may not be much need for additional suppliers.
Fears that export cable suppliers will be unable to keep pace with demand, leaving the offshore wind industry high and dry, risk being exaggerated, suggests Kayoun. Nexans is ready to increase production capacity of the full range of cables needed by the offshore wind industry, if the volumes required justify such action, he adds.
Thus far, the company has supplied – and in many cases installed – export cables for several UK offshore wind projects, including London Array, Lincs and Sheringham Shoal. More recently, it won the export cable contract for Belgian offshore wind project, Northwind.
As yet, Nexans has not undertaken any work for TenneT, the company charged with building Germany’s offshore electricity network in the North Sea. Once Germany’s rules governing offshore cable liability are updated suppliers such as Nexans will have far greater protection from damages claims.
The €7bn company is also a strong player in the inter-array market, which supplies the cables linking turbines with the offshore electricity substations that convert power for transmission to shore.
This is a more crowded and competitive market than the export cable sector, and includes regional players such as Germany’s NKT and NSW (owned by General Cables) and the UK’s JDR.
Paris-based Nexans also produces the cables installed inside wind turbines. For this market, Nexans’ clients include Siemens, Vestas and Areva. From 2014, Nexans is due to supply cables to Alstom for its offshore turbine, the 6MW Haliade. Nexans is currently in negotiations with several turbine manufacturers, including Siemens, with a significant volume increase at stake.
Nexans’ strategy for the wind energy sector is an "offensive" one, aimed at increasing market share and value added, explains Thibaut Zumsteeg, who oversees marketing for Nexans’ turbine cable business. Demand from wind energy clients can be volatile, acknowledges Zumsteeg, but it is clearly a growth market and one of Nexans' "priority segments".