* Pilot project for total capacity of 80 MW
* Potential for 3 GW in France, second after Britain (Adds details on tender, possible bidders, background)
By Julien Ponthus
CHERBOURG, France, Sept 30 (Reuters) - French President Francois Hollande on Monday officially kicked off a promising tidal energy sector in France with the launch of a tender for four pilot projects off the Normandy and Brittany coasts.
Hollande wants to promote the technology, which is still in its infancy, as part of a wider plan to revive France’s industry by encouraging new high-tech sectors to create jobs.
This will also help with a promised shift towards greener energy and a reduction in the country’s reliance on nuclear energy.
“If our projections are correct there could be in the next decade 3 gigawatt installed off our coasts... It represents 3 (nuclear) reactors, that goes to show the potential of tidal energy,” Hollande said in a speech launching the tender in the port city of Cherbourg that will act as a hub for manufacturers.
The project is part of 34 priority areas the government has selected where it hopes to act as a coordinator to encourage big French firms to cooperate with small businesses, rather than offering public funds as in past state-funded research plans.
The pilot project will be for a total capacity of 80 megawatts (MW) at a cost of 120 million euros ($162.50 million), the president said, adding the price at which French utility EDF would buy the electricity produced by those farms would stand at 173 euros per megawatt hour.
French engineering firm Alstom said earlier on Monday it would bid jointly with gas utility GDF Suez for the pilot projects. French naval defence group DCNS, owner of Dublin-based marine turbine expert OpenHydro, has also expressed interest.
The construction project for 30 to 40 undersea turbines at a site off Normandy is expected to start in 2015, with full-scale commercial production pencilled in for between 2020-2025, sources told Reuters earlier this month.
France has Europe’s second-biggest tidal energy potential after Britain, energy industry experts estimate.
“Alstom and GDF Suez will jointly define the technical parameters that will allow to make the best use of the Raz Blanchard current (a high potential marine site in northwestern France),” Alstom said in a statement.
Alstom is already testing a 1-MW turbine in Scottish waters. Britain has 12 large-scale prototype sea turbines in operation with a generating capacity of 9 MW of clean electricity, more than the rest of the world combined.
Operating on the same principle as wind turbines, the power in marine turbines comes from tidal currents which turn blades similar to ships’ propellers, but unlike wind the tides are predictable and the power output is constant. ($1 = 0.7385 euros) (Additional reporting by Muriel Boselli in Paris and Karolin Schaps in London; editing by Michel Rose and James Jukwey)