Recently arrived at EDF Renewables to oversee the construction of an offshore wind farm off Fécamp, France, Willy Gauttier explains the reasons for his own transition to the world of renewable energy and what’s unique about this sector of the energy industry.
Leaders League. Coming from the oil & gas sector, what skills do you bring to the renewable energies world?
Willy Gauttier. I arrived at EDF Renewables as construction director on a launched project. This precise function does not really exist in France, but it’s more or less the equivalent of a project director in a company. What I have seen, in the managerial position that I hold today, is ultimately very similar to roles I have carried out in my previous positions.
The leadership and management skillsets are readily transferable. What will change is the cultural aspect mainly. Many people move from one industry to another for value or for motivation. I personally had been thinking about it for several years because I wanted to contribute to the energy transition in a meaningful way.
What is different about the renewable energy industry?
When I arrived at EDF on the Fécamp project, I first discovered the importance of the permitting and negotiation phase of the building process. This is a very laborious phase, which includes a tremendous amount of environmental studies. A small team of four to six people is dedicated to these functions.
In addition to the prior consultation work that must be performed to study the impact, if any, on the community surrounding the project, this team is also responsible for ensuring all required approvals are obtained on schedule and that the project progresses smoothly.
"The O&G industry has always understood that a high level of safety is imperative. The world of renewable energy has obviously understood this as well, but the entire sector, particularly on the subcontractors' side, has not yet reached the same standard"
The other important point of differentiation is the cost and associated means of the projects themselves. Our projects are financed, which is rarely the case in the oil sector. This may create certain constraints that the lender may impose, which must be considered.
The transition from O&G to renewable energy must be accompanied by a change of perspective regarding the cost aspects. We handle the large-scale, industrialization and optimization aspects of projects. As such, we consider people coming from the car industry as interesting potential candidates! For me, that’s the biggest effort we have to make when we move from one area to another.
How do the industries compare, from a complexity standpoint?
Honestly, I find that a renewable development project is less complex than an O&G one. We obviously find a similar challenge in terms of soil issues as well as a very strong need for electrical expertise. On the other hand, the technology itself is sometimes less complex, which gives us more resources to be creative and focus on optimization.
What about the safety aspects?
The O&G industry has always understood that a high level of safety is imperative. The world of renewable energy has obviously understood this as well, but the entire sector, particularly on the subcontractors' side, has not yet reached the same standard. There is a lot of work to be done on this, and the professionals from the oil industry will have a lot to contribute toward this process.
Is the importance of local anchorage the same?
These major projects have an unavoidable political dimension, and their acceptability also depends on job creation. There is therefore a strong local content theme. We strongly encourage the use of local businesses. What we know from the O&G sector is that good business practices, such as interfacing with schools and promoting training courses, are key to the success of the project.
Energy professionals who understand and embrace this approach will be able to play a role for us. In Le Havre, for example, there are ongoing discussions with the dockers to ensure that jobs are available for them.
Are we witnessing the emergence of a bona fide French wind-energy industry?
We are seeing growth in French offshore wind power, and the public authorities are clearly going to encourage expansion of this. However, we are still sorely lacking installers. I think there is a way to develop a larger French sector, because there are still many projects yet to come. We must consider working hand-in-hand with wind turbine manufacturers to optimize efficiency and reduce costs.