Offshore wind power generation in the spotlight in Japan

September 13, 2012

By TOMOYA FUJITA/ Staff Writer

As the government seeks to move away from nuclear energy, wind power in Japan has seen a surge in popularity, with a growing number of power utilities and heavy industrial manufacturers starting offshore turbine construction projects.

The Environment Ministry announced that it aims to increase Japan's offshore wind power generation to 8.03 million kilowatts, equal to the amount of electricity generated by eight nuclear power reactors, by 2030, and projects for new or expanded wind farms are already under way around the country.

Fifty meters off the coast of Kamisu, in Ibaraki Prefecture, the company Windpower operates seven 2,000-kilowatt wind turbines jointly developed by Hitachi Ltd. and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. The two companies plan to increase the number of turbines to 15 by the end of 2012, bringing the total output to 30,000 kilowatts.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, plans to purchase electricity created there at up to 23 yen ($0.3) per kilowatt-hour.

An official at Windpower said: "We can recover construction costs within 10 years or so. (Sales) after that will turn to profit."

Each month, more than 10 groups from Japanese municipalities and foreign governments visit to tour its energy facilities.

Windpower and Marubeni Corp. plan to jointly build another, larger wind farm with 50 turbines 1 kilometer offshore, with an output of 5,000 kilowatts, by 2017. That would mean the wind farm could cover 18 percent of the electricity consumed by all 200,000 households in Ibaraki Prefecture.

Other Japanese companies have also gotten on board with offshore wind power.

On Sept. 4, Toshiba Corp., heavy machinery maker Hitachi Zosen Corp., JFE Steel Corp. and others announced plans to build offshore wind turbines, with a full-fledged power generation plant expected to be in operation in 10 years.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., which has sold 3,000 land-based wind turbines in the United States, is now looking at the Japanese offshore market.

The company is currently in charge of wind turbine construction for a 2,400-kilowatt project off the coast of Choshi, Chiba Prefecture.

Companies, including TEPCO, will start operating the turbines at the end of September.

Many companies see offshore wind power generation as profitable because it has the potential to overcome the limitations of land-based wind power generation.

On land, wind turbines are only allowed to be built away from city areas due to their noise and vibration. Their construction sites have been limited to sparsely populated regions, such as remote mountain areas, where transporting construction material is difficult.

In contrast, there are numerous sites for installing wind turbines at sea, where transporting material is easier.

Government initiatives have also spurred investment.

Japan in July implemented a feed-in tariff system, under which power utilities must purchase electricity from applicable renewable energy resources at a fixed price, and the Environment Ministry is also considering setting the purchase price for offshore electricity higher than for land-based energy.

The remaining obstacle is reducing construction costs.

Construction of a wind farm off the coast costs at least 1.5 times more than that of land-based wind farms, due to building poles into seabed and to lay power grids connected to the land.

By TOMOYA FUJITA/ Staff Writer
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Government officials from Kenya inspect a wind power generation facility off the shore of Kamisu, Ibaraki Prefecture. (Tomoya Fujita)

Government officials from Kenya inspect a wind power generation facility off the shore of Kamisu, Ibaraki Prefecture. (Tomoya Fujita)

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  • Government officials from Kenya inspect a wind power generation facility off the shore of Kamisu, Ibaraki Prefecture. (Tomoya Fujita)

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