Japan's floating offshore wind turbines

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A recently-installed floating wind turbine off the Japanese coast marks the second operating floating project in Asia.  Located about 12 miles off the coast of the site of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power disaster, the government-funded project is being developed by a consortium led by Marubeni Corp.  So far, it consists of a single 2-megawatt Hitachi turbine coupled with a floating substation, with near-term plans to add two 7-megawatt Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. turbines, and a longer-term vision of installing 1,000 megawatts of capacity.

The Fukushima project follows a 2-megawatt floating offshore wind project installed off Nagasaki.  The Nagasaki project is located about 1 kilometer off the island of Kabashima, a 9-sq.-km island with some 110 households, and followed a 100-kilowatt test project deployed in 2012.

Japan's push for offshore wind development is motivated in large part by the Fukushima nuclear disaster.  Before 2011, nuclear power provided about 30% of Japan's electricity, but all 54 of Japan's nuclear reactors were shut down or inoperable after the disaster.

As an island nation with extensive coastal resources and little if any native fossil fuels, offshore wind may be a natural fit for Japan.  Relatively deep waters surrounding Japan make seabed-mounted towers impractical, so floating platforms may enable greater use of renewable wind energy.  The floating pilot projects off Nagasaki and Fukushima are designed in part to test different technologies, and may help reduce the costs of future projects.

Under the Japanese approach, each of these projects is funded by a separate ministry: the Fukushima project is supported by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, while the Nagasaki project is funded chiefly by the Environment Ministry.

Will Japan continue to develop its deepwater offshore wind resources?  Will floating platforms and turbines play a significant role in powering Japanese society?  Will the pilot projects lead to engineering and manufacturing knowledge that could place Japan at the forefront of the growing deepwater offshore wind industry?

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