A group led by Marubeni Corp. is setting up a floating wind turbine off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture, aiming to commercialize the unproven technology and create an industry in the region ravaged by the 2011 quake, tsunami and nuclear calamities.
The 11-member group plans this month to tow a turbine made by Hitachi Ltd. and mounted to a semisubmersible structure from a dock near Tokyo, said Takahide Soeda, an official at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
The 2-megawatt turbine, funded by the central government, is expected to start running in mid-October.
“There are test turbines in Portugal and Norway, but there have been no commercial floating offshore turbines in the world,” Soeda said in a briefing June 14. “We are bringing together Japanese technology to make floating offshore wind viable.”
Surrounded by deep oceans, for Japan floating wind turbines hold the promise of opening up large areas where clean energy can be generated. The technology involves attaching turbines to structures that float in areas too deep for traditional towers that are fixed to the seafloor.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet earlier this month approved a set of science and technology strategies, including a target to make the floating offshore wind technology viable by 2018.
The project will include a floating substation that will be the first of its kind. It will be located about 20 km from Fukushima’s coastline in 120-meter deep waters, according to officials. The group is planning to install two more turbines with 7 megawatts of capacity each. The trade ministry has said capacity may be expanded to 1,000 megawatts.
“Marubeni is considering turning this into a commercial project,” Rentaro Hosoya, an assistant manager at the trading house’s power industry team, said at the briefing. “We’ll make our decision on capacity based on the results of” the project.
Marubeni and Innovation Network Corp. of Japan last year bought Seajacks International Ltd., the operator of self-propelled vessels used to install and maintain offshore wind turbines in the North Sea, between Britain and Scandinavia. A Seajacks unit in Japan was established to develop the offshore wind installation market at home and in other parts of Asia, Marubeni said in a June 3 statement.
METI has earmarked a total of ¥22 billion for the five-year undertaking, exceeding the original estimate of ¥18.8 billion, according to Hiroyuki Iijima, a ministry official in charge of the project.
Some costs were unforeseen, Iijima said. For example, engineers found that geological formations in the area were two layers rather than the single one they initially thought, requiring extra tests before anchors could be set to fix floating structures. Officials are reviewing costs before requesting a budget for the next fiscal year, he added.
Existing offshore substations in European countries, including Britain and Denmark, are mounted on the bottom of the sea, whereas the version off Fukushima will float, Iijima reiterated.
“The challenge is cost, not technology,” said Justin Wu, the Hong Kong-based head of wind analysis at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “With some testing and refinement, it can work well, but it will be extremely expensive. So by 2018 Japan can have commercial models of floating foundations ready, but they’ll probably cost a lot more than the other types of foundations being used.”
Fukushima Prefecture hopes to create clean energy jobs and is seeking to become a hub in the wind industry with the pilot project, the group said in a statement when it was picked in March 2012 by METI to conduct the pilot project.