Japan behind on wind power

As nuclear power plants are being restarted in Japan, the government should stop to consider what the rest of the world is doing. Last year, global wind power capacity surpassed nuclear for the first time. Japan, however, is already far behind this global trend, with only a small fraction of its energy coming from wind.

Data released by the Global Wind Energy Council, a body that tracks worldwide energy usage, shows that a record 63.01 gigawatts of energy was added to worldwide wind power capacity in 2015 to reach a total of 432.42 GW. That compares with 382.55 GW for global nuclear power capacity, according to the London-based World Nuclear Association.

That small victory for clean energy was not helped much by Japan, where only 3.04 GW of wind power was produced in 2015. The government drafted a plan to boost wind power to 1.7 percent of the nation’s energy mix by 2030, but this figure is startlingly low compared with the current percentage — 3 percent — of global electricity supplied by wind power. The Environment Ministry estimates that Japan has the potential to build enough wind power facilities to produce 280 GW, but that potential has not even begun to be tapped.

With its total installed capacity reaching 145.1 GW in 2015, China topped the European Union’s 141.6 GW, The United States followed with 74.47 GW. India, with 2.62 GW, pushed past Spain into fourth place. The shift from coal and fossil fuels to wind power is an important step toward reducing air pollution, especially in China. The Japanese government has yet to undertake a future-oriented policy to get in line with these global trends.

Wind power does have some drawbacks, such as the effects of turbines on animals and the environment, as well as conflicts over land-use rights. These are not inconsiderable, but they should be investigated and resolved in the process of development. Japan is not that much different from other countries in this regard, though the energy production and distribution infrastructure for wind power remains another hurdle in many regions of the country. The longer it takes to initiate, though, the more expensive infrastructure will become.

Environmental impact assessments and planning for land use should continue to ensure that wind power increases as part of the total energy mix in Japan. The main problem is a lack of will on the part of the national government. Japan’s continued use of nuclear energy and fossil fuels is not a viable energy strategy. Mixing in a higher percentage of wind power is essential if Japan’s long-range energy needs are to be met in a rational way.

  • solodoctor

    The rapid development of wind, as well as solar, power in Japan could offer the country wonderful opportunities to apply its skills in technology and construction. The challenges to the environment can be at least moderated if not overcome as other countries have shown. Eg, Denmark and Germany have built offshore wind facilities that are quite productive while minimizing the impact on the environment.

    PM Abe is so wedded to the status quo and the so called ‘nuclear village’ that the regulations allow existing power companies to determine how much capacity their systems have for alternative sources of energy via wind and solar. Of course, they don’t allow much capacity because it would eat into their profits. Why would they?!? Talk about allowing the fox into the henhouse?!? This is a perfect example of how blinded Abe is by his sense of loyalty to his constituents. And how unfortunately passive the Japanese electorate is for putting up with him and the LDP.

  • solodoctor

    The rapid development of wind, as well as solar, power in Japan could offer the country wonderful opportunities to apply its skills in technology and construction. The challenges to the environment can be at least moderated if not overcome as other countries have shown. Eg, Denmark and Germany have built offshore wind facilities that are quite productive while minimizing the impact on the environment.

    PM Abe is so wedded to the status quo and the so called ‘nuclear village’ that the regulations allow existing power companies to determine how much capacity their systems have for alternative sources of energy via wind and solar. Of course, they don’t allow much capacity because it would eat into their profits. Why would they?!? Talk about allowing the fox into the henhouse?!? This is a perfect example of how blinded Abe is by his sense of loyalty to his constituents. And how unfortunately passive the Japanese electorate is for putting up with him and the LDP.

  • KenjiAd

    I think it would be very difficult to build wind farm in Japan, because Japan doesn’t have much land suitable for wind farm, i.e., a large, relatively flat land where such structures, and the noise they create, would not bother people. They are quite unpleasant to look at.

    • Ralf Seidl

      Japan is an Island, or rather many islands. Close to the sea there is always wind which is why this is generally the preferred region to create wind-farms (apart from developing off-shore wind-farms). See for example Germany or Denmark where a large part of the wind energy is created close to the sea. Also in Japan around Kashima is the only place I have seen a wind farm so far. Japan has a huge potential here and should try to use it. Unlike Solar which is relatively low-tech wind energy could also help the local industry (as know-how, engineering, etc is needed). The price for wind energy is already competitive with other forms of energy in reasonably windy areas.
      Also inland there are plenty flat areas – just think of all the rice paddies in the Kanto plane – I am sure one could farm rice and generate electricity in essentially the same area (as you need dams/roads where to place the masts).

      Too bad that past and present bad politics is blindly pushing nuclear energy and no change to be seen anywhere.

      • KenjiAd

        I have seen wind farm (actually just one big fan) in a remote island called ‘Hateruma’ located South of Okinawa, right in the middle of the Pacific. So I gather this technology would make sense remote islands like.

        I think the difficulty for building wind farms in Japan is that people there are, perhaps exceptionally, concerned about the natural appearance of their villages, shores, and the like.

        In a village where I grew up, I remember that there was a plan to build a golf course, which would have provided much needed cash-flow to the village. What happened? People in village killed the plan, saying they didn’t want to see the natural beauty of hills turning into something artificial.

        For the same reason, I doubt people in coastal towns would love to see big fans standing close to the shores and beaches. It’s not going to happen.

        Wind farms in the rice paddies? No way. Ask any farm boys like me. They wouldn’t like it.

        So the only place you might be able to build wind farms would be a place like a cattle ranch, but Japan doesn’t have those except in Hokkaido. I like the idea of building wind farms in the middle of Ocean, like you said Germany is doing. That would probably work.

    • Michele Marcolin

      There are several wind farm installations along coasts of Japan. They should be improved. Besides, they have several impervious mountains that can’t be used for much else. Localized turbines may help sustain local communities and alleviate demand pressure for electicity. Not to mention rice paddies, which are cultivated on a very small scale farming standards and often with difficulties for farmers to keep up with the competition of cheper foreign market. Housing wind mills in exchange for rent or free electricity could be a good solution for improvement of both.

  • Sam Gilman

    The truth is that Japan doesn’t actually have very good wind resources. It’s not a very windy place compared to wind powerhouses like the US and the UK (except during typhoons). In addition, the highest wind speeds are along mountain ridges, and to build farms there would require a lot of concrete and access roads. We have to be concerned about environmental impact given that Japan’s high fiorestation (and thus limited use of land for development) has made the place a biodiversity hotspot. Offshore wind needs in no small part to be floating because the ocean floor drops off quite precipitously.

    The industrial lobby group the Japan Wind Power Association thinks that it would be feasible to get about 20% of current electricity needs by 2050. That’s worth trying, but compared to what’s possible elsewhere, I wouldn’t be so hard on Japan.

  • Dan Europe

    The truth is Japan is behind in all renewable energy production. Not to mention how much they hide the truth or how much people are aware of the need of renewable energy not only for Japan.

  • http://raeseddon.tumblr.com/ Rae

    The long and short of it is that renewable energy (wind, solar) is the future of energy. Period. For a country with as sketchy a history with nuclear power as it has (Fukushima, Hiroshima, Nagaski) Japan is grossly far behind. The way Tepco is rushing to get reactors back on line is proof positive of how deeply in sand the Abe administration has stuck their heads. Like the US, Abe is attached to the hip to the nuclear energy industry, and if Fukushima wasn’t the height of hubris for that attachment, I’m not sure what is. The way solar technology in particular is advancing, with the potential for solar roads, parking lots, quite literally anything that gets enough sun exposure to be viable, there is no reason for Japan to continue its reliance on nuclear other than avarice.