Offshore wind power in Japan will be able to replace more than half of the nation’s generation capacity forecast to retire by midcentury, according to an industry group promoting its developments.

The capacity of Japan’s offshore wind farms could total 90 gigawatts by 2050, equivalent to 60 percent of the fossil fuel and nuclear facilities expected to be closed by that time according to Shigehito Nakamura, a managing director of the Japan Wind Power Association.

Japan is seeking cleaner ways to feed its energy-hungry but resource-scarce economy, the world’s biggest after the U.S. and China. It’s reliance on fossil fuels faces resistance over climate change concerns, while its massive nuclear fleet is at risk of being abandoned due to widespread opposition to the technology following the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

The 90 gigawatts target for offshore wind is ambitious. The association expects that wind power, including onshore facilities, could account for one-third of the nation’s total power generation in 2050. Capacity in the U.K., the world’s top operator of the technology, is currently about 10.4 gigawatts.

Offshore wind, which the government is seeking to deploy in greater numbers in the coming years, could help replace facilities built during Japan’s economic boom from the 1960s to the 1980s. Those are now due for retirement at an average pace of 5 gigawatts a year over the next few decades, the association estimates.

Kimio Yamaka, a director at the Energy Strategy Institute in Tokyo, said offshore wind is a realistic option for new capacity as the government plans to reduce the share of coal power in the country’s generation to 26 percent by 2030, from 32 percent in the year to March 2019, while replacing or expanding nuclear plants is unlikely.

Japan’s target under its 2018 Basic Energy Plan, the most recent, is to raise offshore wind power generation to 2.2 terawatt hours by 2030, or 0.2 percent of total power generation. Offshore wind power capacity in Japan was just 21 megawatts at the end of 2019, all from experimental facilities.

The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry has started reviewing this target as it prepares to revise the plan next year. METI estimates that offshore wind projects can run at 95 percent utilization, a much higher level of reliability than onshore renewables.

The government plans to hold its first auction for fixed-foundation offshore wind projects in November. Winners will be announced around summer 2021 after the feasibility and economics of the proposed projects are assessed, according to Juntaro Shimizu, the director at the renewable energy division of METI.

Industry minister Hiroshi Kajiyama, together with land minister Kazuyoshi Akaba, organized a working group this month with 34 companies and organizations, including the Japanese units of Equinor New Energy and Orsted A/S, to help set the nation’s long-term offshore wind goal by the end of the year.

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