Rein in cost of offshore wind power to make most of renewable energy

Aiming to promote offshore wind power generation, a key to increasing the production of renewable energy, large-scale projects led by the state have been launched.

In addition to designating specific sea areas and allowing business operators to use them for an extended period of 30 years, the central government will also support the formation of agreements with fishermen and residents, and the development of ports and harbors, among other measures.

The first large-scale projects cover three sea areas, two off the coast of Akita Prefecture and one off the coast of Chiba Prefecture. As a result of bidding processes conducted by the central government, the consortia led by Mitsubishi Corp. and Chubu Electric Power Co. have won the right to carry out the projects.

In the three offshore areas, the consortia plan to generate 1.7 million kilowatts of electricity, equivalent to two nuclear reactors. The consortia presented prices of around ¥12-¥16 per kilowatt-hour for the sale of electricity. This was well below the upper limit of ¥29 estimated by the government.

Electricity generated will be purchased by electric power companies as part of the feed-in tariff system, adding the cost onto electricity bills. The stance of the consortia to curb the burden on the public is commendable.

In these projects, 134 fixed-bottom wind turbines will be built into the seafloor, with a target to start operations by 2028-30. Mitsubishi and Chubu Electric have already acquired a Dutch energy company with a proven track record in offshore wind power and the two companies intend to make use of its expertise.

The consortia plan to build large structures with a height of approximately 250 meters to improve power generation efficiency. They will use wind turbines manufactured by General Electric of the United States.

In Japan, the foundations of the offshore wind power-related industry, including the manufacturing of wind turbines, are weak. It is important to use these projects as an opportunity to develop relevant companies involved in the assembly and installation of components and to revitalize local economies by increasing employment.

The government will expand the designated sea areas and sequentially seek project bids. In the future, the government will place emphasis not only on the price of electricity to be sold, but also on the timing of when operations can begin. It is hoped that it will also make efforts to increase wind power generation at an early date.

In Europe, offshore wind power is expanding rapidly and has become a major power source. Because Europe has many shallow coastal areas, the fixed-bottom wind turbine is mainstream. Unlike Europe, Japan does not have many shallow sea areas.

In Japan’s decarbonization efforts, the government aims to develop offshore wind power generation of 30 million to 45 million kilowatts by 2040, which is equivalent to 40 nuclear reactors. However, there are only a few areas in the ocean where fixed-bottom wind turbines can be used, so in order to achieve this goal, floating offshore wind turbines need to be utilized.

Currently, the only commercially available floating wind turbines are small-scale ones built by a domestic general contractor with a capacity of about 2,000 kilowatts per unit. Facilities capable of large-scale power generation with floating turbines are still under development.

In addition to energy-related companies, it is essential that the construction industry, shipping industry and shipbuilders work together to develop floating wind power generation technology through public-private sector partnerships.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 22, 2022.