Offshore Wind Power Generation: Could Deploymet in EEZ Offer a Way Forward?

Wind power is essential to Japan’s efforts to expand renewable energy sources as it seeks to decarbonize. A technological foundation must be established for offshore wind power generation, taking advantage of the features of Japan, which is surrounded by the sea.

The Cabinet has approved a draft amendment to the law on using maritime areas for renewable energy in order to expand the area in which offshore wind power facilities are allowed to be installed, from within Japan’s territorial waters as allowed under current regulations to within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The government aims to pass the amendment in the current Diet session.

The government has set a goal of increasing capacity for offshore wind power generation to up to 45 million kilowatts by 2040, the equivalent of about 45 nuclear reactors, but current capacity is only about 5 million kilowatts.

The share of renewable energy for Japan’s total power generation stood at about 22% in fiscal 2022. Solar power generation accounted for about 9% of this total. Wind power generation accounted for less than 1%, leaving much room for expansion.

So far, most wind power generation facilities have been built on land. However, Japan has little flat land, so suitable sites are limited. There have also been complaints about noise.

Offshore, on the other hand, winds are stronger and more constant than on land, and it is easier to build large-capacity facilities without worrying about noise. It can be said that the spread of offshore wind power is the key to the expansion of renewable energy.

There are two types of offshore wind power systems: one in which wind turbines are fixed to the seabed and another in which the turbines float on the sea surface.

The majority of the projects currently underway in more than 20 locations within Japan’s territorial waters deploy fixed-bottom turbines and are located in shallow coastal areas. However, the disadvantage is that shallow waters around Japan are scarce.

By revising the law to allow the installation of offshore wind power in the EEZ, which is about 10 times the size of Japan’s territorial waters, the government could accelerate the spread of offshore wind power.

Floating turbines can be installed in water depths of 50 meters or more, meaning they can be deployed in the EEZ.

However, floating systems need to be designed so that they will not be swept away when hit by typhoons or other rough weather. Compared to the fixed-bottom turbines, these systems are also more expensive, and the technology does not yet exist to build a large number of these facilities at low cost.

However, 14 companies, including major Japanese electric power companies and trading houses, have come together to establish a new organization to jointly work on the development of mass production technology for floating systems. The government plans to provide support for development costs, with the goal of commercializing the technology around 2030.

If Japan can lead the world in acquiring mass-production technology for these floating systems, it should also be able to contribute to decarbonization in Asian countries and other regions that, like Japan, have few shallow waters. The public and private sectors should work together to hasten technological development.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 23, 2024)