Japan Industry and Policy News: Offshore Wind Technology
Japan takes global lead in developing floating offshore wind technology (5-MW offshore turbine successfully installed on a floating structure)
On July 8, the 5-MW Hitachi HTW 5.0-126 wind turbine, mounted on a floating platform, has been successfully sited off the coast of Fukushima prefecture. The turbine is one of three and the final piece of the “Fukushima Forward”-floating offshore wind farm demonstrator, an experimental research project financed with around JPY53bn (ca. EUR477m) by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). The project is part of the overall project to reconstruct and recover the affected areas damaged by the earthquake 2011, which focuses on renewable energy as a pillar for its recovery.
The Fukushima Forward wind farm is currently the world largest. The successful finalization of the flagship project received worldwide attention and reinforced Japan’s position as a global leader in this sector. According to METI, the turbine's rated capacity of 5 MW will make it the second largest capacity in the world behind the 7 MW already installed in the Fukushima Forward project.
The 5 MW-turbine had been undergoing assembly off the coast of Sumoto Port on Awajishima Island, Hyogo Prefecture. The base for the turbine was constructed in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture. With its completion, tugboats began the slow trip to waters off Fukushima Prefecture. Traveling at a speed equivalent to a human adult walking at a brisk pace, or between six to eight kph, the turbine completed the journey of about 960 kilometers and reached the waters where it was permanently installed on July 8. The project was developed by several companies and research institutes. Japanese company Marubeni acted as project integrator for the consortium (see all members in table on page 2). The 62m-blades had been supplied by a German company. The blade-tip stands about 150 meters above water at its highest point.
The Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) previously announced that the project is one step on the road to 1000 MW by 2020 with 140 floating turbines planned in operation. The ambitious plans are linked to the Japanese government announcement that the 2020 Olympics will be powered at least partly by floating wind turbines.
Fig. 1: The new floating 5-MW Hitachi HTW 126, on the way to its final site off the Fukushima coast.
Fig. 2: Fukushima Forward consortium members
Fukushima Forward Consortium
Project coordinator, responsible for initial feasibility studies, licensing, O&M and liaising with regional fishing
University of Tokyo
Technical adviser, responsible for measurements, predictions, navigational safety and public relations
Overseas grid integration and EIA
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries
Designed V-shaped submersible floater, supplier of 7 MW SeaAngel turbine in phase II
Japan Marine United
Co-designed 66kV floating substation and advanced spar floater
Mitsui Engineering &
Designed compact semi-submersible floater for first turbine
Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal
Supplied advanced steel
Supplied 2 MW and 5 MW turbine, co-designed 66kV floating substation
Supplied undersea and dynamic cables
Responsible for oceanic surveys and construction technologies
Mizuho Information and Research Institute
Responsible for documentation and committee operations
EU-Japan Centre Comments:
- Japan eyes future export technology: With the finalization of the second and last phase of the Fukushima Forward demonstrator, Japan has surely taken a significant step to emphasize its position as a global leader in the development of floating offshore wind technology. However, the development costs had been enormous and it took a year longer than planned to install the last turbine (with even a different type: 5 MW Hitachi instead of 7 MW Mitsubishi). Also, installation has not been easy: On May 9th the 5 MW-floater lost its balancing control and leaned about 45 degree in the Osaka bay causing further time and cost-overruns. Further challenges remain, such as on the electrical infrastructure, including dynamic cables, floating substations and distributed transformers. However, it’s the nature of a pre-commercial pilot to act as a testing facility for wake effects and optimizing assembly and installation methods, mooring and anchoring systems and maintenance strategies. Many believe the first commercial pilot with better Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCoE) could be online in the early 2020s, and Japan is a hot candidate to be in the lead, and not necessarily Europe. Some other projects are now lining up to bet Japan’s pre-commercial pilot: the 30MW Hywind Scotland project, foreseen for late 2017 or Principle Power’s 48MW optimised WindFloat Atlantic array – to be 60% cheaper per MW than the first demonstrator – it should be installed off Portugal in 2018 if all goes to plan.
- Favorable conditions for the sector in Japan: For more than 10 years Japan is working on the floating technology as the country has limited sites for conventional offshore turbines (limited shallow-water sites suitable for fixed-foundation turbines). In addition, high energy costs as well as good infrastructure are creating good conditions for the sector. As the world's third-largest economy it has the industrial and technological muscle to drive rapid development and deployment, while in the wake of 2011's Fukushima disaster, the country's need for a greater proportion of clean and safe energy seems profoundly obvious. However, in the last years, the deployment in Japan was largely government-driven with strong focus on domestic companies and ambitiously aimed to develop a future commercial technology for export – visible as a representative project for the Olympic Games 2020. On the other hand, currently, Japan seems to be more interested in getting its nuclear industry turning again to replace its dependence on imported liquefied natural gas and coal, rather than looking for more renewables-based solutions.
- A question of costs: As with all new technologies, development costs are higher than would be expected in a mature market, and everything now depends on bringing them down. With offshore work typically costing around ten times of that onshore, operations and maintenance is also key. Due to the plans to present a 1 GW floating farm to feed the Olympic Games in 2020 and the increasing time constraints the reduction of the LCoE is pretty uncertain. In this context, it is likely that construction costs won`t decrease until 2020 due to the big demand for the Olympics. But a LCoE of 8-9 JPY/kWh potential by 2020 can be reached due to cumulative production expansion effects, improved production technology and technology innovations. However, the pilot’s installation issues and delays could question remarkable lower LCoE for floating technology in the near future.
- The Market potential for European companies: Despite cost overruns on the Fukushima Forward demonstrators, the Japanese government has announced that the 2020 Olympics will be powered at least partly by floating wind turbines. This could represent a good opportunity window for European Companies to step in. As an example, the French floating foundation start-up Ideol and Japanese group Hitachi Zosen Corp have just signed a contract that marked the start of the construction phase of their two floating offshore wind turbines in Japan. The contract follows the completion of the design and engineering phase which commenced a year ago.
Prepared by Ines Heger (Minerva Research Fellow, EU-Japan Centre for Industrial Cooperation)Sources:
FuksuhimaFORWARD official announcement (in Japanese)
Japanese News Paper (in English)
Floating wind turbine begins slow trip to off Fukushima coast, by Asahi Newspaper, on 3 July
Japanese News Paper (in Japanese)
 The project consists of two phases: phase I with 2 MW (2013), and phase II with 7 MW (2015) and 5 MW (2016).