Marubeni to Set Up Floating Wind Turbine Off Fukushima

June 17, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

A group led by Marubeni Corp. (8002) is
setting up a floating wind turbine off the coast of Fukushima,
aiming to commercializing the unproven technology and create an
industry in the region ravaged by the earthquake in 2011.

The 11-member group plans this month to tow a Hitachi Ltd (6501).-
made turbine mounted to a semi-submersible structure from a dock
near Tokyo, said Takahide Soeda, an official at the Ministry of
Economy, Trade and Industry. The 2-megawatt turbine, funded by
the Japanese government, is expected to start running in mid-October.

“There are test turbines in Portugal and Norway, but there
have been no commercial floating offshore turbines in the
world,” Soeda said in a briefing on June 14. “We are bringing
together Japanese technology to make floating offshore wind

For Japan, which is surrounded by deep oceans, floating
wind turbines hold the promise of opening up large areas where
clean energy can be generated. The technology involves attaching
turbines to structures that float in areas too deep for
traditional towers that are fixed to the seafloor.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet earlier this month
approved a set of science and technology strategies which
included a target to make the floating offshore wind technology
viable by 2018.

Floating Substation

The project will include a floating substation, the first
of its kind. It will be located about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles)
from the coastline and in 120 meters (394 feet) of water,
according to officials.

The group is planning to install two more turbines with 7
megawatts of capacity each. The trade ministry has said capacity
may be expanded to 1,000 megawatts.

“Marubeni is considering turning this into a commercial
project,” Rentaro Hosoya, an assistant manager at Marubeni’s
power industry team, said at the briefing. “We’ll make our
decision on capacity based on the results of” the project.

Marubeni and Innovation Network Corp. of Japan in 2012
bought Seajacks International Ltd., the North Sea operator of
self-propelled vessels used to install and maintain offshore
wind turbines. A Seajacks unit in Japan was established to
develop the offshore wind installation market at home and in
other Asian countries, Marubeni said in a June 3 statement.

The trade ministry has earmarked a total of 22 billion yen
($232 million) for the five-year undertaking, exceeding the
original estimate of 18.8 billion yen, according to Hiroyuki
Iijima, a ministry official in charge of the project.

Development Costs

Some costs were unforeseen, Iijima said. For example,
engineers found that geological formations in the area were two
layers rather than the single layer they initially thought,
requiring extra tests before anchors could be set to fix
floating structures, he said. Officials are reviewing costs
before requesting a budget for the next fiscal year, he added.

Existing offshore substations in European countries such as
the U.K. and Denmark are mounted on the bottom of the sea while
the Fukushima version will float, according to Iijima.

“The challenge is cost, not technology,” Justin Wu, Hong
Kong-based head of wind analysis at Bloomberg New Energy
Finance, said in an e-mailed response to questions. “With some
testing and refinement, it can work well, but it will be
extremely expensive. So by 2018 Japan can have commercial models
of floating foundations ready, but they’ll probably cost a lot
more than the other types of foundations being used.”

Green Jobs

Fukushima prefecture expects to create clean energy jobs
and seeks to become a hub in the wind industry with the pilot
project, the group said in a statement in March 2012 when it was
picked by the ministry to conduct the pilot project.

Japan has a separate floating offshore wind project near
the southwestern prefecture of Nagasaki. A 100-kilowatt turbine
was installed last year and a 2-megawatt windmill will be added
this year, according to Ministry of the Environment official
Satoshi Yoshida.

Japan’s offshore wind market — 31 megawatts in cumulative
capacity — lags countries including the U.K. and Denmark, which
have 3,093 megawatts and 923 megawatts of capacity,
respectively, according to 2012 data compiled by Bloomberg.

“If Japan wants to commercialize it, it would have to
create it’s own home market by 2018, manufacture enough to
reduce its costs and test it extensively so that it gains enough
experience to be deployed successfully,” BNEF’s Wu said.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Chisaki Watanabe in Tokyo at

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Reed Landberg at

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