The government has positioned offshore wind power generation as the main source of renewable energy. As there are many challenges before realizing this, the government needs to provide a road map to overcome the problems involved.
The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry has decided to gradually mothball or decommission inefficient coal-fired power plants and speed up efforts to convert renewable energy into a major source of power as measures against global warming. Offshore wind power generation is expected to be a trump card for that purpose.
A public-private panel has been set up to promote the introduction of offshore wind power generation. In the next 10 years or so, the government intends to develop offshore wind power generation that is tantamount to 10 nuclear reactors.
Wind power generation has mostly been done on land. Wind is stronger on the sea than on land, and large-scale facilities can be built offshore. Noise problems are also less likely to occur. Wind power generation, including that on land, accounts for less than 1% of the nation’s total power generation. However, there is large room for offshore wind power generation to expand in Japan as it is surrounded by the sea.
Last year, a new law that supports offshore wind power generation came into effect, making it possible for power generation companies to use government-designated sea areas for up to 30 years. The areas off the coast of Goto, Nagasaki Prefecture; Choshi, Chiba Prefecture; and Akita Prefecture were designated in succession. It is hoped that businesses will actively participate in these projects.
The biggest challenge to be tackled is the lowering of costs.
Leading the way in offshore wind power generation is Europe, where power generation costs have fallen to less than ¥10 per kilowatt-hour due to mass production efficiency from large-scale development and the use of larger turbines. The level of costs for offshore wind power generation is said to be lower than that of thermal power generation.
As there are many shallow waters off Europe, fixed-bottom wind turbines can be laid on the seabed at a relatively low cost. It is also blessed with a climatic condition where the westerly wind blows stably.
In Japan, the cost to introduce offshore wind power generation is said to be three times as much as that in Europe. Among other reasons, this is because the number of such facilities is still small and most of the facilities are imported.
European windmill manufacturers are overwhelmingly strong, leading Hitachi, Ltd. to withdraw from in-house production in 2019. It is essential to nurture domestic manufacturers.
Japan has few shallow waters, so it has no choice but to rely on floating turbines in the sea in order to spread offshore wind power generation nationwide. The floating type is more expensive than the fixed type, and there is almost no actual record of power generation. It is important to establish technologies and lower prices. It will also be necessary to develop facilities suitable for typhoon-prone Japan.
The government should present a clear strategy for expanding offshore wind power generation and create an environment in which companies can easily invest in these projects.
The government has increased the share of renewable energy, mainly solar power, under the feed-in tariff system. The charges tacked onto the electricity bill reached ¥2.4 trillion, increasing the burden on households and businesses by more than 10%.
Purchase prices for solar power generation have fallen, but if those for offshore wind power generation remain high, the burden will further increase. The government must thoroughly explain the introduction of offshore wind power generation to the public.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 20, 2020.