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Japan Targets Floating Wind Farms for Its Deep Coastal Waters

Brian Farrell | Moment Open | Getty Images
  • There are a number of projects in Japan focused on floating offshore wind.
  • In June, a consortium made up of six companies was selected to develop a 16.8 megawatt floating offshore wind farm in waters off Goto City, Nagasaki Prefecture.

RWE Renewables and Kansai Electric Power have signed an agreement that will see the two businesses "jointly study the feasibility of a large-scale floating offshore wind project" in waters off Japan's coast.

In a statement issued Monday, RWE Renewables' Sven Utermöhlen said his firm saw "great potential for floating wind farms worldwide — but especially in countries with deeper coastal waters, like Japan."

Indeed, the project announced Monday is not the only one in Japan focused on floating offshore wind. In July, self-described "cleantech company" BW Ideol said it had signed a joint development agreement with energy firm ENEOS Corporation to develop a "commercial-scale floating offshore wind farm" in waters off Japan's coast.

In June, authorities in Japan said a consortium made up of six companies — Toda Corporation, Osaka Gas, Kansai Electric Power, ENEOS Corporation, INPEX Corporation and Chubu Electric Power — had been selected to develop a 16.8 megawatt floating offshore wind farm in waters off the coast of Goto City, Nagasaki Prefecture. There were no other bidders for the project.

Floating offshore wind turbines are different to bottom-fixed offshore wind turbines that are rooted to the seabed. By contrast, RWE describes floating turbines as being "deployed on top of floating structures that are secured to the seabed with mooring lines and anchors."

One advantage of floating turbines is that they can be installed in deeper waters compared to bottom-fixed ones. As the Carbon Trust, an advisory firm, notes: "Sites further from shore … tend to benefit from more consistent wind resource, meaning floating wind can deliver higher yields."

Floating offshore wind is still in its early stages of development and costs will need to be driven down going forward. It was only in 2017 that Norwegian energy major Equinor — a major player in oil and gas — opened Hywind Scotland, a 30 megawatt facility it calls "the first full-scale floating offshore wind farm."

For its part RWE, which is headquartered in Germany, is already undertaking work on three demonstration projects in Spain, the U.S. and Norway. It's also looking into whether bottom-fixed offshore wind projects are feasible in parts of Japan.

In another announcement, also issued on Monday, RWE said it would be reorganizing its renewables business. Under the new structure, its offshore and onshore renewables businesses will be managed separately. Utermöhlen will have responsibility for RWE's offshore wind division, with Silvia Ortín Rios heading up onshore wind and solar photovoltaic.

The collaboration between RWE and Kansai Electric Power comes after Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry published a draft of its sixth Strategic Energy Plan last month.

According to research and consultancy firm Wood Mackenzie, the draft included "major changes" to the country's targets for its power generation mix in the fiscal year 2030.

"Included in the draft targets is a significant increase in renewable and nuclear shares of the generation mix and hydrogen/ammonia is mentioned for the first time," Lucy Cullen, a principal analyst at Wood Mackenzie, said in a statement at the end of July.

Such a plan is not without its hurdles. "Our current outlook for renewables is a 30% share by 2030, so the proposed 36% renewables share is a stretch," Cullen said, referencing the draft's goal for renewables to have a 36% to 38% share in the power generation mix. "It can only be possible with additional government support."

Of the draft's nuclear target, Cullen called it "perhaps the most critical and uncertain component."

"METI continues to back nuclear and maintains the previous 20-22% target," she said. "Safety regulations, on-going opposition and rising costs continue to plague restarts to date and make this an incredibly challenging target to meet. The outlook for restarts remains highly risked in our opinion."

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