Japan gears up to commercialise floating technology

11-company consortium backed by $300m gov't funding

Four floating platform designs will be tested by the Forward project
Four floating platform designs will be tested by the Forward project

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Four different designs for offshore wind floating platforms will be installed off the coast of Fukushima in 2013 and 2014, as part of a demonstration project funded entirely by the Japanese government.

Eleven companies and/or organisations will collaborate on the Fukushima floating offshore wind farm demonstration (Forward) project, with Japanese conglomerate Marubeni leading the project team.

Companies contributing innovative floating platform designs include IHI Marine United, Mitsubishi and Mitsui.

The project's first stage is due to be completed by August 2013, and will involve installation of a floating substation and a 2MW downwind floating turbine, carried by a compact semi-sub.

By August 2014, two further turbines – 7MW designs by Mitsubishi – will be installed, one to be carried by a v-shape semi-sub and the other by an advanced spur.

Discussing the plans at the recent Global Offshore conference held in London, Forward project leader, Tomofumi Fukuda, explained that "we couldn't do this project without full funding from the government". The equivalent of $300m has been set aside by the Japanese department of trade, economic and industry to pursue the project.

The government hopes that the Forward project will result in the emergence of one or more commercially-viable designs for offshore wind floating platforms.

A second demonstration project, in the Goto islands, is based around a floating platform that carries both a substation and a turbine. This project is being funded by Japan's environment ministry. A small 110kW turbine was erected this month, with a plan to replace it with a 2MW turbine next year.

Steel & fishermen
A key challenge for the nascent floating offshore wind sector is the need to find ways to bring down the cost of steel used in offshore wind structures, explained Fukuda, who is a general manager within Marubeni's domestic power project department. Nippon Steel is a member of the project consortium.

Another issue that cannot be ignored is the power of Japan's fishermen. Accommodating their needs will be essential, noted Fukuda, and as a result the distance between each of the four demonstration platforms will be wide enough to allow fishing trawlers to pass between them.

However, the area in question – about 20km off the Fukushima coast – has suffered radioactive contamination, raising questions about the future of fishing there. It may be that the development of an offshore floating wind industry could provide alternative employment for former fishermen, if this proves necessary.

The port of Onahama, near the city of Iwaki, will serve the Forward project. Thinking ahead to a time when a floating offshore wind industry is a reality, Fukuda said: "we hope that Onahama port becomes something like Bremenhaven in Germany".

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