Japan moves ahead with Goto floating turbine trial

Turbine to be erected within days, in enviro ministry-funded project

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Japan's first offshore floating wind energy trial is about to take a definitive step forward, with a turbine to be erected within days.

Initially, a 100kW turbine will be used. However, a larger 2MW machine is earmarked to replace the initial turbine next summer.

"The turbine is laid flat, and is ready to be raised depending on the waves," Jiro Hiratsuka, deputy director of the climate change policy division at Japan's environment ministry, told Windpower Offshore. The trial is located off the coast of Kabashima island, one of the Goto Islands, in Nagasaki Prefecture.

Electricity generated by the 2MW machine will be bought by Kyushu Electric Power Company. Both turbines will be supplied by Fuji Heavy Industries, whose wind technology business was recently transferred to Hitachi.

The project has been funded by Japan's environment ministry, which has set aside more than JPY3bn ($37.7m) for it during the financial year ending 31 March 2013. The environment ministry's leadership of this project is noteworthy, since wind energy has, thus far, been largely the domain of the economy, trade and industry ministry.

Last year, the Japanese government signaled its intention to prioritise development of an offshore floating wind energy sector. However, it has yet to introduce legislation or a financial incentive scheme to support this aspiration. The Goto trial represents a notable step forward, and other demonstration projects are planned, including one off Fukushima being developed by Marubeni and Mitsubishi.

Achieving advances in floating technology will be necessary if Japan is to create a commercially-viable offshore wind industry, since fixed foundation turbines are not suitable for most locations. Japan's coastline is characterized by sharp drop-offs, with deep waters of 200m or more close to shore, making foundation-based designs unfeasible. In addition, Japan's fishermen have opposed foundation-based installations.

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