A floating electricity substation and a semi-submersible floating foundation, mounted with a 2MW turbine, will be installed this July in deep waters off Japan's Fukushima coast.
The installations will represent the first step in a multi-stage project to construct the world's first large-scale floating offshore wind farm. Known as Forward (Fukushima floating offshore wind farm demonstration), the ambitious project is entirely funded by the Japanese government, but will be delivered by a consortium of eleven companies. Project leadership is the responsibility of consortium member, Marubeni.
The aim of the Forward project is to test a range of technologies in order to identify which are most cost effective. The high cost of floating offshore wind technology is the principal reason why it has yet to become a commercially-viable option. Until lower-weight designs that feature less steel are developed, floating offshore wind farms will struggle to be built.
The Forward substation will be supplied by Japan Marine United (JMU), formerly IHI Marine United, while Mitsui Engineering will build the semi-submersible platform upon which a 2MW Hitachi turbine will be installed, project leader, Tomofumi Fukuda, told Windpower Offshore.All three companies are part of the Forward consortium.
This summer's work will be followed by a second round of installations in July 2014. This will be far more ambitious, with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries due to construction a semi-submersible floating platform upon which it will mount its own 7MW turbine. Presumably, this turbine will be the company's keenly-awaited Sea Angel design.
In addition, JMU will produce a fourth type of floating platform, known as an advanced spur, which will accommodate another Mitsubishi 7MW machine.
Earlier this month, the Forward project attracted widespread media attention in Europe and North America, with New Scientist magazine erroneously referring to it as the largest wind farm planned yet. From Fukuda's perspective there has been no new or "special information" about the project, and "so far everything is on original schedule", he told Windpower Offshore.
There is no doubt that the Forward project is highly ambitious, but not because of its eventual installed capacity. Instead, it is the project's status as a floating wind farm that has made it one to watch. If the consortium succeeds in developing much lower-cost platforms, Japan's appetite for offshore wind may spiral.
Since the nuclear disaster in Fukushima in 2011, Japan's leaders have been reassessing the country's energy policy and last year introduced a more attractive financial incentive offshore wind.
In response, a series of Japanese firms have announced plans to develop conventional, fixed-foundation offshore wind farms. These include an Hitachi Zosen-led 300MW project, plans by Maeda to build a wind farm off Shimonoseki, and a joint venture involving the world's largest steel maker to build 500MW of offshore capacity.
Japan's difficulty is that its long coastlines boast relatively few locations suitable for large fixed-foundation projects, since water depths plunge quickly off from shorelines. As is the case off Portugal and the US state of Maine, cost-effective floating technology is needed.