Hitachi joins post-Fukushima shift to wind

Hitachi is the latest Japanese nuclear power plant builder to increase its presence in the wind industry

The company has followed last year's move by Toshiba, which bought a stake in Korean manufacturer Unison, and is to acquire Fuji Heavy Industries' (FHI) wind turbine division.

FHI produces a 2MW wind turbine, which has been installed at six sites in Japan, including the Kamisu near-shore project that withstood the tsunami. The turbine is also slated for use by a consortium led by investment bank Marubeni that is developing an offshore wind farm off Fukushima prefecture by 2016. The so-called Fukushima Recovery Floating Wind Farm Pilot Project will run in two phases; the first involves installation of the Fuji turbine and a substation, while the second will see two 7MW turbines added. There is speculation the latter will be produced by Mitsubishi.

Industry figures believe the acquisition will boost development of Japan's wind industry. "This is extremely positive," said Yukinobu Uchida, Tokyo-based managing director of consultancy GL Garrad Hassan. "Hitachi already provided much of the electrics for Fuji Heavy's turbines and effectively conducted the sales. So, with this business under their umbrella they can be more aggressive.

"In terms of products and the direction going forward, wind turbines were probably not that good a fit for FHI."

Along with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Toshiba Corporation, Hitachi is a major manufacturer of nuclear power plants. But following last year's crisis at Fukushima the consensus is that Japan may not build new nuclear facilities for another generation.

Hitachi refused to comment on the acquisition other than to say it was concentrating on the domestic market in the immediate future. However, there is speculation Hitachi will look to build on the FHI technology and develop a 5MW class turbine, although for now its major wind product is likely to remain the 2MW turbine.

"There is a possibility Hitachi may build more powerful turbines if a strategic decision can be reached regarding offshore power, Uchida said. "But my guess is that the company will first look to cement its existing technology." Hitachi may also make overseas acquisitions, Uchida said, citing the possibility that US wind companies could become targets if the country's production tax credit expires.

Even if Hitachi is focusing on its domestic market there is sound reasoning behind the acquisition. The government hopes to develop 1GW of offshore wind power by 2020 and to become a world leader in the technology.

A word of caution came from leader of the International Committee of the Japan Wind Power Association and Japan Wind Energy Association, Yoshinori Ueda. He said: "We can't say we are seeing a shift away from nuclear power because our government hasn't confirmed its stance. But it is clear we have to emphasise wind after Fukushima."