Current political backdrop
The Liberal Democratic Party cemented its grip on power with an overwhelming victory in a snap election last December. It is likely to continue to push for deregulation of electrical power grids at the same time as bringing more nuclear power plants back online
High point of 2014
Offshore wind feed-in-tariff (FIT) set at Yen36/kWh ($3/kWh), effectively granting developers the 150% premium over onshore FIT that had been deemed necessary to engage in development
Ongoing environmental testing burden
Key issue of 2015
Government is aiming to announce its renewables target to coincide with COP 21 late this year
Japan slipped to 19th in the global wind-power rankings in 2014. Improving its position in the future depends on the government's efforts (and success) in deregulating the power grid, easing environmental testing burdens and committing to an ambitious renewable energy target ahead of the COP 21 UN climate change summit in December.
Net new installation during 2014 was 119MW, based on 47 turbines at two sites, providing the balance between new build of 130.4MW and 11.1MW in decommissions. The accumulated offshore wind capacity at the end of 2014 was unchanged at 49.6MW. Nationally funded experimental projects off the coast of Fukushima continue, and progress has been made towards agreement on a commercial open-sea project off the coast of Murakami City in Niigata.
Despite the slow progress, some encouragement should be taken from growing interest in offshore wind. Japan maintains the world's sixth largest exclusive economic zone, weighted heavily to its Pacific coastline, which suggests major leeway for future development.
Setting the offshore feed-in tariff (FIT) at Yen36/kWh ($0.3/kWh), compared with onshore's Yen22/kWh, gave developers the premium they had been looking for, especially as the recent trend to cut the solar-PV FIT gives offshore wind an advantage among power sources that do not fulfil government demands for base-load energy capable of supplying power 24 hours a day.
This must be balanced, however, against the negative effects of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) law, which is likely to hold back new wind projects until at least 2016. Some 98 projects with 6.5GW of potential remain stuck in the pipeline awaiting approval, according to Yoshinori Ueda, head of the international committee of the Japan Wind Power Association.