Flying the flag for Japanese industry

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Japan's sole wind turbine manufacturer, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, is developing a 1 MW model which it hopes will be the first megawatt class turbine to be sold commercially in the country. "We are in negotiations for a project using this size of turbine in Japan and we might start construction in March," says Yoichi Iwanaga from Mitsubishi in Nagasaki.

News of the 1 MW was broken by Mitsubishi at a wind energy symposium in Tokyo (page 30). It is expected to be on the market in April. "We think this will be the standard size turbine in three years," says Iwanaga. Today, turbines around 500-600 kW are the usual size in Japan, he points out.

Iwanaga anticipates problems with transporting the large components of megawatt class turbines around the Japanese countryside. The blades will be up to 26 metres long, making them difficult to transport on Japan's narrow, curved roads. Helicopter transport has already been used for smaller projects. He also questions the grid capacity in some areas of the country. Japan lacks national transmission lines, since the electricity market is divided among several regional monopolies. The existing grid lines tend to be relatively weak.

Despite these barriers, Iwanaga predicts an annual doubling of the Japanese wind market over the next few years. Installed capacity is approaching 40 MW thanks to a 20 MW project in Hokkaido using turbines from Denmark's Bonus A/S (Windpower Monthly, December 1998).

Home and away

According to Iwanaga, Mitsubishi has several projects abroad in its sights for the 1 MW unit, including 30-40 MW of repowering in California's Altamont Pass (Windpower Monthly, December 1998). Mitsubishi has sold 774 turbines in the US over the last ten years. The US has been its main focus because of the fair playing field when competing with Europeans, says the company. While the EU levies a 5% import tax on wind turbines, it is only 2.5% in the US. Japan has no import tax on wind turbines, which means it faces stiff competition against foreign manufacturers, Iwanaga says.

Mitsubishi currently produces turbines in sizes ranging from 250 kW, and 300 kW, through to 500 kW and 600 kW. It has sold about 40 of these units in Japan so far, representing about half of the turbines turning today. In the last two years, Mitsubishi sold 12 turbines in Japan: six 500 kW units, five 300 kW machines and one 250 kW unit.

Elsewhere in the world, Mitsubishi sold 32 of its 300 kW units to a large project in India in 1997 and 20 of its 500 kW turbines to a wind farm in Portugal, developed by Japanese trading company Tomen Corp.

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