The Japanese wind industry is going from strength to strength with increased backing from major independent developers as well as local governments and environmental groups. More liberalisation of the electricity market is also expected to give the wind sector a further boost. This is the optimistic view from Professor Yukimaru Shimizu, chairman of the Japanese Wind Energy Association. The association held its annual two day conference in November, attended by almost 300 people. A wide range of speakers tackled issues as disparate as market progress, technical achievements and the prospects for offshore wind farms.
Wind plant capacity is on target to reach around 300 MW at the end of March -- up from around 100 MW three months ago. According to Shimizu, Japan's New Energy Development Organisation (NEDO) is expected to approve subsidies for around 470 MW of wind energy projects up to March 2003.
NEDO awarded ´14 billion in subsidies to privately-owned wind projects in fiscal year 2001, which ends in March. Another ´11.5 billion was set aside for subsidies to public sector wind projects. Shimizu expects NEDO's budget for renewable energy projects to increase to around ´40 billion in fiscal 2002. The budget for private sector projects is estimated to be around ´26 billion.
From March this year, non-government organisations (NGOs) will also be eligible for NEDO subsidies for wind plant; about ´1.1 billion is to be made available for them to install wind plant, up to a maximum of 1.5 MW. And in a further boost, utility Hokkaido Electric Power Co has said it is ready to receive project applications once again. The northern island is one of the most promising areas for wind development in Japan, but in 1999 the utility placed a moratorium on more wind development, saying it was flooded with applications. Hokkaido's installed wind power capacity is now about 150 MW.
Wind farms across Japan are growing in size. Several big independent wind developers are now operating plant up to 30 MW, a considerable change from the single turbine installations of just a few years ago. Among the big wind developers are Electric Power Development Co in Dengen, Kaihatsu, Tomen Co, EcoPower Co, Vestech Japan Corp, NKK Corp, Marubeni Corp and Mitsui Corp.
Local town governments are also increasingly interested in developing wind energy, with around 64 towns currently boasting wind turbines of their own. Half of them have a goal of being self-sufficient, aiming to produce enough power to supply their entire town. Tachikawa in Yamagata Prefecture is one of them. It plans to install three 1.5 MW turbines in 2002 and is already producing 5 MW with a ten turbine development. Hisai City in Mie Prefecture has also just begun installation of a 750 kW turbine.
Shimizu hopes that a new wind energy law will be passed in 2002 making it easier for independent wind developers to establish wind farms. Today most utility companies have tenders setting limits for how much wind generated electricity they want to buy. However, despite their initial opposition to wind power, some utilities, like Tohoku Electric Power Co, are now getting involved project development. Tohoku Electric has taken the lead as a company specifically founded for wind plant development.
Another benefit to the wind industry is the gradual liberalisation of the electricity market. It is now possible for large scale energy producers to sell electricity directly to big customers instead of selling to utilities. Sony Corp has installed a 1.5 MW Enron Wind turbine from Germany in Chiba Prefecture, supplying electricity to the company's headquarters in Osaka.
Shimizu expects NGOs to be more active in constructing wind turbines on a small scale. The first turbine financed by private citizens in Hokkaido came on-line this year, with the trend set to continue. Shimizu also sees considerable potential for offshore wind plant and a number of feasibility studies are being undertaken, including one by the Tokyo city authority for ten turbines in Tokyo Bay.