Japan

Japan

Okinawa islands put nine wind firms to test

The local electric utility for the 42 inhabited islands of Okinawa, the southernmost part of Japan, plans to meet 8-9% of its power demand with wind and solar energy as a way to help offset expensive diesel generated power. The company has already erected some 6 MW of wind turbines from nine manufacturers to test them in the harsh climate of the area.

According to Hirotaka Oshiro from Okinawa New Energy Development Co, a subsidiary of utility Okinawa Electric Power, 19 wind turbines ranging from 80 kW to 500 kW have been put up on four islands, with plans for two more by the end of the year (table). Testing will continue until 2003 before the selection of two or three suppliers, says Oshiro.

The long timetable was made in order to give the climate plenty of time to work on the machines. The weather in Okinawa is hot and humid and winds are laden with salt. Ultraviolet rays from the scorching sun are hard on the glass fibre parts, he says. Plus, the islands are frequently visited by typhoons.

The villages of Okinawa are increasingly interested in erecting their own wind turbines, according to local press reports. ChaTan Town on the main island plans to install a 500 kW machine from German DeWind this year. About half of the electricity from this project is to be used by the town's inhabitants, while the rest will be sold to the utility. Another town, also on the main island, is about to place an order for a wind turbine, and mayors in several other villages are talking about following suit.

The 160 islands of Okinawa are scattered over 400,000 square kilometres some 300 km south of Japan's mainland-too far to connect them to the main power grid. Okinawa Electric has installed diesel stations on 13 islands, connecting them to the remaining inhabited islands with undersea cables. The diesel power is expensive. On smaller islands it costs up to ¥80/kWh (EUR 0.62) compared with ¥10/kWh on Okinawa. The average retail price for electricity in Japan averages about ¥21/kWh (EUR 0.16/kWh).

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