"Everybody can feel the tension building," said Yukio Suguro of leading wind turbine manufacturer, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI). Government officials, however, were on another wavelength at the two day event, held by the Japan Wind Energy Association in Tokyo.
While attendance was up, delegates at the Japan Wind Energy Association's annual symposium left feeling a little deflated. While the rest of Asia forges ahead with building wind plant, in Japan it is slow businessas usual
With new build rates for wind plant in Japan static for more than a year and growing unease about the country's failure to meet its Kyoto Protocol commitment to reducing CO2 emissions, delegates to the country's annual wind power symposium were hoping for signs of a market revival. "Everybody can feel the tension building," said Yukio Suguro of Japan's leading wind turbine manufacturer, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI). Government officials, however, were on another wavelength at the two day event, held by the Japan Wind Energy Association in Tokyo, November 21-22.
Some 365 delegates from all sectors of the industry attended, marking a 20% increase on numbers five years ago. While the quality of presentations from industry, local authorities and scholars had also improved, the message from government speakers had not. Continued reticence about wind power's potential, bordering on downright ignorance, was the signal emitted. While hailing wind as a clean and inexhaustible source of energy and the renewable technology closet to attaining commercial viability in Japan, Haruhiko Ando of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry still insisted battery back up rather than grid and transmission improvements is the solution to increasing wind power capacity in the country. He ignored the fact that other Asian governments are busy strengthening their wind power markets and made no reference to any similar initiative in Japan, or to increasing the country's wind power target. Japan's long standing goal is for 1.35% of electricity to come from renewables by 2010, with wind to increase its capacity from just over 1000 MW at present to 3000 MW. That is seemingly set to remain.
Delegates were less than impressed and impatience with the government's attitude bubbled to the surface at times. "If you talk about expanding renewables such as wind power, the key consideration in finding the solution is, how do we build the grid," said MHI's Suguro. "Japan's government must provide more direction." Baku Nagai, a professor of engineering at the University of the Ryukyus, expressed similar sentiments. "The government and politicians aren't serious yet about expanding transmission and that could have something to do with prioritising the nuclear industry," he said.
Nagai appeared even more disappointed by the New Energy Foundation, a non-profit group, which has a target for wind power to supply 3.4% of electricity in Japan by 2030, equivalent to 42 TWh of the 1220 TWh of power generation it forecasts will be needed by then. "We must aim higher than this," said Nagai. "Germany and Denmark have very high ambitions. Japan clearly has the natural resources. And it's not as if our technology is inferior in any sense to Germany's. I'd like to say that if Germany can do it, there's no reason Japan can't as well." Japan is the world's fifth largest energy consumer.
Other presentations were less pessimistic, discussing how to overcome problems associated with the punishing weather conditions endemic to Japan, which is prone to typhoons as well as severe lightning storms. The promise of offshore wind power development was also up for discussion, along with improving techniques for forecasting output from wind plant.
Chuichi Arakawa from Tokyo University's faculty of engineering said wind energy forecasting is particularly difficult in Japan due to the irregular terrain and frequent typhoons. His research team is working on models for meshing meteorological data with wind farm specific data. If the project results in more accurate wind forecasting, it could reduce the cost of grid connecting wind projects. "We want our work to create, in two-and-a-half years, wind energy prediction technology that Europe has spent more than ten years developing," he said.
Research presented by Takeshi Ishihara, also of Tokyo University, suggested offshore wind plant could meet at least 10% of Japan's electricity needs. In a joint project by Tokyo University and Tokyo Electric Power (Windpower Monthly, February 2006), the team monitored wind conditions at gas rigs off the east coast of Japan's main Honshu island during the two years to September. "We anticipate annual wind power potential off the coast of Kanto to be 101 TWh," said Ishihara.