Japan kicks off floating wind turbine program

Japan officially began drawing power from a 2-megawatt floating wind turbine off its southwestern coast on Monday, the first of two floating turbine test projects that the country hopes could prove to be a significant source of energy in the post-earthquake/tsunami era.

NHK showed a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the start of testing of the 170-meter tall turbine off Nagasaki Prefecture. A 100-kilowatt prototype had been placed in the same area in August 2012 as a test.

The Fukushima turbine, expected to begin operations in November (image via Marubeni Corporation)

On the other side of Japan and far to the north, off the coast from the damaged nuclear reactor at Fukushima, a similar 2-megawatt turbine and a floating substation are expected to begin operation next month – followed by two 7-megawatt turbines before the end of 2015. That project’s leader, Marubeni, and its partners said earlier this month that it expected to commence operations in November.

The Nagasaki project is headed up by Toda, with Hitachi, Fuyo Ocean Development & Engineering, Kyoto University and the National Maritime Research Institute also involved, according to Reuters.

Floating turbines are seen as a next big step in offshore wind development. Standard offshore turbines are nearly always installed in waters less than 30 meters deep, but deeper water accessible only with floating turbines could offer even better wind as well as fewer stakeholder and aesthetic conflicts.

A couple of demo floating projects have launched in Europe, one by Energias de Portugal and Principle Power off Portugal and the world’s first, in 2009, Statoil’s Hywind, off Norway. And this past spring a University of Maine-led consortium placed a 65-foot-tall 1:8 prototype of a giant 6-megawatt turbine in the water and connected it to the grid.

* Pete Danko, EarthTechling