INTERVIEW: Izumi Ushiyama, JWEA

The Japan Wind Energy Association founder, a member of a panel that is looking at the possibility of a separate feed-in tariff (FIT) for offshore wind, explains what it will take for the sector to achieve lift-off

What challenges does the panel tasked with setting a separate FIT for offshore wind face? In Japan, we don’t have any experience in installing and operating commercial offshore wind plants. Moreover, we lack experience in the [offshore] oil field. Therefore, our data on offshore wind power is very limited compared with European countries. Our consultative committee has discussed European offshore wind-power costs, mainly [data from the] UK and Germany, as well as prototype offshore wind turbines in Japan. [We] submitted our report to the government at the end of 2013, and the government will set a fair purchasing price for offshore by the end of March.

When will offshore wind truly take off in Japan? Development will move forward with the launch of the world’s biggest floating turbine, a 7MW machine. Then the next big step will be the development of a 5MW onshore turbine. And I think we also need to develop a certification system for small wind turbines.

Why has wind been developing so slowly in Japan compared with PV? Japan has unfavourable conditions for wind energy. Every year, Japan is attacked by strong typhoons, as well as lightning — especially in the winter on the [coast] — and strong turbulent flows caused by the complex terrain. Historically and politically, the Sunshine Project to develop renewable energy as an alternative to fossil fuel started just after the oil crisis in the 1970s. The main focus of this was PV. Wind power was not expected, because we do not have a history of wind power like in European countries.

Now, just after the introduction of an FIT system, PV has been easy to install, because the environmental assessment process is easy and grid connections are not difficult. However, wind potential is bigger than other renewable-energy sources in Japan. The government started preparing the power grid in strong wind areas such as the island of Hokkaido and the Tōhoku region from 2013 and there are several wind turbine manufacturers, such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Hitachi and Japan Steel Works. So the introduction of wind will accelerate in the near future.

What commercial opportunities exist for small wind in Japan and other countries? Could Japan develop such technologies for export? Japan is a small country and already has a dense electricity network, so small wind turbines have very special applications: as a power source for mountain cottages and isolated meteorological stations [or for the purpose of renewables research]. So small wind turbines will not have a significant role in the future energy mix.

I believe the domestic market for small turbines will be limited. And in foreign countries, a market exists but is limited. However, many people live without electricity in developing countries. So there is a big market in developing countries, and not only commercially, as small turbines are appropriate overseas development aid.

Does the government care as much about small wind as it does about big wind? Before introducing the FIT, the government provided subsidies for wind enterprises. After the implementation of the FIT in July 2012, the purchase cost of onshore wind was set at ¥22 [$0.22] per kWh, with no special subsidies. For small wind, the purchase cost has been set as high as ¥52/kWh.

  • Professor Izumi Ushiyam is a member of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry panel that is studying the possibility of introducing a separate feed-in tariff for Japanese offshore wind from 1 April
  • He established the Japan Wind Energy Association in 1977 and is president of Ashikaga Institute of Technology, north of Tokyo, where he lectures on technology
  • Ushiyama specialises in energy conversion and has conducted thermodynamic studies on gas turbines, although he now focuses on the study of wind turbines