Japanese offshore wind: A decade on from Fukushima

After the Fukushima disaster in 2011, the Fukushima Prefecture moved quickly to support floating wind, which is a much-needed technology for offshore wind projects in Japan’s deep waters.

Priscilla Obilana
April 1, 2021
Japanese offshore wind: A decade on from Fukushima

It is ten years since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster in Japan.

This was the most severe nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986, and it has affected the perception of nuclear power and its use around the world ever since.

The impact on energy policy in Japan was immediate. The government reacted by shutting all of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors, which accounted for 30% of its electricity before the disaster, and promoted investment in sectors including offshore wind to fill the gap – although the country also had to turn to coal and liquefied natural gas too.

But progress for offshore wind in Japan in the last ten years has been slow.

In this article, we look at the growth of offshore wind in Japan since Fukushima; why the sector has failed to take off while neighbouring Taiwan has thrived; and whether there is now the political and business will to change that.

Following Fukushima

After the Fukushima disaster in 2011, the Fukushima Prefecture moved quickly to support floating wind, which is a much-needed technology for offshore wind projects in Japan’s deep waters.

Two years later, in 2013, the 2MW government-funded pilot project Fukushima Forward was turned on, making it the world’s first floating wind project. The project was developed by a consortium including Marubeni, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Nippon Steel, and started with one 2MW Hitachi turbine. Two more turbines – of 5MW and 7MW each – were added in 2015 and 2016.

This was an important development for floating wind in Japan and globally, as it gave the companies vital experience of how to keep turbines stable during typhoons. The development has not been as profitable as first hoped though, and it is due to be decommissioned this year, but it was important nonetheless.

Fukushima Forward was also not an isolated project. Japan has 12 offshore wind projects totalling around 60MW - mostly pilot schemes - in its waters.

And yet, Fukushima Forward has not yet paved the way for large offshore wind farms in Japan of the kind we see in Taiwan. The use of floating foundations is one reason: projects in Taiwan can be built on fixed foundations, which are far more common in the offshore wind sector around the world.

However, Japanese politicians must share some of the blame.

The early political support for stopping nuclear after Fukushima did not last. The government was replaced with the pro-nuclear Liberal Democratic Party in 2012, and the country has been restarting reactors during the years since. It has a goal of nuclear providing 20%-22% of its electricity mix by 2030, and its renewed focus on nuclear in the last decade has come at wind's expense.

But that is changing.

Big goals

Japan's installed offshore wind is now around 60MW, but the government is planning to greatly increase this. It sees offshore wind as central to its plan to make renewables 22%-24% of its electricity mix by 2030, because Japan's dense population is a limiting factor on the growth of onshore renewables.

The commercialisation of floating wind globally in the last decade should help Japan to finally reach its offshore wind potential.

The country plans to reach 10GW of installed offshore wind by 2030 and then 45GW by 2040, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry announced in late 2020. In late 2019, it also passed a law permitting offshore turbines to operate for 30 years, which would give investors the long-term clarity to back projects.

In June 2020, Japan launched the first offshore wind public auction under the Marine Renewables Energy Act, for the 16.8MW Goto project. The winner of the auction will be chosen in June 2021 and, while a small tender, picking a winner is a key milestone.

Meanwhile, in December 2020, the country launched its first tender for the construction of fixed foundation offshore wind farms in four designated areas in its waters. Submissions for this will be accepted until 27th May.

These types of support unlock investment.

Last August, building started on Japan's first large commercial offshore wind project in the coastal waters of Akita. The Akita complex is made up of two offshore wind farms that are set to be worth ¥100bn ($917m) with a total headline capacity of 140MW. The complex is being developed by Akita Offshore Wind Corporation, which is a consortium including Marubeni, Kansai Electric, Chubu Electric, Tohoku, Obayashi and Cosmo Eco Power.

In addition, Spanish utility Iberdrola has recently completed its second deal in the Japanese offshore market in six months, expanding its offshore project portfolio in the country to 3.9GW.

A decade after the events at Fukashima Daiichi, Japan now appears ready to act on its offshore wind potential. With tangible political support for offshore in recent years, both local and international investors are increasingly finding the sector an attractive proposition.

It is ten years since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster in Japan.

This was the most severe nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986, and it has affected the perception of nuclear power and its use around the world ever since.

The impact on energy policy in Japan was immediate. The government reacted by shutting all of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors, which accounted for 30% of its electricity before the disaster, and promoted investment in sectors including offshore wind to fill the gap – although the country also had to turn to coal and liquefied natural gas too.

But progress for offshore wind in Japan in the last ten years has been slow.

In this article, we look at the growth of offshore wind in Japan since Fukushima; why the sector has failed to take off while neighbouring Taiwan has thrived; and whether there is now the political and business will to change that.

Following Fukushima

After the Fukushima disaster in 2011, the Fukushima Prefecture moved quickly to support floating wind, which is a much-needed technology for offshore wind projects in Japan’s deep waters.

Two years later, in 2013, the 2MW government-funded pilot project Fukushima Forward was turned on, making it the world’s first floating wind project. The project was developed by a consortium including Marubeni, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Nippon Steel, and started with one 2MW Hitachi turbine. Two more turbines – of 5MW and 7MW each – were added in 2015 and 2016.

This was an important development for floating wind in Japan and globally, as it gave the companies vital experience of how to keep turbines stable during typhoons. The development has not been as profitable as first hoped though, and it is due to be decommissioned this year, but it was important nonetheless.

Fukushima Forward was also not an isolated project. Japan has 12 offshore wind projects totalling around 60MW - mostly pilot schemes - in its waters.

And yet, Fukushima Forward has not yet paved the way for large offshore wind farms in Japan of the kind we see in Taiwan. The use of floating foundations is one reason: projects in Taiwan can be built on fixed foundations, which are far more common in the offshore wind sector around the world.

However, Japanese politicians must share some of the blame.

The early political support for stopping nuclear after Fukushima did not last. The government was replaced with the pro-nuclear Liberal Democratic Party in 2012, and the country has been restarting reactors during the years since. It has a goal of nuclear providing 20%-22% of its electricity mix by 2030, and its renewed focus on nuclear in the last decade has come at wind's expense.

But that is changing.

Big goals

Japan's installed offshore wind is now around 60MW, but the government is planning to greatly increase this. It sees offshore wind as central to its plan to make renewables 22%-24% of its electricity mix by 2030, because Japan's dense population is a limiting factor on the growth of onshore renewables.

The commercialisation of floating wind globally in the last decade should help Japan to finally reach its offshore wind potential.

The country plans to reach 10GW of installed offshore wind by 2030 and then 45GW by 2040, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry announced in late 2020. In late 2019, it also passed a law permitting offshore turbines to operate for 30 years, which would give investors the long-term clarity to back projects.

In June 2020, Japan launched the first offshore wind public auction under the Marine Renewables Energy Act, for the 16.8MW Goto project. The winner of the auction will be chosen in June 2021 and, while a small tender, picking a winner is a key milestone.

Meanwhile, in December 2020, the country launched its first tender for the construction of fixed foundation offshore wind farms in four designated areas in its waters. Submissions for this will be accepted until 27th May.

These types of support unlock investment.

Last August, building started on Japan's first large commercial offshore wind project in the coastal waters of Akita. The Akita complex is made up of two offshore wind farms that are set to be worth ¥100bn ($917m) with a total headline capacity of 140MW. The complex is being developed by Akita Offshore Wind Corporation, which is a consortium including Marubeni, Kansai Electric, Chubu Electric, Tohoku, Obayashi and Cosmo Eco Power.

In addition, Spanish utility Iberdrola has recently completed its second deal in the Japanese offshore market in six months, expanding its offshore project portfolio in the country to 3.9GW.

A decade after the events at Fukashima Daiichi, Japan now appears ready to act on its offshore wind potential. With tangible political support for offshore in recent years, both local and international investors are increasingly finding the sector an attractive proposition.

It is ten years since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster in Japan.

This was the most severe nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986, and it has affected the perception of nuclear power and its use around the world ever since.

The impact on energy policy in Japan was immediate. The government reacted by shutting all of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors, which accounted for 30% of its electricity before the disaster, and promoted investment in sectors including offshore wind to fill the gap – although the country also had to turn to coal and liquefied natural gas too.

But progress for offshore wind in Japan in the last ten years has been slow.

In this article, we look at the growth of offshore wind in Japan since Fukushima; why the sector has failed to take off while neighbouring Taiwan has thrived; and whether there is now the political and business will to change that.

Following Fukushima

After the Fukushima disaster in 2011, the Fukushima Prefecture moved quickly to support floating wind, which is a much-needed technology for offshore wind projects in Japan’s deep waters.

Two years later, in 2013, the 2MW government-funded pilot project Fukushima Forward was turned on, making it the world’s first floating wind project. The project was developed by a consortium including Marubeni, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Nippon Steel, and started with one 2MW Hitachi turbine. Two more turbines – of 5MW and 7MW each – were added in 2015 and 2016.

This was an important development for floating wind in Japan and globally, as it gave the companies vital experience of how to keep turbines stable during typhoons. The development has not been as profitable as first hoped though, and it is due to be decommissioned this year, but it was important nonetheless.

Fukushima Forward was also not an isolated project. Japan has 12 offshore wind projects totalling around 60MW - mostly pilot schemes - in its waters.

And yet, Fukushima Forward has not yet paved the way for large offshore wind farms in Japan of the kind we see in Taiwan. The use of floating foundations is one reason: projects in Taiwan can be built on fixed foundations, which are far more common in the offshore wind sector around the world.

However, Japanese politicians must share some of the blame.

The early political support for stopping nuclear after Fukushima did not last. The government was replaced with the pro-nuclear Liberal Democratic Party in 2012, and the country has been restarting reactors during the years since. It has a goal of nuclear providing 20%-22% of its electricity mix by 2030, and its renewed focus on nuclear in the last decade has come at wind's expense.

But that is changing.

Big goals

Japan's installed offshore wind is now around 60MW, but the government is planning to greatly increase this. It sees offshore wind as central to its plan to make renewables 22%-24% of its electricity mix by 2030, because Japan's dense population is a limiting factor on the growth of onshore renewables.

The commercialisation of floating wind globally in the last decade should help Japan to finally reach its offshore wind potential.

The country plans to reach 10GW of installed offshore wind by 2030 and then 45GW by 2040, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry announced in late 2020. In late 2019, it also passed a law permitting offshore turbines to operate for 30 years, which would give investors the long-term clarity to back projects.

In June 2020, Japan launched the first offshore wind public auction under the Marine Renewables Energy Act, for the 16.8MW Goto project. The winner of the auction will be chosen in June 2021 and, while a small tender, picking a winner is a key milestone.

Meanwhile, in December 2020, the country launched its first tender for the construction of fixed foundation offshore wind farms in four designated areas in its waters. Submissions for this will be accepted until 27th May.

These types of support unlock investment.

Last August, building started on Japan's first large commercial offshore wind project in the coastal waters of Akita. The Akita complex is made up of two offshore wind farms that are set to be worth ¥100bn ($917m) with a total headline capacity of 140MW. The complex is being developed by Akita Offshore Wind Corporation, which is a consortium including Marubeni, Kansai Electric, Chubu Electric, Tohoku, Obayashi and Cosmo Eco Power.

In addition, Spanish utility Iberdrola has recently completed its second deal in the Japanese offshore market in six months, expanding its offshore project portfolio in the country to 3.9GW.

A decade after the events at Fukashima Daiichi, Japan now appears ready to act on its offshore wind potential. With tangible political support for offshore in recent years, both local and international investors are increasingly finding the sector an attractive proposition.

It is ten years since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster in Japan.

This was the most severe nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986, and it has affected the perception of nuclear power and its use around the world ever since.

The impact on energy policy in Japan was immediate. The government reacted by shutting all of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors, which accounted for 30% of its electricity before the disaster, and promoted investment in sectors including offshore wind to fill the gap – although the country also had to turn to coal and liquefied natural gas too.

But progress for offshore wind in Japan in the last ten years has been slow.

In this article, we look at the growth of offshore wind in Japan since Fukushima; why the sector has failed to take off while neighbouring Taiwan has thrived; and whether there is now the political and business will to change that.

Following Fukushima

After the Fukushima disaster in 2011, the Fukushima Prefecture moved quickly to support floating wind, which is a much-needed technology for offshore wind projects in Japan’s deep waters.

Two years later, in 2013, the 2MW government-funded pilot project Fukushima Forward was turned on, making it the world’s first floating wind project. The project was developed by a consortium including Marubeni, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Nippon Steel, and started with one 2MW Hitachi turbine. Two more turbines – of 5MW and 7MW each – were added in 2015 and 2016.

This was an important development for floating wind in Japan and globally, as it gave the companies vital experience of how to keep turbines stable during typhoons. The development has not been as profitable as first hoped though, and it is due to be decommissioned this year, but it was important nonetheless.

Fukushima Forward was also not an isolated project. Japan has 12 offshore wind projects totalling around 60MW - mostly pilot schemes - in its waters.

And yet, Fukushima Forward has not yet paved the way for large offshore wind farms in Japan of the kind we see in Taiwan. The use of floating foundations is one reason: projects in Taiwan can be built on fixed foundations, which are far more common in the offshore wind sector around the world.

However, Japanese politicians must share some of the blame.

The early political support for stopping nuclear after Fukushima did not last. The government was replaced with the pro-nuclear Liberal Democratic Party in 2012, and the country has been restarting reactors during the years since. It has a goal of nuclear providing 20%-22% of its electricity mix by 2030, and its renewed focus on nuclear in the last decade has come at wind's expense.

But that is changing.

Big goals

Japan's installed offshore wind is now around 60MW, but the government is planning to greatly increase this. It sees offshore wind as central to its plan to make renewables 22%-24% of its electricity mix by 2030, because Japan's dense population is a limiting factor on the growth of onshore renewables.

The commercialisation of floating wind globally in the last decade should help Japan to finally reach its offshore wind potential.

The country plans to reach 10GW of installed offshore wind by 2030 and then 45GW by 2040, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry announced in late 2020. In late 2019, it also passed a law permitting offshore turbines to operate for 30 years, which would give investors the long-term clarity to back projects.

In June 2020, Japan launched the first offshore wind public auction under the Marine Renewables Energy Act, for the 16.8MW Goto project. The winner of the auction will be chosen in June 2021 and, while a small tender, picking a winner is a key milestone.

Meanwhile, in December 2020, the country launched its first tender for the construction of fixed foundation offshore wind farms in four designated areas in its waters. Submissions for this will be accepted until 27th May.

These types of support unlock investment.

Last August, building started on Japan's first large commercial offshore wind project in the coastal waters of Akita. The Akita complex is made up of two offshore wind farms that are set to be worth ¥100bn ($917m) with a total headline capacity of 140MW. The complex is being developed by Akita Offshore Wind Corporation, which is a consortium including Marubeni, Kansai Electric, Chubu Electric, Tohoku, Obayashi and Cosmo Eco Power.

In addition, Spanish utility Iberdrola has recently completed its second deal in the Japanese offshore market in six months, expanding its offshore project portfolio in the country to 3.9GW.

A decade after the events at Fukashima Daiichi, Japan now appears ready to act on its offshore wind potential. With tangible political support for offshore in recent years, both local and international investors are increasingly finding the sector an attractive proposition.

It is ten years since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster in Japan.

This was the most severe nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986, and it has affected the perception of nuclear power and its use around the world ever since.

The impact on energy policy in Japan was immediate. The government reacted by shutting all of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors, which accounted for 30% of its electricity before the disaster, and promoted investment in sectors including offshore wind to fill the gap – although the country also had to turn to coal and liquefied natural gas too.

But progress for offshore wind in Japan in the last ten years has been slow.

In this article, we look at the growth of offshore wind in Japan since Fukushima; why the sector has failed to take off while neighbouring Taiwan has thrived; and whether there is now the political and business will to change that.

Following Fukushima

After the Fukushima disaster in 2011, the Fukushima Prefecture moved quickly to support floating wind, which is a much-needed technology for offshore wind projects in Japan’s deep waters.

Two years later, in 2013, the 2MW government-funded pilot project Fukushima Forward was turned on, making it the world’s first floating wind project. The project was developed by a consortium including Marubeni, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Nippon Steel, and started with one 2MW Hitachi turbine. Two more turbines – of 5MW and 7MW each – were added in 2015 and 2016.

This was an important development for floating wind in Japan and globally, as it gave the companies vital experience of how to keep turbines stable during typhoons. The development has not been as profitable as first hoped though, and it is due to be decommissioned this year, but it was important nonetheless.

Fukushima Forward was also not an isolated project. Japan has 12 offshore wind projects totalling around 60MW - mostly pilot schemes - in its waters.

And yet, Fukushima Forward has not yet paved the way for large offshore wind farms in Japan of the kind we see in Taiwan. The use of floating foundations is one reason: projects in Taiwan can be built on fixed foundations, which are far more common in the offshore wind sector around the world.

However, Japanese politicians must share some of the blame.

The early political support for stopping nuclear after Fukushima did not last. The government was replaced with the pro-nuclear Liberal Democratic Party in 2012, and the country has been restarting reactors during the years since. It has a goal of nuclear providing 20%-22% of its electricity mix by 2030, and its renewed focus on nuclear in the last decade has come at wind's expense.

But that is changing.

Big goals

Japan's installed offshore wind is now around 60MW, but the government is planning to greatly increase this. It sees offshore wind as central to its plan to make renewables 22%-24% of its electricity mix by 2030, because Japan's dense population is a limiting factor on the growth of onshore renewables.

The commercialisation of floating wind globally in the last decade should help Japan to finally reach its offshore wind potential.

The country plans to reach 10GW of installed offshore wind by 2030 and then 45GW by 2040, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry announced in late 2020. In late 2019, it also passed a law permitting offshore turbines to operate for 30 years, which would give investors the long-term clarity to back projects.

In June 2020, Japan launched the first offshore wind public auction under the Marine Renewables Energy Act, for the 16.8MW Goto project. The winner of the auction will be chosen in June 2021 and, while a small tender, picking a winner is a key milestone.

Meanwhile, in December 2020, the country launched its first tender for the construction of fixed foundation offshore wind farms in four designated areas in its waters. Submissions for this will be accepted until 27th May.

These types of support unlock investment.

Last August, building started on Japan's first large commercial offshore wind project in the coastal waters of Akita. The Akita complex is made up of two offshore wind farms that are set to be worth ¥100bn ($917m) with a total headline capacity of 140MW. The complex is being developed by Akita Offshore Wind Corporation, which is a consortium including Marubeni, Kansai Electric, Chubu Electric, Tohoku, Obayashi and Cosmo Eco Power.

In addition, Spanish utility Iberdrola has recently completed its second deal in the Japanese offshore market in six months, expanding its offshore project portfolio in the country to 3.9GW.

A decade after the events at Fukashima Daiichi, Japan now appears ready to act on its offshore wind potential. With tangible political support for offshore in recent years, both local and international investors are increasingly finding the sector an attractive proposition.

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Not a member yet?

Become a member of the 6,500-strong A Word About Wind community today, and gain access to our premium content, exclusive lead generation and investment opportunities.