In Japan’s electricity sector wind power generates a small but increasing proportion of the country’s electricity, as the installed capacity has been growing in recent years. According to industry observers, the 2011 Japanese nuclear accidents are pushing wind power to the forefront as a safer and more reliable alternative to meet the country’s future electricity requirements. None of Japan’s commercial wind turbines, totaling over 2300 MW in nameplate capacity, failed as a result of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, including the Kamisu offshore wind farm directly hit by the tsunami.
It has been estimated that Japan has the potential for 144 GW for onshore wind and 608 GW of offshore wind capacity. The Shin Izumo Wind Farm owned by Eurus Energy is the largest wind farm in Japan as of 2011, comprising 26 turbines with a total nameplate capacity of 78 megawatts. As of September 2011, Japan plans to build a pilot floating wind farm, with six 2-megawatt turbines, off the Fukushima coast. After the evaluation phase is complete in 2016, “Japan plans to build as many as 80 floating wind turbines off Fukushima by 2020.” In 2013, a floating offshore wind turbine was tested about 1 km off the coast of the island of Kabajima in Nagasaki Prefecture.
It was a part of a Japanese government test project. This was the first of its kind in Japan. As nuclear power plants are being restarted in Japan, the government should stop to consider what the rest of the world is doing. Last year, global wind power capacity surpassed nuclear for the first time. Japan, however, is already far behind this global trend, with only a small fraction of its energy coming from wind. Data released by the Global Wind Energy Council, a body that tracks worldwide energy usage, shows that a record 63.01 gigawatts of energy was added to worldwide wind power capacity in 2015 to reach a total of 432.42 GW. That compares with 382.55 GW for global nuclear power capacity, according to the London-based World Nuclear Association.
That small victory for clean energy was not helped much by Japan, where only 3.04 GW of wind power was produced in 2015. The government drafted a plan to boost wind power to 1.7 percent of the nation’s energy mix by 2030, but this figure is startlingly low compared with the current percentage — 3 percent — of global electricity supplied by wind power. The Environment Ministry estimates that Japan has the potential to build enough wind power facilities to produce 280 GW, but that potential has not even begun to be tapped. With its total installed capacity reaching 145.1 GW in 2015, China topped the European Union’s 141.6 GW, The United States followed with 74.47 GW. India, with 2.62 GW, pushed past Spain into fourth place. The shift from coal and fossil fuels to wind power is an important step toward reducing air pollution, especially in China.
The Japanese government has yet to undertake a future-oriented policy to get in line with these global trends. Wind power does have some drawbacks, such as the effects of turbines on animals and the environment, as well as conflicts over land-use rights. These are not inconsiderable, but they should be investigated and resolved in the process of development. Japan is not that much different from other countries in this regard, though the energy production and distribution infrastructure for wind power remains another hurdle in many regions of the country. The longer it takes to initiate, though, the more expensive infrastructure will become.
Environmental impact assessments and planning for land use should continue to ensure that wind power increases as part of the total energy mix in Japan. The main problem is a lack of will on the part of the national government. Japan’s continued use of nuclear energy and fossil fuels is not a viable energy strategy. Mixing in a higher percentage of wind power is essential if Japan’s long-range energy needs are to be met in a rational way.