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Go for wind power!

August 8, 2012-08-10

Editorial: Make maximum use of wind power's potential



The Japanese public is urged to make better use of wind power's potential as the country needs to promote the introduction of renewable energy because of the ongoing Fukushima nuclear crisis and global warming.

The installation of wind power generators requires time and effort, and it is difficult to install one at every house. Still, the number of such eco-friendly power generators has been markedly growing on a global scale. The world's wind power generation capacity increased 10-fold over the past decade.

Japan is ranked 13th in the world in terms of cumulative wind power generation capacity. Japan's capacity is only one-25th that of China, which is ranked top in the world. The ratio of wind power to Japan's total power generation stands at a mere 0.4 percent. These figures show that Japan lags far behind many other major countries in the introduction of wind power.

Japan is not without areas suitable for wind power generation. The potential of wind power generation on the ground and the ocean in Japan is more than 10 times that of solar power generation excluding electricity generated by household solar panels. Japan must make full use of the potential of wind power. In particular, such potential in the Hokkaido and Tohoku regions is quite high. Energy-related businesses are increasingly interested in wind power as a system under which utilities are required to buy renewable energy at fixed prices. Nevertheless, there are stumbling blocks to the introduction of such energy.

Many of the areas suitable for the installation of wind power generators are situated in sparsely populated areas and adequate power grids have not yet been laid in these areas. Moreover, electric power companies are reluctant to incorporate such unstable power sources into their power grids. Under these circumstances, upper limits are set on the amount of renewable energy that utilities are required to purchase. Therefore, even if individuals and businesses are enthusiastic about using eco-friendly power generators to generate electricity, utilities often refuse to buy such power. In Hokkaido, the amount of electricity that local residents and businesses generate using eco-friendly energy sources and that which they have applied to sell has come to more than 1.5 times the upper limit set by Hokkaido Electric Power Co. The situation is the same as Tohoku Electric Power Co.

The government has declared that it will extend assistance for the construction and improvement of infrastructure for electric power, such as power grids. It should promptly implement such measures. Electric power suppliers should also proactively build and improve their power grids and other relevant facilities in efforts to promote wind power and other renewable energy sources. The technology of adjusting unstable outputs of wind power generators while forecasting weather and efficiently using thermal power to make up for a power shortage can obviously be developed in Japan.

Areas suitable for the installation of wind power generators are limited in Japan where there are many hills. However, the potential of sea-based wind power generation is quite high because Japan has long coastlines. Sea-based wind power accounts for 80 percent of the total potential of introducing wind power. It is necessary for businesses to cooperate closely with local communities in proactively building such power generators.

Windpower, a wind power generation company based in Kamisu, Ibaraki Prefecture, has built seven wind power generators along the Pacific coast near Kashima Port, generating electric power for consumption by approximately 7,000 households. The company aims to install and begin operating eight more wind power generators by the end of the current business year ending in March 2013. The company's ultimate goal is to build 100 such generators off the coast there to generate electric power equal to the output of a medium-sized nuclear generator.

Sea-based wind power generators can efficiently use wind because there are no obstacles on the ocean, and they hardly cause any low-frequency noise pollution inherent in such power generation. At the same time, however, there are many hurdles that must be overcome before introducing sea-based wind power generators, such as fishing rights over the sea and environmental assessment. Windpower spent much time on efforts to build mutual trust with local fishermen affected by its project. The company also uses generators manufactured in Ibaraki Prefecture.

Each wind power generator consists of 10,000 to 20,000 parts and the installation of such generators can lead to the promotion of local industries and the creation of jobs for local residents. If electric power companies and local businesses cooperate in building wind power generators, it will lead to increased money flow in the region, vitalizing the local economy.

Some business leaders said such expectations are overly optimistic. However, now is the time for us to pay attention to the advantages of wind power generation rather than disadvantages. As a late starter in the introduction of such environment-friendly energy, Japan should learn from examples overseas.

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