Nuclear power yields to wind, geothermal in Fukushima

By Eric Watkins

LOS ANGELES, Mar. 26 – With the Fukushima nuclear reactor likely to be offline for years to come, if not forever, Japanese industrialists are looking for ways to make up for the lost power supply – and they are looking to experiments in renewable energy.

Under the sponsorship of Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, one consortium of industrialists is participating in an experimental offshore floating wind farm project comprised of three floating wind turbines and one floating power sub-station offshore Fukushima.

The first stage of this experimental project will begin in 2012 and consists of one 2MW floating wind turbine, the world’s first 66kV floating power sub-station and undersea cable. In the second stage of the project two 7MW wind turbines will be added between 2013 and 2015.

NEW INDUSTRY

Fukushima Prefecture expects this experimental project to spawn a new industry in renewable energy and create employment as part of recovery efforts in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

If the idea sounds a little too windy, consider some of the powerful Japanese institutions that are backing it: Marubeni (project integrator), the University of Tokyo, Mitsubishi, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, IHI Marine United, Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding, Nippon Steel, Hitachi, Furukawa Electric, Shimizu and Mizuho Information & Research.

Meanwhile, the Nikkei business daily reports that Idemitsu Kosan Co., Inpex Corp., Mitsubishi Materials Corp. and others have decided to build Japan’s largest geothermal power plant in Fukushima Prefecture. Japan Petroleum Exploration Co. and Mitsui Oil Exploration Co. will also participate, with nine companies to come on board altogether.

With the Environment Ministry easing rules to allow conditional drilling within national and quasi-national parks, the paper said the projected Fukushima facility will be the first such plant in Japan since 1999.

JAPAN’S LARGEST

The facility is expected to generate a total output of 270,000kw or about 25% of the electricity produced by a nuclear reactor. The Fukushima geothermal power plant will be Japan’s largest, beating Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Hatchobaru facility.

The Fukushima plant is due online around 2020, and is expected to supply the electricity needs of 70,000 households. The total project cost is estimated at roughly 100 billion yen.

Current plans call for the facility to be located in Japan’s Bandai-Asahi National Park, which falls under the jurisdiction of several local governments, including Fukushima City, Nihonmatsu and Inawashiro.

To win local approval, the firms plan to prioritize hiring within the community for road and other construction projects, and run tourism promotions once the plant comes online.

JOINT OPERATING FIRM

Meanwhile, depending on community approval, the companies will start drilling in about six locations on an individual basis. Once reserves have been accurately determined, participants will look to set up a joint operating firm.

There is little data on the actual geothermal reserves in national parklands, so by teaming up, they are seeking to hedge risks and develop the resource efficiently.

Japan boasts 23.47 million kilowatts worth of geothermal energy, ranking it third in the world. But it generates only 540,000kw or so through geothermal sources because 80% of the resource lies in national and quasi-national parks, requiring approval for development.

Whether wind and geothermal can become substantial sources of energy for Japan remains to be seen. But with just one nuclear reactor now running out of some 50 or so a year ago, Japan’s energy future will require some serious rethinking.

It seems fairly certain, though, that Fukushima has seen the last of nuclear power forever.

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com

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About Eric Watkins

Eric Watkins is a consultant specializing in oil diplomacy. A former journalist, Mr. Watkins's work has appeared in numerous leading publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, The Financial Times, and specialist media such as Oil & Gas Journal, Middle East Economic Survey (MEES), and Lloyd's List.
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2 Responses to Nuclear power yields to wind, geothermal in Fukushima

  1. Pingback: Watching World Energy: Japan | Oil Diplomacy

  2. Pingback: Watching World Energy Posts

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