Floating wind farms off Fukushima coastline mark a big step in the search for alternative energy sources

In the wake of the March 2011 earthquake and ensuing tsunami that devastatedJapan’s Fukushima prefecture, attention has turned increasingly towardsalternative sources of energy, as Japan seeks to downscale its dependency on nuclear energy.

Recent explorations into the world of renewable energy have led researchers towards wind power as a potential alternative, and indeed, a floating wind turbine station set up just off the coast of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant marks an important step in the downscaling operation.

The floating turbines, which lie 20 kilometres away from the coast where the damaged nuclear power plant is located, could become the world’s largest offshore wind farm, capitalising fully on the huge potential Japan has for wind power.

Japan’s offshore winds reportedly have the capacity to produce over 1500 gigawatts of power, a remarkable figure representing over five times the amount of power currently produced by Japan’s existing energy companies.

Takeshi Ishihara, who leads the Fukushima wind farm project alongside his role as a civil engineer at the University of Tokyo, says of the project: “I believe that the Fukushima (wind) project will help the Fukushima region and Japan as a whole move toward more use of renewable energy.” In the wake of the March 2011 disaster, nuclear energy is no longer seen as a dependable source of energy, and as such, wind power is a source of renewable energy that is increasingly seen as vital to Japan’s search for alternative energy sources.

The idea of an offshore wind farm is relatively novel in terms of renewable energy, but its development is an important one, bringing with it several advantages which set it apart from traditional wind turbine towers.

The construction of normal wind towers is usually done from the seafloor upwards; a costly process which becomes exponentially more costly in waters upwards of 50 metres in depth. In the waters off Japan’s coastline, sea levels lie at 50 metres at the bare minimum, increasing up to 200 metres in some areas. Floating wind turbine stations present a solution to this financial problem, as they come complete with their own substation, and are firmly rooted to the seabed by huge steel chains, allowing them to operate efficiently even in the deepest waters.

And as they are located further out from the coastline, these floating wind farm stations will benefit from the faster wind speeds found off the coast. Walt Musial, principal engineer at the National Wind Technology Centre in Colorado, USA, said of the wind stations: “Japan has lots of deep water off the coast, which is a good wind resource. In order to develop that resource it needs to be at the forefront for floating turbine technology.”

Whilst the Fukushima wind farm project does still have some way to go before its completion, facing obstacles both technologically and politically, it nevertheless marks a positive step in Japan’s quest for alternative sources of energy. Sources suggest that reputed companies such as Marubeni, Mitsubishi and Hitachi are keen to pay for the installation of 140 floating wind turbines, pending a successful pilot of the scheme.

Sources include: The Japan Daily Press

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