Wind in Japan

In 2012, the Japanese government introduced a feed-in-tariff program aimed at promoting the use of renewable energy. While promoting solar, Japan’s largest non-hydro renewable source, has been the main target of the program, wind projects have received support as well.

Since then, Japan has seen an increase in the number of wind projects, both on- and off-shore. This article will take an in-depth look at the state of wind energy in Japan including government policy, as well as notable projects and companies in the sector.

The State of Wind Generation in Japan

In 2017, wind power accounted for 0.6% of Japan’s total power generation. Excluding hydro, it was Japan’s second largest source of renewable power after solar, which accounted for 5.2% of the total in the same year.

According to Japan’s current Strategic Energy Plan, which was published in 2018, the government aims to more than double the share of wind power generation, to 1.7% of the total, by FY2030. Considering that at the end of October 2020 the recently appointed Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, declared that “Japan will strive to become a carbon neutral society, with zero net emissions, by 2050,” it would not be surprising if an even more ambitious target were presented in the country’s next Strategic Energy Plan, due to be published in 2021.

In terms of capacity, as of July 2020, there were 3.65 GW of wind power installed in Japan spread across 339 power plants. The current Strategic Energy Plan calls for increasing that capacity to around 10 GW by FY2030. The Japan Wind Power Association, on the other hand, has more aggressive targets and, according to Jin Kato, its President, “sees huge potential for building large-scale offshore wind farms, 128 GW potential for fixed-bottom and 424 GW for floating.” The association’s current targets include 10 GW of off-shore wind capacity by 2030 and as much as 45 GW by 2040.

Japanese Government’s Promotion of Wind Power

While solar has been the main target of the feed-in-tariff program introduced by the Japanese government in 2012, it has also been used to support the growth of other renewable sources, including wind. As of June 2020, wind projects comprised 0.05% of the 3,345,802 live FIT projects (That number includes residential rooftop solar). In terms of generation capacity, though, those wind projects accounted for as much as 6.6% of the 65.83 GW total.

In addition to the FIT program, which was designed to promote the use of renewables overall, the Japanese government has also introduced policies targeted specifically at wind power generation.

The most notable of those is the Law for Utilization of Maritime Zones for Renewable Energy, which has identified 11 areas as being ideal for off-shore projects. Four of those zones, off the shore of Noshiro City, Mitane Town, and Oga City in Akita Prefecture; Yurihonjo City in Akita Prefecture; Choshi City in Chiba Prefecture; and Goto City in Nagasaki Prefecture, were identified as being immediately ready for the development of such projects. This Law allows off-shore wind farm operators to bid for the right to use the designated areas for up to 30 years.

Ongoing Projects Off-Shore Wind Projects in Japan

Locations off the coast of Akita Prefecture are some of the most active areas in wind power projects in Japan.

In 2016, Marubeni Corporation, Tohoku EPCo, Cosmo, Chubu EPCo, and a number of other companies jointly established the Akita Offshore Wind Corporation which is working on Japan’s first large-scale off-shore wind project. By the end of 2022, the company aims to commission about 140 MW of bottom-fixed wind turbines in Akita Port (13 turbines) and Noshiro Port (20 turbines). The generated power will be sold to Tohoku EPCo under a 20-year power purchase agreement.

Obayashi Corporation plans to develop an off-shore wind farm off the coast of Akita as well. It started conducting environmental assessment and other regulatory procedures in 2016, and in 2019, it established a joint-venture with Kansai EPCo. The joint venture is expected to commission a 455 MW project in northern Akita in 2024 or later.

Finally, in September 2020, JERA, J-Power, and Equinor ASA, one of the world’s largest floating off-shore wind farm developers, announced that they formed a consortium that will submit a bid for the development of wind projects off the coast of Noshiro, Mitane, Oga, and Yurihonjo.

Other major projects in the wind power promotion areas are underway as well, including:

  • A 1 GW wind farm in Yurihonjo City being developed by a joint-venture comprising of Renova, EcoPower, and JR East
  • A wind farm in Choshi City being developed by Orix and TEPCO
  • A 22 MW wind farm in Goto City being developed by Toda Kensetsu

Japanese Companies in the Industry

A number of major Japanese engineering and trading firms are involved in the development and production as well as import of wind turbines to match the increasing demand in the country.

One of the most interesting developments in this area is the recent announcement by Vestas that it will acquire Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ 50% share in their MHI Vestas joint venture. While this transaction will remove Mitsubishi Heavy one step from turbine development and production, it will also make it, with a 2.5% stake, a major shareholder of Vestas. Additionally, the two companies will establish a different joint venture aimed at selling wind turbines in Japan.

Other major Japanese companies involved in wind turbines include Hitachi, which develops wind turbines jointly with Enercon, and Toshiba, which sells Senvion’s wind turbines in Japan. Foreign companies including Principle Power from the United States and WPD from Germany have established Japanese offices as well.

Lastly, Japanese companies have been increasingly active in the industry internationally as well. Some such examples include:

  • Osaka Gas and Idemitsu Kosan’s investment in Equinor’s Hywind Tampen wind farm in Norway
  • Mitsubishi and Chiyoda’s investment in the Portuguese WindFloat Atlantic project
  • JERA’s investment in Taiwan’s Wind Plant Formosa 1
  • Tokyo Gas’ investment in floating wind power technology company Principle Power

A Promising Renewable Source

While wind power generation in Japan is facing a number of challenges, including high levelized cost of electricity compared to other countries, those challenges are expected to be gradually overcome.

The Japanese government is desperately looking for ways to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and wind generation is one of the main ways it can achieve that goal. Being an archipelago with mountainous terrain, that is especially the case with off-shore rather than onshore wind generation.

As was indicated in this article, numerous large-scale wind farms are being planned or already under construction and more are expected to be announced in the future. With that, we will keep monitoring developments in this sector and keep you updated both through our blog as well as our J-Enerlytics monthly report.