In march 2011, immediately following the triangular disaster of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi reactor, Japan promptly shut down all of the nation’s 54 nuclear reactors. From the standpoint of safety, the action seemed rational, but many wondered how an industrial nation, and one so freely associated with technology, would replace such a sizable source of electricity.

The answer seems to have been floating just offshore from where the meltdown occurred.

Even before the crisis, the University of Tokyo, along with a consortium of major Japanese corporations, had been planning a major wind-power development in the waters off the coast of Fukushima. Research on the project began 10 years earlier.

Prior to the tsunami disaster, the project was scheduled to reach demonstration phase by 2016. Afterward, that target date was moved up to coincide with recovery efforts.

The plan is to initially construct one 2-megawatt (MW) and two 7-MW wind turbines on floating platforms, each feeding into an offshore substation by the year 2015. While the initial plans may seem modest enough, the nation has much more ambitious goals for the project. By 2020, an additional 140 floating turbines will be installed, creating a 1-gigawatt (GW) wind farm. If completed as planned, it will be the largest of its kind in the world.

The Japanese government has provided 12.5 billion yen (about $157 million U.S.) for the project. The floating structure design was incorporated into the project because the waters are too deep for traditional bases, which are usually fixed on the bottom in shallow-water locations.
The project also is saving costs by tapping into the existing grid connected to the Fukushima nuclear plant. The abundant wind also creates ideal conditions for the project.

Takeshi Ishihara is a professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at Tokyo University’s Todai Graduate School of Engineering, and the manager of the project. Not surprisingly, he is bullish on the future of offshore wind power in Japan.

According to Ishihara, the potential capacity for offshore wind power generation in Japan could reach 1,570 GW, more than eight times the current capacity of the nation’s power companies.