Friday, 15 November 2013

Japanese Wind Turbines Offer Both Hope and Fear

Ever since the 2011 earthquake that devastated the Fukushima nuclear reactor in central Japan, the country's nuclear power capacity has been reduced significantly.  The Japanese government is looking at other sources of energy in hopes of abandoning nuclear altogether.  According to the New York Times, one potential source is wind.

The Times says Japan has enough wind offshore to power their entire country, and then some.  Some estimates suggest that they could produce up to eight times more power than they need under normal circumstances.  Moreover, as a renewable power source, the wind could produce that energy without creating a huge carbon footprint.  Unfortunately, it is not as simple or easy as that.

In order to replace just one nuclear reactor, Japan would have to build 140 offshore wind turbines.  Yet they do not have enough shallow water in which to build traditional turbines anchored to the sea floor. One solution is to design and build wind turbines that would float the same way oilrigs do.  The floating turbines would allow Japan to place them virtually anywhere they wanted.

If initial tests of three floating turbines are successful, it is likely the government will go ahead with plans to build more.  How many they build remains to be seen however, with 50 nuclear reactors to replace, you are talking nearly 7,000 turbines scattered throughout Japanese waters.  It is a great source of renewable energy, but one that could have a negative impact as well.

Japanese Fishing Industry


It's no secret that the Japanese rely heavily on commercial fishing for a significant portion of their economy.  Some fear that thousands of floating turbines would drastically alter fishing habitats to a point of severely damaging the industry.  No one really knows the impact that these floating turbines would have because it has never been done before.

The hope is that the turbines would actually help fishing by encouraging colonies of fish and seaweed to accumulate however, even if they do, the largest fishing trawlers would not be allowed anywhere near the wind farms for obvious reasons.  To those who rely on fishing for their livelihood, there is no reasonable way the fishing industry and large-scale floating wind farms can co-exist.

One last thing to consider is the cost of the floating turbines.  Just one is expected to cost as much as eight times more than a traditional anchored turbine in shallow waters or on land.  Wind farm management costs and commercial development would add to the overall price tag as well.

While the floating turbine idea is an interesting one worth pursuing, there are plenty of hurdles to overcome to make the project viable.  And that's just to provide for the general power needs for the Japanese islands.  It says nothing about using the renewable energy to power future data centres, collocation centres and major manufacturing plants.

If it works, it will be a definite coup for the Japanese government.  On the other hand, it could end up being a colossal failure....  time will tell what the outcome will be.

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