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Japan Pursuing Unprecedented Floating Wind Power Plant

Japan is planning to attach turbines onto barges to build the world’s largest commercial power plant using floating windmills. The country is determined to overcome the engineering challenges of this unproven technology to reduce its reliance on atomic energy.

Marubeni, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Nippon Steel and others are collaborating on constructing a 16-megawatt pilot plant off the coast of Fukushima, site of the nuclear accident prompted by the deadly tsunami. It’s possible the project could be expanded to 1,000 megawatts, making it bigger than any wind farm offshore or on land.

Senior Vice Environment Minister Katsuhiko Yokomitsu says, “Japan is surrounded by deep oceans, and this poses challenges to offshore wind turbines that are attached to the bottom of the sea. We are eager for floating offshore wind to become a viable technology.”

Japan, which has the world’s third-biggest economy, is working to diversify its energy portfolio after last year’s earthquake and tsunami crippled Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear station. Other countries including the UK, the United States, and South Korea are also testing floating windmills.

The downside is that the technology is much more expensive than most fossil-fuel or renewable energies. Research indicates capital expenditure is about $1.7 million a megawatt for an onshore wind project and $5.5 million a megawatt for offshore.

Statoil ASA (STL) currently has the largest floating project, a 2.3-megawatt Hywind turbine off the coast of Norway, which cost $29 million a megawatt.

Morten Eek, a Statoil spokesman told Bloomberg: “Hywind is a 10-year project from the drawing board in 2001 to when we were done with the demo period last year. In a commercial phase, the costs will be significantly lower based on the experience from the demo project.”

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