Sunday, June 24, 2012

Japan answers her wake-up call

There is a serious amount of arrogance associated with nuclear power.  The thinking goes something like this: Of course nuclear power is hazardous and difficult which is why only we Americans (French, Russians, Swedes, etc.) are qualified to do it.  When Chernobyl melted down there was a lot of "Well what did you expect?  Russians—especially Russians confused by Marxism—could screw up a two car parade.  So why did they believe they could try their hand at nuclear power?  Of course, we French (Americans, Swedes, Japanese, etc) would NEVER screw up like they did because we are better educated, use better powerplant designs, have a more stable social organization, and are FAR more technologically superior to those bumblers."

The Japanese were especially qualified to make that assumption.  After all, they ARE technologically very gifted—to the point where they began to eat most of USA's industrial lunch.  Moreover, if there was ever a country that had good reasons to embrace nuclear power—it was Japan.  She has almost no fossil fuels.  She has a large population crowded onto a small island that can only survive by being industrially sophisticated.  And compared to some of the technological miracles that happen in Japan on a regular basis, nuclear power generation is actually pretty easy.

And then came Fukushima.  Yes it required a perfect combination of disasters to cripple that plant.  One wag reminded us that the second largest earthquake ever recorded was only the third most serious problem to hit the northern coast of Japan in a 24-hour period.  The Japanese awoke to an ugly truth—a disaster much worse than Chernobyl could befall their nuclear infrastructure!

So now the Japanese have decided to get VERY serious about renewables.  They are going to invest trillions of Yen in easily the MOST difficult renewable scheme—floating wind turbines.  As someone who has developed a serious affection for Japanese technology over the years, I have enormous respect for their abilities.  But Damn!

Well good luck!  If anyone can pull this off, it must certainly be the Japanese.

Floating Windmills In Japan Help Wind Down Nuclear Power: Energy

By Chisaki Watanabe - Mar 30, 2012

Japan is preparing to bolt turbines onto barges and build the world’s largest commercial power plant using floating windmills, tackling the engineering challenges of an unproven technology to cut its reliance on atomic energy.

Marubeni Corp. (8002), Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. (7011) and Nippon Steel Corp. (5401)are among developers erecting a 16-megawatt pilot plant off the coast of Fukushima, site of the nuclear accident that pushed the government to pursue cleaner energy. The project may be expanded to 1,000 megawatts, the trade ministry said, bigger than any wind farm fixed to the seabed or on land.

Japan’s production of wind turbines and parts and maintenance services is forecast to grow from an estimated 300 billion yen ($3.6 billion) a year currently to 500 billion yen in 2030, according to the Japan Wind Power Association.

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

The world’s third-biggest economy is struggling to diversify its energy mix after last year’s earthquake and tsunami crippled Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear station. A few countries including Britain, the U.S. and South Korea are testing windmills that float, a technology far more expensive than most fossil-fuel or renewable energies.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and its partners are positioning themselves for future contracts to develop gear that so far isn’t used in commercial electricity production.

Capital expenditure is about $1.7 million a megawatt for an onshore wind project and $5.5 million a megawatt for offshore, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Statoil ASA (STL) has the largest floating project currently, a 2.3-megawatt “Hywind” turbine off the coast of Norway, which cost $29 million a megawatt, according estimates by Fraser Johnston, an offshore wind analyst for the agency in London, based on company data.  (Note: The $29 million per megawatt is a meaningless number because ALL first experiments are crazy expensive. JL)

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

Statoil is currently considering two test parks off Scotland and the U.S. with 3-5 windmills each, potentially by 2016.

In Japan, the country “certainly has excellent offshore wind resources and huge potential to develop this sector,” Justin Wu, lead wind analyst for New Energy Finance in Hong Kong, said in an e-mail. “But offshore wind is significantly more expensive than onshore wind at the moment.”

Japan, whose island geography and earthquake risk have long shaped its economy, is lagging behind developed nations including the U.S., Germany and Spain in wind energy, which supplied just 0.4 percent of its electricity demand in 2010, according to the International Energy Agency Wind 2010 Annual Report. Ranking as the world’s fifth-largest carbon emitter, Japan is trying to elevate its wind-energy capacity from 2,500 megawatts, the 13th-highest among all nations, according to the Global Wind Energy Council.

Land-based wind-energy development is limited by Japan’s mountains, making offshore developments more viable. The depths of its oceans creates a bigger potential for floating turbine technology, still in its infancy compared with the more conventional method of deploying fixed versions of the machines.

The turbines are mounted on a floating structure that allows them to generate electricity in water depths where bottom-mounted towers cannot be erected easily. The country aims to develop the floating offshore wind turbines for commercialization by March 2017.

The biggest challenge in erecting floating turbines offshore is ensuring the buoyancy mechanisms are stable, and getting fixed lines to the sea floor which can be extended to depths of 200 meters (656 feet).

A so-called feed-in tariff program due to start in July that guarantees above market rates for clean energy including solar, wind and geothermal could boost the development of wind energy, analysts say.

“We believe Japan’s sluggish wind market will experience a kick-start under the FIT,” CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets analysts Penn Bowers and Dean Enjo said in a Feb. 20 report. “Historically, in countries that have implemented FIT schemes it is wind, not solar, that grows the most,” it said, citing Germany and China as examples.

Japan’s production of wind turbines and parts and maintenance services is forecast to grow from an estimated 300 billion yen ($3.6 billion) a year currently to 500 billion yen in 2030, according to the Japan Wind Power Association.  more
Feed in Tariffs worked for Germany...

Pricing Set for Japan's Feed-In Tariff, Goes Into Force July 1 News  06/18/2012

This weekend, Japan approved re-starting two nuclear reactors despite mass public opposition at the same time as announcing pricing for the country's landmark renewable energy feed-in tariff (FiT).

Solar stocks rallied on the premium price that will be paid for solar, which many think will boost Japan to the world's largest solar market.

The FiT could spur at least $9.6 billion in new solar installations with 3.2 gigawatts (GW) of capacity, around the output of three nuclear plants, forecasts Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Japan's FiT will no doubt shore up the world's solar manufacturing industry, but Japanese business groups worry it will raise utility bills and slow economic recovery.

The FiT requires utilities to pay $0.53 cents per kilowatt-hour for 20 years for solar, triple that of China's and almost double that of Germany.

When Germany's latest subsidy cut comes into force, it will be reduced to $0.17-$0.26, depending on size.

Many solar and wind projects have been on hold waiting for this announcement, which is completely in line with prices projected months ago.

"The very attractive rate reflects the government's intention to set up many solar power stations very quickly," Mina Sekiguchi, associate partner and head of energy and infrastructure at KPMG in Japan, told Bloomberg.

"We hear every day a new announcement of a megawatt-scale project," Izumi Kaizuka, a solar industry analyst at RTS Corp., told Bloomberg.

Last year, Japan ranked sixth worldwide for solar installations, adding 1.3 GW for a total capacity of 5 GW, providing about 1.6% of its electricity. That's expected to triple next year, with additions in the range of 3.2-4.7 GW, says says Bloomberg New Energy Finance. One gigawatt supplies about 243,000 homes in Japan.

CLSA Asia-Pacific predicts solar capacity will jump to 19 GW by 2016 and wind capacity to 7.6 GW.

Solar systems costs are much higher in Japan that elsewhere. Chinese firms plan to bring their lower cost solar panels to Japan and compete with domestic companies like Sharp and Kyocera. A residential solar system, for example, costs more than double that in Germany, $6.28 a watt compared to $2.70 a watt.

Japan's FiT also covers geothermal, wind, biomass and hydro, and could expand revenue from renewable energy generation and related equipment to more than $30 billion by 2016, according to investment firm CLSA, reports Reuters.

Wind energy will be subsidized at about half that of solar, still much higher that Germany, where it receives as little as $.06.

Not only is Japan gearing up renewable energy to replace nuclear capacity, but also to avoid the inevitable high costs of oil and liquified natural gas in the future. Nuclear provided 30% of Japan's electricity, and fossil fuels 60% before the meltdown; since then fossil fuels have been supplying almost 90%, the rest from hydro.

The re-starting of two reactors is expected to be followed by more. Viewed as a victory for the still-powerful nuclear industry, the government says it's concerned about having enough electricity for the "summer crunch" and in preventing companies from moving offshore. more

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