Technology key to addressing Japan’s energy challenges

Japan is increasingly focusing on renewable power sources as it pushes to move away from nuclear energy. “By taking up cutting-edge technologies, Japan can be a catalyst for the development of new energy technologies, especially in the area of offshore floating wind turbines and grid transmission and distribution systems,” says Bjørn Tore Markussen, Chief Operating Officer for DNV KEMA Asia.

Speaking ahead of the high-level Norwegian delegation visit to Tokyo this week led by Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, Markussen, the head of DNV KEMA operations in Asia, was upbeat about Japan’s ambition to obtain at least 30 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. “Japan has undoubted potential with its enormous natural resources and strong culture of innovation. With its new strategy to increase the renewable share well into double digits, Japan could act as a catalyst for the development of new energy technologies. Offshore wind, solar, wave and tidal power, biofuels, energy storage, electric vehicles, smart grids and the development of energy systems are areas on which the Japanese plan focuses. This could well bring new technology quickly through the critical and often expensive maturing process and make it commercially competitive.”

Energy gap

Japan currently has only two nuclear reactors out of 50 in operation after the Fukoshima disaster last year. It is estimated that approximately USD 100 million per day is being spent on imported LNG to replace the power deficit, giving Japan a trade deficit. In addition, Japan continues to face a situation where the supply and demand of electricity is constrained.  Without stable provision of electricity, the foundation of Japan’s affluent lifestyle could lose stability and the ability to bolster domestic industrial activities. In an effort to address the challenges, the world’s third-biggest economy has recently approved renewables incentives that could unleash billions of dollars in clean-energy investment.

Johan Sandberg, Head of Renewables, DNV KEMA Norway, comments, “With the right  resources and approach, the Japanese developments can become a tipping point for renewable energy in this decade. It is a must-win battle. What we have seen Japan do before, leading the world in IT, telecoms, household electronics and vehicles, we might very well see again in the renewable energy sector.”

Floating wind turbines

According to Sandberg the offshore wind industry in particular has the potential to take  significant leaps forward. “The country has relatively deep waters and therefore great opportunities for floating wind turbines, which are still immature technology today. The Japanese projects could take this technology quickly through a maturing phase that would otherwise take much longer.”

Earlier this year Japan installed a small floating wind turbine, in a step towards commercialising the technology. The demonstration project off one of the western Goto islands uses a 100kW turbine which installed on a spar-type floater in water 96-99 meters deep. The Ministry of Environment plans to replace the turbine with a 2MW model next summer before launching larger floating projects by 2016. It aims to have up to 5.6GW floating by 2030, according to the renewable trade magazine Recharge.

Joint Industry Project

DNV KEMA is currently working on a Joint Industry Project (JIP) to develop a design standard for floating wind turbines. “The JIP involves another 11 partners from Europe, Asia and the United States. The recently developed DNV Guideline for Offshore Floating Wind Turbine Structures addresses some key issues involved in the design of floating wind turbine structures and is a first step towards a design standard for such structures. The JIP, which will be completed early next year, will result in a fully-fledged standard that will cover the design, construction and in-service inspection of floating wind turbine structures,” says Sandberg.

“We are committed to drive the industry forward through development of new standards, specifications, guidelines and cutting edge knowledge often together with key industry players.  Indeed, this JIP is a leading example of how industry and regulators can work closely together to accelerate the implementation of new technologies and industry solutions that one single player cannot do alone,” asserts Markussen.

Crucial connections

Japan’s decision to sharply increase its renewable energy targets after deciding to phase out nuclear power has been welcomed by the industry. However, DNV KEMA’s Global Director of Electricity Transmission & Distribution, Dr Gunnar Heymann, is quick to point out that integrating renewable energy resources into the energy infrastructure “is no quick fix”.

“While finding the right technological generation concepts for the intended renewable energy resources can be challenging, their integration into the transmission and distribution networks also plays an important role in Japan’s new energy concept,” he points out.

“The energy transition to systems with a 30 to 40 per cent renewables share is technically feasible. However, smart grids are needed to accommodate more renewables, leading finally to bi-directional power and information flows. Here, Japan’s industry can use its great advances on the information technology side,” says Dr Heymann, adding, “As simple as it is, the power system remains an interconnected physical system. Therefore, the lessons learned from best practices in the world’s other main energy markets could help stakeholders in the Japanese energy sector to achieve these ambitious goals.”

“The years ahead are going to be a major transition period.  Japan needs to take the next generation of renewable technologies and scale them up,” says Markussen, concluding, “As the level of activity in renewables increases, there will be a need for more common standards to professionalise the industry and that’s where we come in. We think the position DNV KEMA has in this business in Asia and globally will be crucial to supporting Japan reach its ambitions.”

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