Expanding Offshore Wind Farms: Japan's Plan to Catch Up with Europe and China

Japan is looking to expand the locations of its offshore wind farms beyond its territorial waters to its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), located 200 nautical miles (about 370 km) from the coast. This move aims to jump-start the country's renewable energy industry, which has been lagging behind that of Europe and China.

Current Offshore Wind Farm Limits in Japan

At present, offshore wind farms in Japan are limited to its territorial waters, which extend up to 22 kilometers from the coast. However, this boundary will be extended to the EEZ, which is three times larger than Japan's land area.

Europe and China's Dominance in Offshore Wind Energy

Japan has been slow in harnessing wind power, unlike Europe and China, who have become leaders in offshore wind energy. Europe has installed an offshore wind capacity of around 27.8 GW, while China has achieved about 26.3 GW. On the other hand, Japan's offshore wind capacity is almost zero, and its domestic manufacturers have withdrawn from wind turbine development and production.

Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has formed a legislative group to encourage renewable energy sources, including offshore wind power. The country aims to produce 10 GW by 2030 and between 30 GW and 45 GW by 2040. However, the government needs to overcome technical and cost barriers, as well as pass necessary legislation to achieve these goals.

The Solution: Opening Up the EEZ

To increase the number of suitable offshore sites for wind power generation, the government plans to open up the EEZ. The Environment Ministry estimates that the number of suitable sites for wind power generation with water depths of less than 200 meters will be three times greater than if they were limited to within 30 km of the coast.

Legal Framework for the EEZ

Countries around the world, including the Netherlands, the UK, and Belgium, have installed offshore wind turbines in their EEZs. South Korea is also planning to introduce floating wind turbines in about 20 locations. However, Japan needs to develop laws to follow suit, as legislation that took effect in 2019 defines offshore wind power locations as within territorial waters. Unlike in territorial waters, EEZs lack a legal framework, making it difficult to coordinate with fishermen and shipping companies. This may raise hurdles for power generation projects, requiring a national response.

The Floating Wind Turbine Solution

Unlike Europe and elsewhere, there are few shallow seas around Japan suitable for mounting turbines. Therefore, the floating type of wind turbine, which is still in the process of international adoption, needs to be successfully used to introduce offshore wind power in Japan. However, in an EEZ, the transmission lines that bring electricity to land are longer, increasing costs. The technology's cost would need to be lowered for it to become more widespread.

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