Wednesday, July 13, 2011

CASE STUDY: Japan's Winds of Change

Yokohama Harbor, showing a Vestas V80-2.0MW wi...Yokohama Harbour - Image via WikipediaFrom The

ONE reason for Japan’s reliance on nuclear power — with all its attendant difficulties of building reactors safely in an earthquake zone — is its lack of indigenous energy sources.

Yet it does have one that seems under-exploited, namely the wind. According to a report published in 2009 by the Global Wind Energy Council, Japan, which generates 8.7% of the world’s economic output, has just 1.3% of its windpower capacity. The world’s third-largest economy is 13th in global windpower.

According to Chuichi Arakawa, a mechanical engineer at the University of Tokyo, that is because Japan has too much of the wrong sort of wind. The typhoons which regularly strike the place are simply too powerful (in 2003, for example, such a storm crippled six turbines on Miyakojima, near Okinawa). And the ordinary winds are less useful than they might be because Japan is so mountainous.

For engineering reasons turbines must be mounted on vertical poles, regardless of the slope of the landscape. But on a hillside that means the wind (which tends to follow the ground when it is close to the surface) hits the blades of the turbines at an angle, instead of face on. That makes power generation less efficient.

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