Photo/IllutrationA wind power generator and a meteorological observation tower, left, off Choshi, Chiba Prefecture (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

If renewable energy is to become a main power source in Japan, the use of wind power needs to be sharply expanded. The share of wind turbines in this nation’s renewable power capacity is much smaller than that of solar panels.

Growth of onshore solar power, the mainstream way to use the energy of air flow to generate electricity, has been slow in Japan. This is mainly because the country is covered by mountain forests across much of its area and surrounded by the sea. On the other hand, offshore solar power, which is easier to operate on a larger scale and growing fast in Europe, is attracting increasing attention.

The government needs to act swiftly to promote the development of this type of wind power by setting rules for the use of sea areas for this clean energy source.

Outside Japan, wind farms are fast becoming mainstream sources of power as costs drop as they get larger.

In sharp contrast, the pace of expansion of wind power has been glacial in Japan. Wind turbines generate less than 1 percent of the nation’s total power output.

The government has set a very modest target of increasing the share to slightly below 2 percent in fiscal 2030. The government needs to raise the target and provide greater policy support.

Currently, only several small-scale offshore wind farms are operating in Japan. But plans to build much larger offshore wind farms have emerged, mainly in the northern Tohoku region and the southernmost main island of Kyushu.

Companies in the wind power industry are calling for a system to allow them to use wider ocean areas for longer periods.

The use of sea areas other than ports is permitted under prefectural ordinances. The periods of use permitted, however, are generally short, ranging from three to five years. This makes it difficult for wind farm operators to craft business and financing plans.

The government drafted a bill this spring to introduce unified rules for the development and operation of offshore wind farms. It would allow the government to designate special areas for the promotion of offshore wind power and publicly recruit businesses to operate the facilities.

Selected operators would be allowed to use the areas exclusively for up to 30 years.

The bill also envisions the establishment of a council to harmonize the interests of wind farm operators and other businesses that have been using the areas, such as fishing businesses and shipping companies.

But the bill was not even debated during this year’s regular Diet session, which was dominated by bitter political battles between the ruling and opposition parties.

The bill needs to be enacted swiftly so that measures to promote offshore wind power based on the legislation, such as designating specific promotion areas, can be taken quickly.

The establishment of a legal framework for the development of offshore wind farms, however, would not remove all major obstacles to growth of this form of renewable energy.

The key problem that should be tackled first is that many renewable power suppliers cannot get connected to the power grid operated by the local electric utility due to scarce transmission line capacity.

The operations of transmission facilities are being reviewed for more efficient use. Besides, it is also necessary to adjust the rules concerning financial burden sharing in a way that promotes the enhancement of transmission facilities in areas where demand for wind power generation is strong.

The process of environment assessment for wind power generation, which usually takes several years, should also be improved.

Measures to shorten the process should be taken, such as conducting simultaneously tasks that do not affect the quality of related research and screening.

In some parts of Europe, governments have made successful efforts to expand wind power by taking the leadership in dealing with certain tasks related to the construction of wind farms, such as securing necessary transmission lines and carrying out required environment assessments.

The Japanese government should learn from these successful policy efforts as it tries to help wind power to take off into sustained growth by eliminating the obstacles to entering the business.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 21