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Japan Capping Wind Power  

A surge in wind power supply has raised concerns among regional utilities that a greater dependence on natural forces may destabilize their power grids.

Just when it looked like smooth sailing for wind power generation, electric power companies, its main buyers, have placed limits on their purchases, citing the unreliability of the clean energy.

The wind power industry, in more ways than one, has become a victim of its own success.

A surge in wind power supply has raised concerns among regional utilities that a greater dependence on natural forces may destabilize their power grids.

Wind power has been tipped as a key alternative energy source to greenhouse-gas emitting fossil fuel, and initiatives by local governments have led to its introduction around the country.

But with little demand left to fill at electric utilities and little chance of finding other buyers, many projects are likely to be stalled.

In Otsuki, Kochi Prefecture, two local government-backed projects for wind turbine facilities have been left up in the air.

Municipal officials wanted to introduce wind power to provide an economic boost to the fishing town, whose population is both aging and declining.

A Tokyo wind power company started construction of 12 turbines, which can produce 1,000 kilowatts of electricity each, earlier this year.

But just as the firm began testing wind conditions for two other projects, the expected purchaser, Shikoku Electric Power Co., decided to limit the volume of wind power it includes in its grids.

In February, the regional utility put a purchase cap of 200,000 kilowatts, a limit reached in just three weeks by rival suppliers.

Hokkaido Electric Power Co. was the first to limit its wind power purchases. Its 250,000-kilowatt cap, introduced in 2002, was fulfilled by September.

Tohoku Electric Power Co. followed, setting a 520,000-kilowatt cap in September. Only 50,000 kilowatts remain to be bought.

Kyushu Electric Power Co., which plans to introduce a cap in summer 2006, has increased its purchases by 50,000 kilowatts annually in recent years. But suppliers scrambled to get a piece of the action last year, offering to sell a combined 700,000 kilowatts.

Industry officials say wind power suppliers have no other choice but to terminate projects if they cannot find customers. According to the Japan Wind Power Association, as much as 1.7 million kilowatts’ worth of projects did not find purchase contracts from electric utilities in 2003.

The number of wind power facilities increased in response to a government policy to promote clean energy. The government has provided financial support since the late 1990s.

But the rapid growth means that the wind power industry now comprises some 20 private-sector suppliers. The number of local governments participating in a council to promote wind power has also grown to 49.

In terms of generation capacity, wind power reached 910,000 kilowatts as of March, a whopping 10-fold increase from a decade earlier.

Until recently, regional utilities have cooperated by purchasing all of the electricity generated by wind power suppliers.

But introducing too much of the electricity, whose supply can fluctuate wildly, can cause problems for utilities’ power grids.

According to Tohoku Electric, which purchases about 40 percent of wind power generated nationwide, wattage can change between zero to 80 percent of its capacity within a single day.

Electric power companies worry a supply shortfall will result in blackouts, while excess supply may destabilize frequencies, which could cause malfunctions at factories, for example.

To avoid such risks, utilities control supply by monitoring shortages and sufficiencies and compensate by raising or lowering supply at thermal generators by means of computer-controlled systems.

If there is no wind, the utilities must rely entirely on other facilities. And even when wind power can satisfy all of the demand, they must continue operating thermal generators to be ready for any abrupt shortfalls in wind power.

In response, utilities have started discussing the possibility of raising their purchase caps with the government.

Measures currently under consideration include storing wind power electricity in batteries for later use and a system to stop wind turbines when demand is low. But industry officials say both would entail huge costs.


This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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