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Japan rethinks wind power

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Although Europe is a vast, sprawling continent bursting with innovation, our Asian cousins are old hands at taking a sideways look at the world – as these ingenious turbines from Japan clearly illustrate. At the recent Yokohama Renewable Energy Exhibition, Japanese technology threwup some exciting developments for the sector, including this revolutionary turbine system that could turn wind energy production on its head.
     W   W   W .   P   E   S .   E   U .   C   O   M 107Think tank  Japan rethinkswind power Although Europe is a vast, sprawling continent burstingwith innovation, our Asian cousins are old hands at takinga sideways look at the world – as these ingenious turbinesfrom Japan clearly illustrate. At the recent YokohamaRenewable Energy Exhibition, Japanese technology threw-up some exciting developments for the sector, including thisrevolutionary turbine system that could turn wind energyproduction on its head.     P   E   S  :   E   U   R   O   P   E 108Think tank  At the end of 2009, the worldwidecapacity of wind power generators stoodat 159.2 gigawatts, generating 340TWh per annum (equivalent to about 2per cent of worldwide electricity usage),according the World Wind Energy Association’s annual report. Much of thepotential increase in renewable energyaround the world can come from windbut signicant investments will needto be made, including in offshore windfarms.To cope with various social,meteorological and topographicalsituations, wind technology hasdeveloped much over the years. Notablesteps are the growth in the size of rotors,allowing a higher volume of electricity tobe generated; the installation of variable-speed turbines with rotors capable ofhandling increases and decreases in windspeed, thus mitigating power uctuationand noise pollution; and constructionof offshore oating turbines to harnessconsistent and strong winds, some ofwhich are now, at pilot stage, capable ofproducing 5.0 megawatts of electricity. At the Yokohama Exhibition, one ofthe most noteworthy advances inwind technology, the Wind Lens, hasalready seen the light of day. The namederives from the lens of a magnifyingglass because, in the same way that amagnifying glass can intensify light fromthe sun, wind lenses concentrate the owof wind. The structure of the wind lens isrelatively simple; a large hoop, called abrimmed diffuser, intensies wind blows torotate the turbine located in the centre. Verication experiments show that windlens turbines produce three times asmuch electricity as those without a hoop. According to Professor Yuji Ohya fromKyushu University, even a gentle breezecan accelerate the revolution of theturbines considerably. The 2.5 metre-wide blades can, with a wind speed ofve metres a second, provide a sufcientamount of electricity to power an averagehousehold.Wind lenses, given their efciency, canapparently miniaturise the size of windturbines and hence reduce constructioncosts. They can also help improve safety,reduce noise pollution and therefore makethe technology more accessible in urbanenvironments – or so it is claimed.Though wind lenses presently cost moreto manufacture, due to the materialsneeded for the additive loop, Professor Ohya says “the merit of two- or three-foldincrease in power output leads to higher cost performance.” Furthermore, he iscondent that the cost performance willcontinue to improve.Despite its merits, even if thistechnology does enter the market in Japan, it may not be easily adoptedby other countries, due to differingintensities and directions of windconditions (in Japan, coastal winds tendto be quite weak most of the year).However, depending on developments inthe architecture and design of offshorewind farms, and in combination with thegeographical conditions of the Japanesecoastline, an increase in energyabsorption could be had. Prof. Ohya sayshe expects that if large offshore oatingwind farms are realised (see illustration)wind energy will go mainstream. InEurope, for example, the European WindEnergy Association believes that it wouldtake € 2.4 billion (US $3.3 billion) investedin ships in order to provide for thepredicted growth of offshore wind farms.“As you know, wind turbines and solar plants need a wide area to produce bigelectricity,” Ohya says. However, hepoints out that though Japan is a narrowland, it ranks amongst the countriesof the world with the largest offshoremaritime boundary areas (or ExclusiveEconomic Zones). Thanks to: Our World 2.0. Images courtesy ofthe SCF Committee.
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