Potential major accident on Songa EnduranceFrom Statoil to Equinor

Potential for offshore wind power in Japan

As an advanced society with a big demand for energy, Japan stood out at an early stage as a market for offshore wind power. That has since been reinforced by the country’s ambition to increase its renewables output. Equinor opened an office in Tokyo in 2018 with the aim of entering this market.
By Kristin Øye Gjerde, Norwegian Petroleum Museum
- Flag of Japan. Photo: Savvapanf Photo/Adobe Stock

Equinor considers itself to be a strong player with offshore wind power, using both fixed and floating turbines. The company could report in 2021 that it supplied a million European homes with power from wind farms at sea. Four of these were operational off the UK and Germany, with a number of projects also being pursued off the north-eastern USA and in the Baltic. The world’s first floating wind park was under construction for installation off the Scottish coast. And support structures for floating turbines to be installed in the Tampen area of the North Sea were being built at Vats north of Stavanger. The question was whether the Asian market could be developed.

Japan’s ambitions for renewables

The business district in Tokyo. Photo: Terje S. Knudsen

Japan is a prosperous high-tech society, ranked as the world’s third largest economy. With 126 million inhabitants and much industry, it is also a big energy consumer. But the country lacks much in the way of indigenous energy resources, and 80 per cent of its consumption is met with imported fossil fuels. That makes Japan the world’s fifth largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter.

Over many years, the Japanese government has shown willingness to reduce these emissions. More than that, the country has been a leader in international collaboration on the climate and hosted the Kyoto summit in December 1997. Ranked as the first binding international climate pact, the protocol adopted at that meeting was the forerunner of the Paris agreement. When it came into force on 16 February 2005, 55 states – including Norway and Japan – had reached agreement on specific amounts and deadlines for GHG emission cuts by industrial countries.

As an industrial nation, Japan has placed great emphasis on secure and efficient energy supply. Nuclear power has been a key to ensuring this. In 2010, the government presented a plan for half the country’s energy to come from that source by 2030. But the accident at the Fukushima power station after an earthquake and tsunami in 2011 put a halt to that. All Japan’s nuclear plants were temporarily shut down the following year for safety checks.

The nuclear accident prompted the Japanese to turn their attention to Statoil’s concept for floating wind power. Visiting Norway to film the Hywind project, which is based on such turbines, the Nippon TV channel presented it to 24 million viewers. Takashi Yanagisawa, the journalist covering the story, was very impressed by the technology.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Gimse, Synnøve, 2020, Et reklameshow? En studie av Statoils satsing på havvindkraft, 2005-2017, master’s thesis, University of Oslo: 67.

Japanese policy has moved towards a heavy commitment to renewable energy since the country signed the Paris agreement in 2015. That has led to a particular rise in the use of solar power. Plans call for renewables to account for 22-24 per cent of energy consumption by 2030. The long-term aim is to reduce GHG emissions by 80 per cent in 2050.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Andresen, Steinar, https://cicero.oslo.no/no/utslippsgigantene/japan-ressursfattig-oyrike, accessed 27 October 2021.

Offshore wind potential

The shift in Japan’s policy means that Equinor believes a big potential will exist to develop a market for offshore wind power there. With 6 850 islands, the country has the world’s sixth largest sea area. Since much of these waters are relatively deep, they could be very suitable for floating turbines.

According to the Japan Wind Power Association, the long-term offshore potential for this form of power could be around 600 gigawatts, compared with an installed capacity of about 50 megawatts around 2019.

Given such a big potential, Equinor has considered a presence in Tokyo to be extremely important for developing relations with stakeholders and for securing access to business opportunities in Japan’s offshore wind power sector.[REMOVE]Fotnote: https://www.equinor.com/where-we-are/japan

A megawatt (MW) is a million (106) watts and a much-used unit of power. It is utilised, for example, to specify the capacity of a small power station. A gigawatt (GW) is a billion (109) watts, and used among other applications to specify the capacity of a large power station.

Partnership boost

“Equinor collaboration on offshore wind power in Japan”. Facsimile: VG, Thursday 10 September 2020

A collaboration agreement was entered into by Equinor in September 2020 with two centrally placed Japanese players on participating in Japan’s first large-scale auction of offshore wind power licences. The company was to prepare assessments with partners Jera and J-Power, and submit a joint bid.

Jera is relatively new, created in 2015 as a 50-50 joint venture by two big Japanese power companies. J-Power is a Japanese electricity generator established in 1952 and the second-largest generator of wind power on land in Japan. It is also involved in the offshore wind power market as co-owner of a project in Japan and another in the UK.

Establishing this consortium is wholly in line with Equinor’s renewables strategy, which aims to develop on a large scale in core areas.[REMOVE]Fotnote: https://www.equinor.com/no/news/2020-02-06-climate-roadmap.html, accessed 2 October 2021. This could be the company’s first wind farm off Japan.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Økland, Jens, senior vice president for business development in renewables.

The Japanese government has earmarked the Yurihonjo and Noshiro areas off the Akita prefecture for offshore wind power development. These locations are suitable for fixed turbines.

Equinor envisages opportunities for a continued commitment to both fixed and floating offshore wind farms in Japan, where the surrounding seas are deeper than in other parts of the world.[REMOVE]Fotnote: https://www.equinor.com/no/news/2020-09-equinor-teams-up-for-wind-growth-in-japan.html.

CCS collaboration

In addition to offshore wind power, Equinor’s office in Tokyo is supporting other commercial activities in Japan. These include an industrial collaboration to develop and apply technology for Carbon capture and storage (CCS).[REMOVE]Fotnote: Equinor.com/en/where-we-are/japan.html.

Equinor has participated in a number of research projects on this approach to reducing the carbon footprint of petroleum operations. The aim has been to find solutions for capturing CO2 emissions from various industries on land and transporting them by sea for injection and permanent storage in geological formations 1 000-2 000 metres below the seabed.

CCS is one of the measures recommended by the UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) to limit global warming to 1.5°C. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has said that several billion tonnes of CO2 must be stored every year to be of any help.

Should Equinor get so far that CCS can be realised, it will need industrial partners. Around 2020, the company signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to collaborate on finding practical ways of realising this solution. The companies intended to cooperate in two areas. One involved technical methods for carbon capture, transport and storage below ground. The other focused on ways of producing hydrogen as a motor fuel from natural gas, along with transport solutions for such low-carbon fuels.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Press release, “MoU for low carbon technology collaboration”, Equinor’s website, accessed 27 October 2021.

An industrial partnership in Japan could help Equinor to reach its ambitious goals of decarbonising its own oil and gas production, expand in the wind and solar power sectors, and develop industry-scale solutions for low carbon emissions, such as hydrogen and CCS. 


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