The Fukushima nuclear disaster, sparked by the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan last March, has led the Japanese government to embrace a safer energy source: offshore wind.
Japan seeks to expand its wind energy capacity and compete with European markets in the brand new field of floating offshore wind technology. The country plans to build a pilot floating wind farm with six 2-Megawatt turbines, and then scale up to 80 floating turbines off the Fukushima coast by 2020.
While offshore wind has begun to be used in Europe, to date, it has been dependent on shallow enough water to stabilize the foundation. There is currently an international race to develop floating offshore wind farms, which are the next big step in offshore wind energy as they will allow for offshore wind development even in deeper water.
Floating offshore wind designs are being field tested in the North Sea and Portugal. (Check out this video describing how one type of floating wind turbine is designed and deployed.) Floating wind farms consist of large floating structures that support a spinning turbine, the base of which can be tethered to the ocean floor.
It uses a ballast system to transfer water between pillars to keep the platform stable even in very high seas. The floating farms are assembled on land and then can be towed out to sea to be placed in deeper water locations that have stronger and steadier winds. The ability to place offshore wind farms into deeper waters along with their lack of concrete bases and increased mobility reduces their environmental impact while increasing their production of clean energy.
Japan has responded to the Fukushima disaster in the way that the U.S. should respond to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster – by aggressively pursuing safer, more environmentally friendly energy sources that will allow us to phase out the older and more dangerous ones.
Offshore wind does not risk lives or massive spills of oil or radiation, and the clean energy it produces minimizes the need for harmful emissions that threaten the world’s marine life and coastlines. Public support for offshore wind is extremely strong in many states with 78% approval for this type of energy, but we have yet to see one operational offshore wind farm in U.S. waters. Denmark, on the other hand, installed its first facility more than two decades ago around the same time as the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Let’s not wait for the next environmental disaster to change the way we get our energy. The U.S. has fallen behind the rest of the world, and we need to make sure our decision-makers learn from recent disasters and get the message that offshore wind is far better for our safety, environment and economy than dangerous offshore oil and gas drilling. Show your support for the movement at: windblowsoilaway.org
Matt Huelsenbeck is a marine scientist at Oceana.