An article in today's Daily Yomiuri about a single large wind turbine in Gunma-ken is very frustrating. The headline says "Wind-power station generates losses", and goes on to talk about the money they've lost, but with such an odd collection of numbers that it's hard to figure out exactly what's what.
"The facility was projected to produce 327,200 kilowatts of electricity a year," the article says. Yup, that's what it says. Not "kilowatt-hours", "kilowatts". If we assume that they meant to say kilowatt-hours, that's a year-round average production of 37.352 kilowatts. That seems modest for such a large turbine (there's a photo, it must be at least eight or ten stories high, but it's hard to tell), but the article doesn't give its size or peak output rating. Worse, the turbine generated only 274,000 "kilowatts" in its best year, fiscal 2000, and last year generated only 192,000, less than sixty percent of the planned output.
The article also gives some economic figures -- saying that the Gunma government spent 76 million yen (about three quarters of a million dollars) and the New Energy and Industrial Energy Development Organization (NEDO) kicking in 57 million yen -- but it doesn't say what those costs covered. The losses are listed at five to seven and a half million yen (forty-five to sixty-grand, give or take) a year, but it doesn't say what price was being paid per kWh, what subsidies were in place, what the operating costs are, etc. Wind power in general still requires some subsidies to be economically competitive (until the price of coal and oil go up; it may already be competitive with nuclear, once government supports are factored in). Are the losses after those? Or do they not exist here? I'm not sure.
The article also talks about the "optimum wind velocity for power generation" being 13.5 meters/second. Of course, there is no such thing as a blanket statement; the power generated continues to rise as the wind speed goes up, until the turbine itself begins to be threatened by the winds. Certainly a wind that slow wouldn't be a problem. The article does say that average speeds at the facility have been no more than 3.6 m/sec. (and the power rises with the square of the wind speed, too).
"Its disappointing performance is blamed on a miscalculation of the winds expected in the area," it says. Uh-huh. Nobody knew that at Yoshiokamachi, between Mt. Haruna and the Tonegawa River, there wouldn't be enough wind. I'll bet a little digging would turn up interesting things in the site selection process. The article does seem to say that feasibility studies at Tsumakoimura, Showamura and Harunamachi showed negative results.
Ah, I did find a couple of sites (in Japanese) with some info on the project. It's a 300kw peak output turbine, built by Mitsubishi, and the blades automatically feather in winds above 24m/sec. I don't see at what speed the 300kw is output. One of the articles says this is enough power for 90 regular homes.
This one isn't it, but coming home on the shinkansen the other day, we saw a similar turbine deep in a valley somewhere in Fukushima-ken. It struck us as unlikely that such a location has strong enough winds regularly to make wind power attractive. I've also seen several near the port in Naoetsu, I believe, where it seems to make more sense. Japan as a whole is gradually catching on to wind power, and it's not uncommon to see new houses with small solar arrays on top, too. Maybe there's hope yet.