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Saturday, March 19, 2011

How well did the Japanese wind farms really do?

Another topic about the Japanese earthquake and tsunami is being passed around like crazy right now.  It's supposed to be a "good news" story.  The one I'm seeing the most at the moment is another HuffPo piece, Battle-proof Wind Farms Survive Japan's Trial by Fire.

Did they really?

The story doesn't actually give a lot of information - but it does seem to imply a lot.

The facts, according to this story:
  • the wind industry is "still functioning and helping to keep the lights on."
  • there has been no wind facility damage reported by wind association members
  • this includes the "semi-offshore" Kamisu wind farm, which is located "about 300 km from the epicentre of the quake."
  • most wind turbines are fully operational, though 3 are off line due to grid damage, and that one particular wind farm (Kamaishi) was unaffected by the tsunami due to being 900m above sea level.
  • wind farm owners have been asked to "step up operations as much as possible"
  • stocks for wind farms have gone up
Oh, and the Tokyo Electric Company, which also owns the damaged nuclear facilities is probably very happy that they have a diverse portfolio that includes wind farms.

Somehow, that last bits sounds really... wrong to me.

What is implied is that, right now, the Japanese wind farms are currently the only reliable source of electricity for Japan - or at least in the affected area - and that they're more earthquake proof than nuclear power plants.  At least that's how it seems to me.

What we don't know:
  • were these wind farms affected by both the earthquake and the tsunami (though we do know that one specific wind farm was not affected by the tsunami)
  • how many wind farms Japan has
  • where these wind farms are located, particularly the Kamisu wind farm
  • how much of Japan's energy needs are met by wind farms, and are these wind farms truly meeting these needs.
We're also not being told how close the affected nuclear plants are to the epicentre of the quake, nor how many nuclear plants, or any other electricity generating plants, Japan has.

The article neglects to mention another important point.  While the Fukushima plants were damaged by the earthquake, they were not endangered by it.  Had they been affected by only the earthquake, there would have been no danger of a meltdown.  What the plants couldn't withstand was the tsunami on top of the earthquake.  Age of the plants was another factor; they were not built to the same standards as newer facilities.  There is also apparently a human element involved that potentially goes back years, but I'm not going to touch that area at all.

Well, let's see if we can find out some of this information.  First off, where is the Kamisu wind farm, with its "semi-offshore" turbines.  The article makes no mention, though there is one photo of the Kamisu wind farm showing what looks like 6 turbines.  After a bit of digging, I found this map.  Select a country from the drop down menu on the right hand side, and it will show the Japanese wind farms.  You can then select Kamisu.  The Kamisu wind farm is in the Kanto region.  If you zoom in, you can see that the wind farm is located at a small spit of land sticking out into the ocean.  To see where that is in relation to the epicentre of the quake and the affected nuclear power plants, I found a clearer map.  I've taken a screen capture and added an arrow to show approximately where the Kamisu wind farm is.

You'll note that 300 km is quite a bit farther away from the epicentre of the quake itself than the Fukushima nuclear facilities.  It is not one of the areas hit the hardest by the earthquake, though at 8.9 magnitude, it certainly would have been affected strongly.  Also, noting the bulge of land where the nuclear reactors are located, it's clear why that area was hit so hard by the tsunami.  I notice another nuclear symbol much closer to the epicentre, but there doesn't seem to be any concern about it.

How did the tsunami affect the area the Kamisu wind farm is located?  Though I'm finding some references to the area, and it does seem to have been hit hard, there's nothing about how badly the wind farm itself had been hit by the tsunami.  If someone else can find that information, please pass it on to me.

Next questions; how many wind farms does Japan have, how many wind turbines are at the Kamisu wind farm, and how much energy do these wind farms provide for Japan?

For the first part, I found this image.

The Kanto region has only 13 turbines.  The Tohoki region is closer to the epicentre and has 54 turbines, but there's no mention of how they've been affected by the earthquake, nor do we know if they're close enough to the coast, or low enough, to have been affected by the tsunami.

As for the Kamisu wind farm itself?

It has only 7 turbines.

This is barely even significant.  Why is this wind farm in particular noted in the article?  Is it because it's turbines are semi-offshore? 

Okay, so now we know how many wind farms there are and where the Kamisu wind farm specifically is located.  We still don't know how many turbines were actually affected by the tsunami, though we do know that some are inoperational due to grid damage.

Before I go into how much of Japan's energy is sourced from wind power, let's see if another article being passed around helps any.

Japan's wind industry hails earthquake-resilient wind farms.

Oh, dear.

Let's see what potential problems we see here.

To start with, right near the beginning, it references the HuffPo piece I've already linked to. 

Kelly Rigg, writer of the HuffPo piece, is the chief executive of the Global Campaign for Climate Action

Rigg spoke to Yoshinori Ueda, who is the leader of the International Committee of the Japan Wind Power Association and Japan Wind Energy Association, and is the source for some of the information in the HuffPo piece.

Eurus Energy Holdings, owner of 22% of Japan's wind farms and a subsidiary of the Tokyo Electric Company, is another source.

EU climate change commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, is another source.

And finally, while the bi line states the story was written by "BusinessGreen Staff," a note on the bottom states that it was written by the Executive Director of TckTckTck, also of the Global Campaign for Climate Action. though I suppose that might actually be in reference to Rigg, of the HuffPo piece.

So the sources are not only severely biased towards the anthropogenic climate change agenda, with its attendant anti-nuclear stance, but there's also massive corporate bias from wind energy companies.

In other words, those involved in the "green" business are busily using the disaster in Japan to push their agendas.


Does this piece give us more information?  A bit.  It mentions that 6 wind farms had been offline due to grid failure, but are back up and running again, and that "The resumption of power output came in response to a request from Tohoku Electric Power."  I'm not entirely sure what that means.  Are they saying that, if the TEP didn't send a request, they would have stayed offline?  It also mentions that "most" turbines were working, once again mentioning Kamisu (again, perhaps because it's semi-offshore).  Meanwhile, we still have no real information about how the turbines were affected by both the earthquake and the tsunami.

Okay, back to our final question.  How much are Japan's energy needs met by wind farms.  A related question would be, what are all the sources of Japan's electricity?

For that, I found this graphic.

Japan, it turns out, had a total of 54 nuclear reactors in operation at the time of the earthquake.  There are 4 reactors in the Fukushima plant, and it looks like all four of them are in danger right now. Which means there are still 50 operational nuclear reactors in Japan, including one that was much closer to the epicentre of the earthquake, according to the first graphic I included at the top.  That's about 92% of Japan's nuclear reactors that are still providing power for Japan (or at least to those places that are able to receive power).

You'll note that there is no percentage for wind farms on the pie chart above.  They fall into the "other renewables" cagetory, which also includes geothermal and solar.  How much of that 2% is made up of wind farms, we're not told.

So what can we say about the wind farms in Japan?  Apparently, they all survived the earthquake quite handily - but that's also true of all the other power sources, except the Fukushima plant.  We don't know how they were affected by the tsunami, despite references to the semi-offshore Kamisu wind farm. 

Based on this, were the wind farms truly "battle-proof?"  In truth, we don't even know how severely they were tested.

While I'm glad to hear that the wind farms are able to help provide power to stricken regions, the notion that wind farms are any better than any of the other sources of power in Japan has not, as far as I can tell, truly been proven.  There's a severe lack of data being given.  As for these articles, I find them to be quite misleading, in that they seem to be implying that wind farms are doing better than everything else, when they're only being compared to the Fukushima reactors.  Hardly a reasonable comparison.

On top of that, I find it rather disgusting that they're gloating about how much their shares have improved at a time like this.

update:  Apparently, there are 6 reactors at the Fukushima plant that are off line.  I haven't been online much lately, but this is the first time I've heard talk of more than 4.  

The workers at Fukushima are incredible.


  1. Anonymous6:10 PM

    You might want to read this to get a full sense of the damage done to Japan's electricity infrastructure.

    It might lead you to rewrite some of your own questionable claims.

  2. Anonymous10:12 AM

    I like the way you pick apart an article and look for its weaknesses. I think we both agree that the facts will speak for themselves, yet most reporting is based on unfair comparisons and heresay. I think your facts could be a bit better.
    I heard that other nuclear reactor sites were shut down due to the earthquake. I haven't heard if these reactors were damaged or just shutdown for safety sake, but it seams a bit presumptious to say that the other 50 reactors are all operating. With all the focus at Fukushima, there may be other reactors that have sustained damage but remain under control (unlike Fukushima).
    Let's also note that we don't have any wind generators getting "out of control" and putting the hurt on a catastrophe sticken nation.

  3. Anonymous3:22 PM

    Your map of turbine sites is from 2001. TEN years ago.....It states a total capacity of 160 MW. Way, way off the 2010 capacity of 2304 MW. It's generally more convincing when up to date information is presented to support a position rather than historical data.


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