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'Dawn' of Asia offshore wind boom lures Japanese trading houses


UNTAPPED offshore wind is luring Japan's biggest commodity houses to invest in projects in Taiwan and at home, buoyed by favourable government policies that support development of the clean power.

Mitsui & Co this month bought a stake in the Taiwanese wind developer Yushan Energy Co that gives the Tokyo-based company a 20 per cent stake in a 300-megawatt offshore project that may cost US$1.8 billion to develop.

Mitsubishi Corp is working with partners to build a separate windmill venture off Taiwan's coast and Marubeni Corp is developing two offshore projects in the northern Japanese prefecture of Akita.

"Asia is at the dawn of development of its offshore wind market," Yoshio Kometani, chief operating officer of Mitsui's infrastructure projects business unit, said. "Taiwan is especially promising as it has favourable natural conditions and the government is taking initiative to improve investment and development opportunities."

Buffeted by strong breezes in the Taiwan Strait, the island has emerged as a hot spot for clean power projects as President Tsai Ing-Wen works to phase out nuclear energy while adding 25 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2025. The island is seeking to boost offshore wind capacity to 5.5 gigawatts over the same timeframe, from just eight megawatts.

In Japan, the government is working on legislation that standardises offshore wind development guidelines and streamline the approval process for new projects. In March, the country's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry updated its offshore wind map with more data on conditions and the agency is accelerating the environmental impact assessment process.

Globally, there are about 18 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity and Europe accounts for more than 80 per cent of that, with the rest mostly in Asia, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). Asia will add 3.5 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity in 2030, more than double the 1.5 gigawatts to be added in Europe the same year, according to estimates in a December report from BNEF.

To be sure, most of Asia's offshore wind development is occurring in China, a place where historically Japanese companies have a small footprint. The world's largest energy user is ranked third globally for offshore wind capacity with about 2.8 gigawatts as of last year, after the UK and Germany, according to BNEF.

Japanese trading houses have been making moves into offshore wind in overseas markets for years, gaining experience to participate in the coming Asia boom. Marubeni owns a stake in a project in the UK and Sumitomo Corp owns parts of two Belgium and two other UK offshore wind farms. BLOOMBERG

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