Japan Wind looks to triple market share

TOKYO, JAPAN - Japan Wind Development Co., the country's third-largest wind-power generator, plans to triple market share by building more battery-supported plants capable of supplying electricity even on breezeless days.

President Masayuki Tsukawaki wants to capture a third of the country's market by 2020, he said in an interview aired on Bloomberg Television recently. The Tokyo-based company, known as JWD, is in talks with utilities in the U.S., Europe and Canada to build plants like its wind farm at Futamata in northern Japan, a world first, where power is stored in batteries and released to the grid during peak demand.

The technology enables the company to sell electricity when prices are highest, even if the wind isn't blowing. JWD is doing final tests at Futamata and is due to start full commercial power output this year. Tsukawaki said the plant is the linchpin of JWD's push to triple profit by the year ending March 2011.

“With the Futamata project making a smooth start, it's possible to achieve that target,” said Nobuyoshi Sato, an analyst at Ichiyoshi Securities Co. in Tokyo. “We need to wait and see how the project will contribute to full-year earnings and how much progress the company can make in building more battery- supported farms domestically and abroad.”

The Futamata plant, one of 24 wind-power plants operated by JWD, is supported by NGK Insulators Ltd.-made sodium-sulfur batteries, which have 4.3 times the capacity of conventional lead-acid devices. The units help JWD release power to the grid on demand, enabling it to sell through wholesaler Japan Electric Power Exchange at a better price than local power companies.

“The battery-supported wind farm is yielding profit, even though we are still at the testing stage,” Tsukawaki said. “We have been selling at prices five to seven times higher than the level at which we have been selling to regional utilities.”

The power exchange, which opened in 2005 as part of efforts to deregulate Japan's electricity market, allows utilities and new entrants to trade 1 megawatt-hour lots of electricity for delivery in the next 24 hours or monthly as far as a year ahead. JWD joined the bourse in 2007.

JWD sells power generated at Futamata at an average price of 20 yen per kilowatt-hour through the exchange compared with about 3 yen a kilowatt-hour paid by regional utilities.

“I want to allocate most of our resources to building new battery-supported wind farms,” said Tsukawaki, who founded the company in 1999. “These projects will boost cash flow and strengthen our earning power.”

Tsukawaki declined to say how much the company will spend on expansion or how much capacity he aims to create. “We'll see a clearer picture after we finish the test of the Futamata project,” he said.

JWD, which predicts a loss for the first-half of this fiscal year, forecast profit of 1.1 billion yen ($10 million) for the full year, up 68 percent from a year ago, according to the company's statement. Wind-power companies in Japan typically report losses in the first half because there is less wind in spring and summer.

The stock has climbed 27 percent this year. It declined 3.7 percent to trade at 313,000 yen at 2:04 p.m. Tokyo time.

Wind-energy capacity, which amounted to 0.5 percent of global consumption in 2007, will rise by 21 percent a year through 2012 as companies seek sources of power that don't emit greenhouse gases, the Brussels-based Global Wind Energy Council estimated in January.

Former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda announced in June that Japan will start carbon trading on a trial basis in the fall as part of efforts to cut emissions of the gases blamed for global warming. The government is still studying the plan and has not said whether it will include mandatory caps on emissions.

Tsukuwaki, 49, who worked previously as an oil trader at Mitsui & Co., said he has long believed that renewable energy would be a focus in the future. “I think we will witness a paradigm shift from a world dominated by oil now that the necessary technology is in place,” he said.

Tsukawaki estimates wind-power capacity in Japan may increase to between 5 and 7 gigawatts in 2020, compared with 1.49 gigawatts in the year ended March 2007. Japan's trade ministry aims to double capacity to about 3 gigawatts by the year ending March 2011.

Shell Plc, Exxon Mobil Corp. and BP Plc. “were the energy majors of the 20th century,” he said. “I believe the energy majors of the 21st century will come from the wind and solar industries. My target is to become a next-generation energy major.”


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