Attention has focused on natural, environmentally friendly energy since last year’s Tohoku disaster. That’s good news for Kyushu, because the region has a great deal of potential in the natural energy sector. One reason is the nearby volcanic belts, which can provide geothermal energy. Agriculture is still the mainstay industry, and that is a source for biofuels. There are also many companies and plants in southern Fukuoka Prefecture with advanced solar cell technology.
Though it’s not well known, an advanced trial is underway in Hakata Bay for the use of natural energy resources. It involves the generation of wind power on the sea using a wind lens turbine developed at Kyushu University. While there are many large wind power generating sites overseas, it is difficult to build them in Japan because space is limited. There are also problems with efficiency because wind speeds are generally low, and wind direction frequently changes.
Kyushu University Prof. Yuji Oya was instrumental in the development of the wind lens turbine, which has an unusual shape — it looks like a large ring has been placed around a conventional windmill. This enables efficient power generation even when the wind is light. It reportedly makes little noise during its operation, and its compact size allows it to be placed in more locations. Installing them on the sea, where the winds are usually strong, could result in the generation of a large amount of power.
The trial began last December by Kyushu University, the Environment Ministry, and Fukuoka City involves placing wind lens turbines and solar panels in Hakata Bay near Uminonakamichi Seaside Park. They’re about 600 meters from land, so people interested in what they look like can easily see them with the naked eye. If the trials are successful, it could result in an important new energy source for Japan, which has little open space but is surrounded by the sea.
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn160, Mar. 2012)