Japan switches on first new geothermal power plant in 23 years

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Japan’s 46MW Wasabizawa Geothermal Power Plant begins commercial operation, marking its first new large-scale geothermal power station in 23 years.

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Japan’s 46MW Wasabizawa Geothermal Power Plant began commercial operation on Monday, marking the country’s first new large-scale geothermal power station in 23 years.

Located in Yuzawa city in the Japanese Akita prefecture, the Wasabizawa Geothermal Power Plant is a joint project between Electric Power Development (more commonly known as J-Power), Mitsubishi Materials Corporation, and Mitsubishi Gas Chemical Company.

The project has been in the works since May of 2015 and is supported by Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation which provided debt guarantee for the geothermal resource development funding.

And while it’s Japan’s newest geothermal generator, it is only the 7th largest such plant in a country that counts geothermal as one of its most attractive renewable energy resources.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in July of 2018 published figures which suggested Japan’s geothermal reserves amounted to the equivalent of 23 GW – the world’s third-largest store.

As we have reported on RE, Japan has been compelled to make a sharp turn into renewables, since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster that led to meltdowns at Tepco’s ruined Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, and the consequent shutdown of all of Japan’s remaining 48 nuclear reactors.

Last year, Tepco President Tomoaki Kobayakawa told the Nikkei Asian Review that the company planned to pour tens of billions of dollars into between 6-7GW of renewable energy projects both in Japan and abroad, including offshore wind and hydro power.

Geothermal power is not new to Japan, and in fact pre-dates many other renewable energy sources, with the country’s first geothermal plant opened in 1924 in Beppu, on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu. The Beppu geothermal plant not only provided power but was also used to heat houses and cook food in restaurants.

It wasn’t until 1952, however, that Japan’s first commercial geothermal power plant was opened, the Matsukawa Geothermal Power Plant which started out life as a 9.5 MW power plant, which amounts to around 40% of its current output.

Not only is Japan home to significant geothermal reserves (though lacking in active projects, as geothermal provides only 0.2% of Japan’s electricity) but it is also home to the world’s largest supplier of geothermal turbines – Toshiba, as well as competitors Mitsubishi and Fuji.

Japan is also one of the world’s largest developers of geothermal projects outside of the country, with projects recently completed in Indonesia and Kenya.

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