ORONO, Maine — The devastation of Japan and its energy infrastructure caused by a 2011 earthquake and tsunami has led Japanese officials, researchers and educators to Maine as they plan a future for their nation’s energy supply.
About a dozen delegates from Japan, including Kei Satoh, president of Hirosaki University in Aomori Prefecture, participated in the 2nd Marine Energy International Symposium at the University of Maine on Monday. They joined University of Maine and state officials, including U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and Patrick Woodcock, director of Gov. Paul LePage’s energy office, at the event.
The recent disasters in Japan revealed the dangers of nuclear power and have turned public opinion against reactors as a viable energy source. The crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant continues to leak radiation into the environment. Opinion polls conducted by Japanese news agencies since the disaster found that more than 75 percent of Japanese people distrust nuclear power and were in favor of shutting down all 54 reactors in the nation, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
Aomori Prefecture, at the upper tip of Honshu Island, has a similar climate to Maine, is surrounded by ocean on three sides and has rich marine-based renewable energy potential, according to Munekatsu Shimanda, of the North Japan Research Institute for Sustainable Energy at Hirosaki University.
Satoh said putting those ocean resources to use is a vital next step for Japan, and his university wants to help lead in the push to develop the technology and implement offshore wind and tidal energy.
Tetsuo Yuhara, special advisor to the Cabinet of the Prime Minister, wasn’t able to attend Monday’s event, but wrote in a statement read to attendees that Japan has big goals for an energy shift.
Japan wants 30 percent of its total power to be produced offshore by 2030, according to Yuhara. That will mean producing 10 gigawatts of offshore wind and 6 gigawatts of energy produced by tidal and wave generators. However, the country has fallen behind much of the rest of the world in its research on these methods of power production, according to Yuhara.
That’s why the Japanese delegates are looking to UMaine, which recently put a one-eighth-scale prototype floating wind turbine in Castine Harbor that became the first offshore wind turbine to provide energy to U.S. shores. The university — through the Maine Tidal Power Initiative — also has been heavily involved in efforts to start up a tidal energy industry in Maine.
Christopher Sauer, president and CEO of Ocean Renewable Power Co. founded in 2004, updated the Japanese officials on the TidGen pilot project. Since last September, that underwater turbine in Cobscook Bay near Eastport has been providing the first power from any ocean energy project to the Bangor Hydro electrical utility grid.
The shift to tidal and offshore wind energy won’t be easy, Hirosaki University representatives said. Like Maine, Aomori has a rich fishing tradition, and expects pushback from other energies as it tries to move forward with renewable energy projects. Ocean Renewable Power worked closely with the fishing community in hopes of ensuring that “concerns never become issues,” according to Sauer.
As part of their visit, the Japanese delegates will visit Eastport this week to see the tidal generation project in person.
Woodcock said “changing a country’s energy paradigm” in the wake of disaster is no small task, but the alliance between UMaine and Hirosaki should be “as consistent as the tide.”