A seabird cuts a dignified figure skimming across the water, its wings spread wide and its legs kicking continuously against the surface to keep it steady. On a clear day, the sight of an offshore wind turbine can be just as captivating. The massive blades sweep over the water as gracefully as the bird's wings, while the undersea transmission cables provide support from below.
"Seafloor topography is constantly changing due to currents, and if cables are left unattended, they can become exposed," says Hiromasa Ihara, CEO of Diamond Transmission Corporation (DTC), a London-based, wholly owned subsidiary of Mitsubishi Corporation that was established in 2013. "This equipment is set up in a very harsh natural environment, so dealing with malfunctions and breakdowns is a daily battle. We have to be diligent with our maintenance and inspections."
Ihara's previous assignment was in the Netherlands, where about 25% of land is at or below sea level. Naturally, this has made global warming a serious concern with the Dutch people, and they are anxious for the world to become less reliant on fossil fuels. Hopes are also high for renewable energies in the UK and Germany, where DTC has another office. The problem with wind and solar power, however, is unstable output. "We have to find ways to effectively combine renewables with other energy sources and build multinational grids," says Ihara. "The more widely we use renewables, the more important power transmission business will become."
There has been a boom in offshore wind farm development, but for the good of local societies and the planet, that boom must not be short lived. Ihara and his colleagues know how important it is to establish a solid foundation in this business, so that it can be sustained for generations to come.
What can and must be done today, to ensure that we will have stable wind power 30 or 40 years from now? "I always tell our employees, 'Don't draw a line between what you can and can't do. Keep learning and broadening your expertise, so that you can always provide added value.' Our role may be a modest one, but it's still important, and we have to be sincere in our work and committed to getting better each and every day." Ihara was a coxswain in his university's rowing club, so he knows what it takes to motivate a team.
Europe has many wide, shallow beaches, but Japan does not, making it unsuitable for offshore wind farms. Even so, the shift to renewable energy sources is certain to gain momentum in the coming years, and Ihara is confident that he will one day be able to apply his experience in Japan and other countries around the world.
This article appeared in Asahi Shimbun's "GLOBE" feature of February 4, 2018.