Energy Transition

This Japanese start-up has designed a wind turbine that can work in typhoons

Power-generating windmill turbines are seen out a sea.

Cyclonic conditions typically shut down most wind installations. Image: REUTERS/Yves Herman

Rikako Murayama
Reporter, Reuters
Aaron Sheldrick
Journalist, Reuters
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  • A Japanese start-up called Challenergy has designed a wind turbine that works during cyclones.
  • Cyclonic conditions typically shut down most wind installations.
  • Japan experiences on average 26 typhoons and tropical storms a year, meaning the new turbines could provide a reliable source of energy.
  • Renewables are the fastest growing source of electricity generation globally.

As governments and companies globally rush to install as much renewable energy capacity as possible to cut carbon emissions, areas often not suitable for solar arrays or wind farms are opening up for development with advances in technology.

In Japan, a start-up called Challenergy has designed a wind turbine that works in cyclonic conditions, which typically shut down most wind installations, turning them into a potential energy source.

While renewables in general are the fastest growing source of electricity generation globally, in Japan most new renewables capacity has been powered by the sun. Only in recent years has the government started trying to promote wind, especially offshore wind.

But with Japan experiencing on average 26 typhoons and tropical storms a year, and with meteorologists saying they are getting more frequent and more powerful with climate change, the path to development of wind power is generally viewed as tough.

"One of our goals is to turn typhoons into a strength," said Atsushi Shimizu, who founded Challenergy three years after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster sent him on a quest to find a sustainable source of energy.

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"If we can just partially leverage the vast energy brought by typhoons, we can consider typhoons not just as disasters, but as a source of energy," he told Reuters during an online demonstration of the turbines.

Conventional wind turbines have giant propeller-like blades that are growing more vulnerable in cyclonic conditions as they get bigger with technological advances. Challenergy's "Magnus Vertical Axis Wind Turbine" has ditched pointed blades, with their giant sweeping revolutions, for upright square ones that spin on a horizontal axis to the direction of the wind, which helps to more directly capture its energy and makes the structure sturdier.

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In August, the company started a demonstration of a 10-kilowatt tower in Batanes, Philippines, and is aiming to incorporate solar power generation and storage batteries to provide more stable supplies of electricity in the area in the future.

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