Digital Tech to Reduce Costs of Offshore Wind Power

6 February 2024

Japanese version: 1 October 2023

Yasushi Kojima
Energy and Sustainability Division


  • Japan needs to get the operation and maintenance (O&M) costs of offshore wind power down
  • The best way to do that is to use digital technologies to boost the operational rate of turbines
  • A collaborative approach to accumulating data will motivate operators to leverage digital tools

Motivations and barriers for regular development of offshore wind farms

Policymakers working on Japan’s offshore wind energy roadmap are mulling ideas for raising the number of offshore wind energy installations in the seas around Japan as far out as its exclusive economic zone. Their aim is to have up to 45GW of offshore generation capacity online by 2040. One thing they need to look into if Japan is to continuously develop more offshore capacity is how to lower the costs of wind power. Operation and maintenance (O&M) costs account for about one-third of the total, making them a prime candidate for reduction.

It is impractical to station personnel at turbines or to frequently visit them, increasing the risk of delays in getting them back up and running after something goes wrong. Large-scale repairs push O&M costs up even higher. Initiatives in Europe, where development of offshore wind is proceeding at a rapid clip, might provide hints for solutions.

European advances in digital-tech deployment

The Europeans are leveraging digital technologies to reduce O&M costs, specifically in monitoring turbines, detecting impending equipment failures, and forecasting remaining operational life. The technologies they use include inspection tools that put AI to work analyzing data collected from control systems and vibration sensors as well as huge volumes of images taken by drones and robots. This reduces how much time and labor is needed for inspections and maintenance, cuts the loss of generation capacity during downtime, lowers the lifecycle cost, and ultimately extends operational life of kit.

In Japan, wind turbine maintenance is usually done by the manufacturer under contract to the developer, with the manufacturer retaining a full grip on the process. But in Europe, developers formulate their own O&M approaches, leveraging digital technologies to perform preventive maintenance and increase the operational rate of turbines. One result is numerous instances of developers doing a better job than manufacturers of lowering costs.

Steps to use data on turbines effectively

Before anyone can get started leveraging digital technology in Japan’s offshore wind energy arena, though, they will need a way to amass data from wind farms—a feat not without obstacles. The first is limitations on data collection imposed by manufacturer contracts.

In the early stages of developing offshore wind, entities generating power will likely be locked into long-term guarantee contracts with foreign turbine manufacturers. Since the terms of access to turbines and how data on them is collected and shared are usually worked out when contracts are drawn up, developers will have to negotiate conditions that don’t restrict their ability to collect data.

Further, moving forward it will be necessary to build a consensus for collaborative approaches to using the data. Allowing data to be amassed for analysis will make it possible to develop applications useful for AI-driven improvements to turbine operation.

But manufacturers are usually not too keen on third parties’ looking at data on their products, which means they are likely to impose restrictions on its sharing. If developers want manufacturers to let them accumulate turbine data, they will have to define the issues that coordinated sharing would help solve and clarify why they want to aggregate the data. These would have to be serious concerns shared by all parties with an interest in the future of turbine O&M—things like the characteristics of lightning strikes peculiar to Japan, how to deal with blade leading-edge erosion*, and ways of improving the precision of simulation models incorporating wind condition data from turbines at sea.

When considering the future of offshore wind generation in Japan, it would thus behoove all interests to view finding more-sophisticated O&M strategies as an issue to be resolved for the greater good. They should place greater import on collaborative initiatives to share and use data in ways that dovetail with Japan’s digital transformation.

* Particulate-induced deterioration of leading-edge surfaces on fast-spinning turbine blades