Wind resource assessments and geological surveys will immediately start at four areas considered to be at closest to being ready for offshore wind tenders being carried out.
Meanwhile, further preparatory work — including ensuring lack of disruption at a UNESCO world heritage site — will be carried out at the remaining seven.
Previously, offshore wind development was only permitted in waters off Japan’s ports and harbours.
Identification of the new potential sites is a step towards holding tenders for offshore wind farms, the country’s wind power association (JWPA) advised.
Japans’s ministries of economy, trade and industry (METI) and land, infrastructure and transport (MLIT) and the Port Authority of Japan identified four ‘advanced’ areas:
- Off Noshiro in Akita prefecture in the north-west of the country’s main island;
- Off Yurihonjo, also in Akita;
- Off Choshi in Chiba prefecture in the south-east of the country’s main island;
- And a site suitable for floating offshore wind off Goto island, part of Nagasaki prefecture, in the west of the country’s south-westernmost island.
In a client alert, law firm Baker McKenzie added that for the four zones to be officially designated for wind power development various additional steps would need to be made.
These include forming a council to examine designation of the site, achieving consensus with fisheries groups, conducting site surveys and completing an environmental survey for each zone.
It also stated that official designations are likely to be made in early 2020, with auctions likely to start in the spring.
The Japanese authorities also identified seven other areas that have the potential for development, but will need more work before they can be considered for tenders:
- Off the north side of Aomori prefecture in the north of the country’s main island;
- Off the south side of Aomori prefecture;
- In Mutsu Bay, also in Aomori;
- Off Murakami, in Niigata prefecture in the west of the country’s main island;
- Off Saikai, in Nagasaki;
- Off Happou in Akita;
- And off Katagami in Akita.
For each of these areas, it will be necessary to identify and coordinate stakeholders, the authorities stated.
Further, at the site off Saikai, it will be necessary to ensure "there is no problem in relation to the World Heritage Site", they added.
Identification of the 11 sites follows the Japanese parliament passing a bill promoting offshore wind late last year. The law came into force on 1 April.
It called for the authorities to identify potential lease areas. Developers could bid for use of these zones and would secure development rights based on a proposed feed-in tariff and suitability of their plan.
Baker McKenzie suggested that identification of the 11 sites "appears to demonstrate a strong will on Japan's part to rapidly build an offshore wind power sector".
It added: "All three prefectures which may host the four 'promising zones' (Aomori, Chiba and Nagasaki prefectures) also appear to have a high level of interest in offshore wind projects, and to have been successful to a certain degree in identifying and consulting with local stakeholders.
"This augurs well for further rapid progress in offshore wind development in these prefectures."
Rasmus Wandrup, senior consultant at K2 Management, added that a number of important questions remain unanswered about Japan’s offshore wind sector.
He said there was still a lack of clarity regarding how much capacity might be allocated to a zone, and how the country’s transmission networks would be upgraded and how this would be paid for. Regulatory frameworks, including a feed-in tariff scheme and decommissioning guidelines, have still not been detailed, Wandrup added.
"In an emerging market like Japan, regulatory uncertainty makes it difficult for developers to predict project costs, which can impact both project business cases and investor confidence, as well as stunt growth," he said.
Additionally, it remains to be seen whether Japan’s workforce, supply chain and port facilities are sufficient to deliver offshore wind projects, Wandrup said.
"To build confidence amongst investors and developers, the Japanese government should make further commitments on supply chain development and meet the infrastructure requirements needed for the country’s offshore wind industry to stand on its own two feet," he added.