Grant Shapps heads to Tokyo to champion British offshore wind

·4 min read
Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, Grant Shapps - Jamie Lorriman
Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, Grant Shapps - Jamie Lorriman

The Energy Secretary is flying to Japan to promote British businesses amid a scramble for offshore wind farm deals worth tens of billions of pounds.

Grant Shapps is due to visit Tokyo in mid-April as the country prepares to auction off licences to develop key areas of seabed.

It will be the first visit by a senior British official since the UK joined Japan in the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

British companies including BP are vying for a share of the potentially lucrative rollout of offshore wind technologies in Japan.

They face opposition from the likes of American behemoth General Electric, which makes wind turbines the size of skyscrapers.

The UK is the world’s second-biggest producer of offshore wind power after China.

It hosts the world’s largest offshore wind farm, Hornsea 2, off the coast of Yorkshire, giving its businesses valuable expertise that diplomats and executives believe will be useful.

Japan is pinning its hopes on renewables such as wind and solar, alongside a revival of nuclear energy – put on hold in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima disaster – in an attempt to strengthen its energy security and reduce reliance on gas imports from countries including Russia.

The country’s first large-scale offshore wind farm only entered service in December but the government has plans to develop many more, with a strategy targeting capacity of at least 10 gigawatts by 2030 and 30 gigawatts by 2040.

Deep coastal waters and frequent earthquakes make the environment a challenging one, meaning the majority of potential projects will need to use turbines on floating platforms – a technology being pioneered off the coast of Scotland.

Tokyo has already held one national auction of seabed licences, with all three sites won by Mitsubishi, and is holding a second due to conclude in the summer. More are expected every year.

Julia Longbottom, the UK Ambassador to Japan, said the shake-up was a huge export opportunity for British firms with expertise in renewable energy that could generate new jobs and investment at home.

She added: “The UK is a leader in wind energy and has got a lot of experience to share with Japan, which is near the beginning of its decarbonisation journey.

“Wind energy is going to take off here, there is a lot of potential and we, the UK Government, are ready to support companies that are interested.

“In terms of the invasion of Ukraine and the energy crisis, our view is that this is a prompt for us all to invest much more in renewables to increase our energy self-sufficiency.

“That's the message we are giving to our Japanese friends... and we would encourage the Japanese government to be looking harder and faster at increasing renewables.”

The Ormonde Offshore Wind Farm, Cumbria, UK - Ashley Cooper
The Ormonde Offshore Wind Farm, Cumbria, UK - Ashley Cooper

Ms Longbottom said UK companies had been “blown over” by interest from the Japanese after flying over recently to attend an industry conference.

They included BP, Arup, OSI Renewables, Marine Power Systems and others.

Ms Longbottom said major unnamed Japanese players are also in talks about potential investments in British offshore wind projects off the coast of Wales.

Some, including Mitsubishi and Inpex, have already bought shares in wind farms off the coast of Scotland.

In parallel, British and Japanese officials are in talks about closer cooperation on nuclear energy, as Tokyo looks to restart nuclear power stations that were previously put on ice in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

It is understood the collaboration will explore whether Japan could use small modular reactors – such as those being developed by Rolls-Royce – as well as other cutting-edge technologies.

Ms Longbottom’s comments came just hours after the UK officially joined the CPTPP a trade bloc including Japan, Australia, New Zealand and eight other nations that now rivals the European Union in clout, following months of intense negotiations.

Japan joined other G7 nations in sanctioning Russia in the wake of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine but the resource-scarce country has maintained involvement in key Russian oil and gas projects – which are exempt.

Those supplies are seen in Tokyo as vital to Japan’s energy security, despite fears that the Kremlin could restrict future supplies or use them as leverage in efforts to weaken the sanctions regime.

Japan is the world’s biggest importer of liquid natural gas.

A spokesman for the Energy Department said: “The UK is a world leader in offshore wind and renewables and that has opened up significant opportunities for UK companies to export their expertise and drive Japanese investment.

“Powering Up Britain shows how we will boost the country’s energy security and independence, create green British jobs and stay at the forefront of the transition to net zero.”