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Energy

Philippines to install its first stormproof wind turbine

Japan startup Challenergy developed the units it hopes to sell to remote islands

Challenergy's wind power generation system can work even when wind speeds reach typhoon levels of 40 meters. (Photo courtesy of the company)

TOKYO -- Japanese wind power startup Challenergy is planning to roll out its first typhoon-proof turbine this year, targeting sales to remote islands such as those in the Philippines and Guam, and aiming to sell up to 100 units next year.

The Tokyo-based company is backed by corporate investors, including Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Venture Capital and Dai-Ichi Life Insurance, and the state through subsidies. With its newly developed Magnus VAWT, or Vertical Axis Wind Turbine, it hopes to secure enough revenue to expand its business.

Instead of propellers which can break off and become dangerous in a storm, the Magnus VAWT uses rotating vertical cylinders that are more stable and can generate a steady supply of power even in unpredictable windy conditions, and even when wind speeds reach typhoon levels of 40 meters per second.

By contrast, a typical wind turbine, with a horizontal axis and a propeller, are designed to generate electricity when the wind is blowing at between 4 meters and 25 meters per second. When the wind velocity rises above this range, the axis stops rotating to reduce pressure on the blades.

Challenergy started operating a 10 kilowatt Magnus VAWT demonstration model in Ishigakijima island in Okinawa Prefecture in August 2020. The system will continue operation for 20 years as an independent, off-grid power source.

The company redesigned the cylindrical blade to simplify its structure in this trial model, a move that also helped it to cut costs with a view to producing in greater quantities so as to become commercially viable.

The first model will be installed in the Philippines over the next few months. The cost of this unit was subsidized by Japan's environment ministry, but Challenergy plans to start commercial sales of the model by the end of the year.

The biggest hurdle for Challenergy is cost. Its 10 kW system costs around 20 million yen ($188,000). That means the power generated by this system is twice as expensive as that produced by a typical wind turbine. The company's turbines are also not able to generate huge amounts of electricity.

As such, Challenergy has set its sights on a niche market. It plans to sell the system together with a storage battery as an independent power source for small remote islands that are not connected to the power grid.

On many of these islands, electricity is supplied by diesel power generators. Since electricity produced by diesel power generators is generally costly, Challenergy's systems can be competitive in this niche market.

Remote islands in Okinawa Prefecture and the Philippines are especially promising markets because they are often hit by typhoons. Remote islands in Guam and the Caribbean Sea are also targets for Challenergy.

The company hopes to sell 10-20 units in 2021 and boost sales to 50-100 units in 2022, according to Shigeto Mizumoto, the company's chief strategist.

Challenergy is also working on a larger 100 kW VAWT and a 1,000 kW offshore wind power system with an eye to commercialization by 2025.

The company was founded in 2014 and capitalized at 100 million yen.

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