Hitachi Bets on Rough Weather, Downwind Turbine for Market Share

  • Co. aiming for 100 billion yen of global turbine sales
  • Downwind turbines feature blades located at rear of tower

Hitachi Ltd. is betting on a type of wind turbine that shifts the location of the blades to the back in a bid to gain market share in mountainous regions or areas prone to typhoons where installation is more challenging.

The Tokyo-based manufacturer of industrial machinery and consumer electronics is targeting 100 billion yen ($982 million) in global sales of the turbines for the year ending March 2021, said Takashi Matsunobu, chief project manager of the Tokyo-based company’s renewable energy solutions business division.

“We can’t be competitive where European models are doing well,” Matsunobu said. “We can only win in places where the strengths of our products are fully applicable.”

The company is studying the Taiwanese market, in addition to looking at the Philippines and other Asian countries, he said.

Hitachi’s downwind turbines feature blades attached to the rear of the nacelle as seen from the direction of the wind. The more common type of wind turbine has blades in the front.

Niche Turbine

A downwind turbine is more efficient in catching wind blowing upwards along slopes because of their angle, Matsunobu said. Downwind turbines are also safer as the direction of the nacelle, the part of a wind turbine containing the generator and gearbox, can be changed in order to avoid being stressed by strong winds.

“It is a very niche turbine,” said Tom Harries, an analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a London-based researcher. Still, it has its own merits, Harries said. 

“Placing the blades downwind means the blades will flex outwards - away from the tower - under extreme stress, removing any risk of a collision with the tower,” Harries said by e-mail.

Hitachi’s downwind turbines are also used in offshore wind projects. The company supplied a 2-megawatt turbine for Japan’s first floating offshore wind pilot project in southwestern Japan that began generating power in 2013. It also provided 2-megawatt and 5-megawatt wind turbines for an ongoing floating offshore pilot off Fukushima.

Hitachi has also been modifying a 2.5-megawatt upwind turbine developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. after signing a licensing agreement in December. The manufacturer is working to reduce the weight of the nacelle so that the turbine can be resistant to earthquakes, Matsunobu said.

Hitachi bought Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd.’s wind turbine business in 2012 following several years of cooperation between the two companies.