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Japan dials up wind energy

Posting in Energy

Spinning a new business. Japan's Softbank is known as a phone and internet provider, but it's expanding into renewable energy.

Imagine this announcement: Verizon today disclosed plans to build the largest wind farm in the U.S.

"What?" you might ask. "Verizon is a telecom and Internet company, not an energy provider."

Well, go ahead and scratch your head, because the following headline actually ran across Bloomberg a few days ago: Softbank Aims to Be Japan's Biggest Wind Producer With New Plant.

Yes, Softbank, one of Japan's leading carriers of cellphone, Internet and fixed-telephony services, is adding a giant wind farm to its line of business. The company plans to build a gigawatt facility on the island of Hokkaido, in the north of Japan, the article notes.

At a gigawatt, the 500-turbine wind farm would about equal the size of a conventional nuclear reactor. Renewables like wind and solar will play a bigger role in Japan's energy industry now that the country is de-emphasizing nuclear following last year's Fukushima melt down. Last week, the Japanese government stated plans to phase out nuclear by 2040 (although it already seems to be back peddling from such an absolute move; and safer, more efficient nuclear options exist, such as the use of thorium instead of uranium reactors).

Most of Japan's nuclear reactors remain shut in the aftermath of Fukushima. Nuclear had provided about 30 percent of the country's electricity. Japan has so far replaced a lot of that capacity with fossil fuels. The country has also implemented energy conservation measures. New renewable facilities like Softank's wind farm will eventually come on line.

The wind farm is not Softbank's first venture in renewable energy. It also plans to build a 200 megawatt solar farm, on the same island as the wind farm.

Exactly how it integrates a telecom business and an energy business remains to be seen. There are some synergies, as both cross over into the service sector. That aside, the move away from fossil fuels sounds like a good call.

Photo: Vestas

More on what's turning Japanese generators, from  SmartPlanet:

And on what's blowing in the wind:

— By on September 18, 2012, 9:32 PM PST

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure