Mitsubishi eyes broader role as electric power technology company

shunichi miyana mitsubishi ceo elp

TOKYO – Mitsubishi Heavy Industries CEO Shunichi Miyanaga has spent nearly five decades at his company watching it grow from a low-key, mainly Japan-focused infrastructure firm into a worldwide colossus touching the power generation, automotive, construction, aviation and space sectors.

“By all means, we need to become a global company,” Miyanaga told a group of trade journalists Wednesday at the company’s headquarters.

And yet even he, a soft-spoken career employee, believes perhaps even greater transformation is coming to Mitsubishi. “We need to devote ourselves to become not only a machinery builder but an innovator of technologies.”

Outside observers might say that MHI has expanded well since it started in a Nagasaki shipyard about 130 years ago. It now includes some 300 companies worldwide with 89,000 employees and plants on almost every continent.

Mitsubishi also has discarded any go-it-alone mentally, entering into separate joint ventures with Germany’s Siemens and onetime rival Hitachi in recent years. The Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems team recently produced a highly efficient M501J gas-fired turbine for several important American customers.

The first of those installed in the Americas was for the Grand River Dam Authority’s combined cycle plant in Chouteau, Oklahoma. The new unit, which replaced a coal-fired unit, is operational and reportedly achieved about 62 percent efficiency, according to reports.

MHI is also diving into virtual reality technologies with partners and hedging its traditional fossil fuel-fired equipment with an offshore wind turbine joint venture with Vestas.

“That is the correct decision,” Miyanaga said of the global partnerships.

Interestingly, he has a cautious approach when it comes to short-term power generation in the U.S., despite the success of the Grand River Dam Authority deal. Miyanaga is obviously aware of the push for renewable energies in many parts of the Americas, but also knows that the U.S. shale gas revolution has solidified the economics of gas-fired turbines to replace coal power and be the baseload foundation.

However, he also has observed that U.S. utilities are not spending heavily on new power plants.

That next stage will take a little while.

“To be honest, we need to wait for the recovery of the market for about two years, and it will probably take three years,” the Mitsubishi CEO said during the roundtable. “In the U.S., utility companies like to use old facilities, where such facilities have been depreciated and they can extend the operations. They can get new power stations but they would pay heavily.”

He acknowledges the wisdom of this cautious approach. The gas-fired generation market should continue to grow but the power plant infrastructure will become a necessity at some point.

“Many old gas and coal-fired facilities are getting older and older,” he said. “Someday they’ll have to be new. We should be well prepared for such a recovery.”

For now, Miyanaga pointed out, MHI will focus on improving capcity and efficiencies. Its line of J-turbines could approach 65 percent in power efficiency, according to company reports.

The Mitsubishi tour of facilities includes the Sagamilhara plant (large engines for generator sets and turbochargers), the Nagasaki Works (steam turbines), Koyagi (LNG carriers), Takasago (gas turbines) and Tobishima (rockets).

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