Build the 'Tesla of the Sea': Zozo executive's next challenge

Nikkei -- Oct 18
Masahiro Ito uses the term "Tesla of the Sea" when he talks about his Tokyo-based startup revolutionizing the economics of wind power.

Ito built up some tech startup bona fides during his time as chief operating officer of Zozo, which operates Japan's Zozotown online clothier. The platform's Zozosuit, which customers put on so they can be photographed and measured for size, takes the guesswork out of ordering clothes online.

But Zozo's fashion-tech innovations will look like baby steps if Ito realizes his ambitions for PowerX. His Tokyo-based renewable energy startup intends to replace tankers that carry power generation fuel such as coal and LNG with electricity haulers.

"We will help the world shift from the era of transporting fuels," Ito said, "[to] a new era of transporting electricity itself."

The wind at his back is the Japanese government, which plans to install 10,000 megawatts of offshore capacity, equivalent to the combined output of 10 nuclear reactors, by 2030. By 2040, the government intends for Japan to be harvesting 30,000 MW to 45,000 MW of offshore electricity.

Today, underwater cables transmit the electricity to power grids. But laying such a cable costs 100 million yen to 200 million yen ($875,000 to $1.75 million) per kilometer.

PowerX has conceived of an alternative, something it calls a power transfer vessel, that it wants to codevelop with a major shipbuilder. The startup plans to build its first electricity hauler by 2025 and start operating it on a trial basis.

PowerX will select and announce its shipbuilding partner early next month. Ito, who resigned as Zozo COO and started PowerX this year, said the electricity tanker he envisions will allow wind farms to be built in areas now considered unsuitable to offshore power.

Its mission is to make power storage and transmission breakthroughs that will drive explosive growth in renewable energy. The company's vision, its narrative, is reminiscent of Elon Musk's rhetoric about Tesla, which has reshaped the auto industry's competitive dynamics.