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U.S. Virgin Islands Begins Collecting Wind Resource Data: A Wind Powering America Success Story

March 25, 2013

In the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), electricity is so expensive that families struggle to pay utility bills and businesses close due to high energy costs. With technical assistance from the U.S Department of Energy's (DOE's) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the USVI Energy Office is preparing to develop the territory's first commercial wind farm. The first step: collecting data to better understand the USVI's wind resource.

Installed on the islands of St. Croix and St. Thomas in December 2012, the measurement devices include a 60-meter anemometer tower and a SODAR device on each island. The towers will measure wind speeds and direction at three levels (32 meters, 47 meters, and 58 meters) and will provide potential developers with reliable data about the wind resource.

Karl Knight, director of the Virgin Island Energy Office, believes that measurement devices will eventually lead to a lower cost of energy for the USVI.

"We're hoping that in addition to diversifying our energy portfolio, we can also realize a cost reduction from our current energy production utilizing fuel oil. We believe that we can build a fairly economical wind project to supplement our other sources of energy and do so at a cost that is less expensive than the current cost of importing fuel oil," Knight said.

According to NREL engineer Owen Roberts, high energy costs on island nations underscore the importance of renewable energy development in these areas.

"Currently the residential energy prices are between 48 and 50 cents a kilowatt-hour, which is astronomical. That's what makes it attractive for renewables in this location," Roberts said.

Along with the wind measurement devices, the Energy Office installed solar pyrometers to measure solar irradiation. The information gathered by the solar and wind measurement equipment will be important to project developers looking at potential USVI installations.

"This portion of the project involves deploying instruments that will produce industry standard data that financiers are used to seeing," Roberts said. "When the utility, USVI Water and Power Authority, releases a request for proposals to the public, the available data should help attract developers."

NREL involvement stems from U.S. participation in the Energy Development in Island Nations (EDIN) initiative. Formed in 2008 as an international partnership, EDIN aims to advance the deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies on islands across the globe. EDIN has supported the USVI in its goal of reducing fossil fuel-based energy use to 60% by 2025 through a mix of energy efficiency and renewables.

According to NREL project lead Adam Warren, work on this project began prior to the installation of the anemometers and involved multiple parties.

"We worked with the USVI Water and Power Authority, the Governor's Office, the Energy Office, and local stakeholders as a group and came up with an Energy Roadmap that looked at different options of how you get to the 60% reduction over the next 15 years or so," Warren said. "One of the first things we did was help them identify how much solar could work in the existing grid. From that came an 18-megawatt power purchase agreement of solar, which doesn't sound like a lot but is 20% of the peak load for the island of St. Croix. The next phase of wind will be at a lower cost, but it also requires a bit more homework in the form of data collection and making that data available to developers."

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided $270,000 in funding for the resource data collection. Local funds also contributed to the project.

Knight believes that with the current timeline, a project should be installed within a few years.

"We kicked off our project development meeting in March. We're hoping to have our solicitations out by the end of 2013, to have a project under construction in 2014, and hopefully have everything commissioned and grid-tied by 2015," Knight said.

Additional NREL work on this project includes a more detailed report, Wind Power Opportunities in St. Thomas, USVI: A Site-Specific Evaluation and Analysis. The group is also working on a grid integration report that will gauge the volatility of adding renewables to the existing structure and will provide future assistance as the project moves forward.