Skip to main content

NREL Helps U.S. Virgin Islands Install Wind Testing Equipment

January 10, 2013

With the help of NREL, the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) recently marked a major milestone on the way toward its goal of a 60% reduction in fossil fuel use by 2025. In December, NREL experts assisted with the installation of wind anemometer towers and sonic detection and ranging (SODAR) equipment on the islands of St. Thomas and St. Croix to collect data that will be used for the development of a utility-scale wind project in the territory. The installation represents how the USVI is moving forward with NREL’s analysis and evaluation regarding wind opportunities in the territory.

60%-by-2025 Goal
As is the case with many island communities, the USVI is heavily dependent on fossil fuels and consequently greatly impacted by fluctuations in global oil prices. To help the territory reduce its dependence on nonrenewable energy resources, the international partnership for Energy Development in Island Nations (EDIN) launched the USVI pilot project in 2009 with support from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Interior. Partnering with the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA) and the Virgin Islands Energy Office (VIEO), EDIN’s U.S. partners leveraged NREL’s technical expertise and community energy planning experience to assist the USVI in developing a cost-effective strategy for meeting its 60%-by-2025 goal.

An important part of that strategy is tapping into the significant wind resource in the USVI. With WAPA having signed a power purchase agreement for 18 megawatts of solar in June 2012, installation of the wind anemometers and SODAR is another key milestone for the project and represents a considerable move forward in the territory’s progress toward reaching its ambitious clean energy goal.

“The installation of the anemometers means that WAPA is on the way to having the data necessary to accomplish our goals as it relates to the deployment of utility-scale wind. WAPA is very eager to be on the road to energy independence,” said WAPA CEO Hugo V. Hodge Jr.

Meteorological Data
While modeled virtual data is useful in the preliminary phases of a wind project, site-specific meteorological data is crucial for obtaining commercial financing. To obtain this bankable data, project developers turn to anemometers, which provide accurate information on wind speed, pressure, and direction. These systems need to be in place for at least one year to gather data sufficient for securing financing for a wind project.

“The goal of this project is to collect data that meets or exceeds North American industry standards for developable wind projects to help attract potential developers of renewable energy projects,” said NREL Senior Wind Engineer Owen Roberts.

Based on NREL’s USVI wind maps and other technical analysis, NREL experts identified the best possible locations for the meteorological towers in the territory, and after VIEO and WAPA secured the necessary contracts and leases, oversaw the installation of:

  • An anemometer tower on an industrial site on the south shore of St. Croix
  • A SODAR unit on the east end of St. Croix
  • An anemometer tower and SODAR unit at Bovoni Point on St. Thomas.

NREL’s site research and analysis revealed that, in addition to having a good wind resource, these three sites show promise in that a wind farm installed on any one of them is unlikely to meet significant public resistance. A visual impact assessment NREL performed on various potential wind sites in the USVI revealed that the potential human and environmental impact of these sites would be negligible.

The 60-meter anemometer towers each contain six anemometers and two weather vanes, and will capture data at 35 meters, 47 meters, and 57 meters. Solar pyrometers are also attached to obtain solar data. Although SODAR isn’t considered as accurate as anemometers, the SODAR units can measure wind speeds up to 200 meters, and used in conjunction with anemometers, provide more comprehensive information. The data from the south shore of St. Croix and Bovoni Point on St. Thomas are publicly available on NREL’s Measurement and Instrumentation Data Center website.

Next Steps
In 2013, WAPA plans to issue a request for proposals to develop a wind site in the USVI. Based on the data collected by the anemometers and SODAR equipment, NREL will advise the utility on site-specific requirements such as turbine size and location, as well as resource management. For communities with isolated grids (such as island communities and military installations), energy reliability is a critical consideration, said NREL project lead Adam Warren, and understanding the fluctuations in wind resources and how best to manage the energy without adversely impacting the grid is imperative.

Warren said the data collected will also help WAPA better understand the future impact of increasing the amount of renewable energy generation in the territory.

“Island systems are some of the first grids to achieve high penetrations of renewable energy,” said Warren. “With these data and our modeling efforts, we can learn how to effectively integrate nondispatchable sources of power without affecting grid stability. And our new Energy System Integration capabilities will play an important role in helping islands like the USVI in this regard.”

With NREL’s project management assistance and technical expertise, the USVI and WAPA can better understand how to manage the power grid, identify and reduce risk, attract investors, and ultimately, successfully implement wind power on a utility scale. The lessons learned in the USVI will not only help other islands maintain energy system reliability as renewables play a greater role, said Warren, but they will also assist NREL in developing viable solutions to systems integration challenges involved in increasing renewable energy penetration on a much broader scale.

Download the NREL technical report Wind Power Opportunities in St. Thomas, USVI: A Site-Specific Evaluation and Analysis to learn more about the analysis conducted for this project.

—Devin Egan