Renewable energy technologies, such as the 5 MW Estate Donor Solar Project located on St. Thomas, have helped the U.S. Virgin Islands reduce its fossil fuel use by 20% over the last five years. | Photo by Jennifer DeCesaro

Hugo Hodge (left), Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority, and Dr. Dave Danielson, the U.S. Department of Energy's Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, stand in front of the 5 MW Estate Donor Solar Project on the island of St. Thomas. | Photo by Jennifer DeCesaro

The 5 MW Estate Donor Solar Project on the island of St. Thomas. | Photo by Jennifer DeCesaro

An abundance of sunshine and ocean breezes make the U.S. Virgin Islands an ideal spot for a tropical getaway. Those welcoming characteristics also make the territory a natural fit for emerging renewable energy technologies such as solar, wind, and water power.

But like many island communities, the Virgin Islands has been heavily reliant on fossil fuels for electricity generation, leaving it vulnerable to global oil price fluctuations that directly impact the cost of electricity. In 2009, the Virgin Islands was almost 100% dependent on imported oil for electricity, water desalinization, and transportation, resulting in electricity costs that were nearly four times the U.S. national average.

That began to change in late 2009, when the United States and the Virgin Islands partnered for a pilot project as part of the Energy Development in Island Nations (EDIN) initiative aimed at helping islands across the globe adopt energy efficient measures and deploy renewable energy technologies. With support from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), the Virgin Islands set a goal of reducing fossil fuel use by 60% by 2025.

Five years later that goal is on target as the Virgin Islands’ fossil fuel use is down 20%, resulting in lower electricity costs for consumers, and a significant reduction in pollution. Numerous renewable energy achievements since then are pushing the Virgin Islands toward its 2025 goal:

  • A solar plant installed at the Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas, one of the largest photovoltaic (PV) systems in the Caribbean, saves nearly $1,000 per day in electricity costs.
  • Energy efficiency upgrades on 11 schools produced an energy cost-savings of $1.3 million the first year and $1.7 million the second year. As a result, the Virgin Islands government has authorized $35 million in funding to install lighting and water retrofits in 34 more schools.
  • Nearly 1,500 solar water heating and PV systems have been installed throughout the territory, and 15 MW of distributed solar PV are either in place or under construction.
  • DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory has collected the wind resource data needed to develop the territory’s first commercial wind farm.

As a result of its success, the U.S. Virgin Islands has been recognized as a regional leader in clean energy and has begun sharing best practices with other Caribbean nations. The Vice President’s Caribbean Energy Security Initiative (CESI) is replicating DOE’s model of engagement in the Virgin Islands, and its success was hailed by Vice President Biden at the Caribbean Energy Security Summit in January 2015.

Today, the islands continue to strive toward realizing the 2025 goal through the Energy Transition Initiative (ETI), in which DOE and its partners provide government entities and other stakeholders with a proven framework, objective guidance, and technical tools and resources for transitioning to a clean energy economy that relies on local resources to substantially reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

By transitioning from oil imports to use of local, indigenous renewable resources and efficient technologies, the U.S. Virgin Islands—with support from DOE—is developing a model for job creation, industrial transformation, and technological innovation in island energy systems. The U.S. Virgin Islands, having recognized the value of its efforts to date, is now embarking on the next phase of its clean energy future, with more success on the horizon.