March 21, 2005 – If an experimental project between the Water and Power Authority and the V.I. Energy Office works, Virgin Islanders will find it easier to set up their own home power generating systems. If the system works as well as project designers expect, some homeowners may even be able to sell some of their homegrown current back to WAPA.
According to energy office director Bevan Smith, seven V.I. homeowners have already been selected to take part in the project, set to begin later this year.
WAPA and the energy office have been working together for the past few years to encourage Virgin Islanders to become more self-sufficient. The new program is part of what is called a distributive generation study.
"Distributive generation simply means to generate power away from the utility, closer to the site where it's being used. We decided to use grantees in a program we call the Innovative Renewal Grant Program where we did workshops, educating the general public about solar hot water systems. We also studied solar lighting systems and we did another workshop on solar electric systems, installation and design," Smith said.
The people who took part in the electric system workshop were encouraged to write proposals to create their own home generating systems. The best proposals received funding to take part in the demonstration project.
Two systems have already been set up on St. Croix. Four more on St. Thomas and one on St. John will soon be set up with photovoltaic systems for small power generators. The seven chosen by the energy office will be joined by three experimental systems of WAPAs choosing, Smith said.
Using inverters, solar panels and battery packs, the experimental one kilowatt systems tie circuits into critical load sources like lighting, water pumps, refrigerators and televisions — the kinds of things Smith said most homeowners would like to continue running in case of an electrical outage.
When the inverter indicates those systems are getting sufficient power and the battery packs are full, excess power will flow back through the household electrical meter to WAPA.
"Once you have satisfied your needs you can get a credit from the utility to help lower your utility bill," Smith said.
He also said, if the demonstration project performs to satisfaction, it may soon be possible for more Virgin Islanders to apply for approval from the Public Services Commission to set up similar systems.
Alberto Bruno-Vega, WAPA executive director, said his company welcomes the demonstration project, and the surplus electricity sent back to the grid can be distributed to other electrical subscribers.
Because the cost of fuel on the world oil market is rising to historic highs, the utility director said the time has come for Virgin Islanders to explore new resources. Bruno-Vega said he wants to see more resolve on the part of the V.I. government and private citizens to increase their reliance on alternative energy.
"We need to change our mind set. We can change our pattern of consumption without necessarily having to change our patterns of living. In other words we can continue to bathe with hot water, but not from electricity, but coming from solar water heaters."
"Everybody working together, we can beat this new era of high prices in fuel oil," Bruno Vega said Sunday.
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