Tropical Islands Warm To Clean Energy

Everything appears to be on the up-and-up, though you’d be forgiven for wondering, at first glance, if the Energy Development in Island Nations program wasn’t a gambit by government scientists to cop free trips to the tropics: The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has partnered with Iceland and New Zealand on the initiative, which is focused now on bringing renewable energy to Dominica, various Pacific islands (including U.S. territories) and the Virgin Islands.

The logic behind the program, as the NREL explains it, is powerful: Most island nations — which came to rely on oil for energy when oil was cheap, and it isn’t anymore — have renewable resources galore. Think: sunshine, trade winds and geothermal activity. And their relatively small populations mean that a project here and another one there can go a long way to meeting their energy needs. Plus, many of these islands are vulnerable to rising sea levels and hurricanes, so they have a very real stake in the battle to turn back climate change.

image via NREL/Hawaiian Electric Light Company

The U.S. Virgin Islands are a great example of where policy guidance, technical assistance and training and help in accessing capital can make a big difference. According to the NREL, in 2008 the price of electricity in the U.S. Virgin Islands was north of 50 cents per kilowatt-hour, some five times the U.S. average. That alone makes solar attractive. The NREL recently completed a solar index that was promising, and is now doing a wind forecast to illustrate how reliable and accessible the wind may be.

“The local trade winds ought to provide excellent wind resource, but we have to obtain accurate data before someone can go to a bank and ask them to finance wind turbines,” the NREL’s Adam Warren said. Meanwhile, the NREL and Iceland are both working with Dominica, in the Caribbean, with the NREL concentrating on wind energy and Iceland focusing on its specialty, geothermal.

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Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.


  • Reply October 31, 2010

    Roger Lay

    I have been studying the issue of renewable energy for Island Nations for 3 years now. I got involved with a project in the Marshall Islands 3 years ago. It did not get developed (yet) primarily due to local politics and everything moving at “Island Speed”.

    Would love to engage with a team of people dedicated to getting Island Nations completely off of fossil fuels. There are many problems for these communities associated with their reliance on fossil fuel for power generation.

    • Reply November 9, 2010

      Dion Johnson

      My company American Resource & Energy has a tower that is self raising and with a hand back-up option. We are now installing turbines in the Pacific and in the USVI using this tower system. Please feel free to contact me if you’d like to speak further about a project on your island or visit our website at:
      Thanks, djohnson

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