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A Smarter Island

A Smarter Virgin Island
By Traci O'Dea

Cooper Island Beach Club, under its new owners, aims to set the environmental standard for BVI beachfront resorts. The 90 solar panels atop the kitchen of Cooper Island Beach Club provide 75% of the resort's power.In less than a year, the resort has switched from solely relying on generators for electricity to mostly relying on solar power.

I recently accompanied Jacco Bos from Alternative Energy Systems (AES) to the friendly, unpretentious resort where he gave me a tour of the renewable energy system his company installed.. We first walked up a small hill to a pathway behind the restaurant where he showed me the roof and the 90 solar panels covering it. “I’ve always loved solar panels,” Cooper Island manager Andy Murrant said, “and to me, it would’ve been ideal to have the whole front of the resort covered in them, but there are people who don’t like the look of them. Also, the sun angle was a big issue.” As we admired the sleek panels, Andy’s partner, Cooper Island manager Samantha Baker mentioned, “The great thing is that the solar panels also help cool the kitchen by providing additional shade.” The sun would normally be beating down on the roof and adding heat to the already hot kitchen, but now that energy is diverted into the solar panels, reducing the use of fans to cool the kitchen.

All photos b y YachtShotsBVI.com

“It’s a 19kw array,” Jacco said while Brynley Rathbun from Yacht Shots BVI climbed on the roof to photograph the panels. “During the day, this powers the whole resort. It meets all the demand and helps charge the batteries. Then at night, the batteries and generators meet the electrical demand.” The resort used to run on generators 18 hours a day then each guest room ran on batteries for the other three to six hours, but now the generators only run six hours per day, so the solar array provides 75% of the resort’s power. “The goal is to be independent of fuel,” Jacco said. “We’re looking at installing a wind turbine,” which would eliminate the generators altogether. “Once it’s done,” Jacco added, “they’ll be the closest to being carbon neutral, from an electric power perspective, in the British Virgin Islands.” Andy said, “If people see us doing it, then there’s more chance of them doing it.”

The sooner people do it, the better. “The majority of the world is getting on board and putting in policies to promote solar, and we don’t have renewable energy-friendly policies in the BVI. There is legislation from 1972 that restricts individuals from producing their own power unless it’s a backup power supply, and this is what hinders the integration of renewable energy,” Jacco said. “The BVI could have individual households contributing to the grid power every day. A thousand houses contributing 1kw or 2kw adds up quickly. The BVI will benefit from going in this direction.” Jacco mentioned that safety issues are possibly the government’s main concerns against having other power sources connected to the grid, but he assured me that grid-tie solar power is actually safer than generators. “If we had grid-tie solar systems in the BVI, when the power goes out, the grid-tie solar shuts off in milliseconds. Grid tie solar can’t run without the grid. Solar systems contributing to the utility grid will automatically shut off when the BVIEC shuts down the power for service. Linesman don’t have to worry about solar arrays putting power on the grid during maintenance.”

The same thing happens on a smaller scale, at Cooper Island Beach Club. “They actually have three grid-tie solar power systems—grid-tie inverters—which take the solar power and add it to their grid,” Jacco said. “So, if you didn’t have the generators and the backup inverters, you would have no grid, and the solar power would shut off. Without the battery backup inverters or generator to keep the grid live, the solar power shuts down. This is exactly how it would work on a larger scale in the BVI.”

 The batteries store the energy to power the resort at night.


Additionally, the effort benefits the planet as a whole. Jacco pointed to the monitor on one of the three inverters and said, “This unit has saved 10,936 lbs of carbon dioxide emissions since it was installed in February, and there are three of these.” So Cooper Island Beach Club has saved over 30,000 lbs of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the atmosphere from the inverters alone. They’ve saved even more when the amount of diesel consumed by bringing the fuel over from Tortola is considered.

Cooper Island Beach Club’s commitment to environmentally friendly practices extends beyond the solar-powered renewable energy system. “Cooper has put in additional solar hot water systems which reduce the demands of electricity and propane, so it’s another initiative that’s here to help conserve energy,” Jacco said. “Solar hot water is a great technology in terms of energy efficiency.” Additionally, the resort uses eco-friendly products—everything from biodegradable laundry detergent to disposable plates and cups made from corn to tables and chairs crafted from reclaimed teak. They also reuse a lot of the waste they generate: fryer oil becomes biodiesel for the generators, tree trimmings decompose into compost, kitchen waste feeds the pigs on the Leonard's farm on the island, and shower water irrigates the plants.

 Battery backup converters line the walls behind the restaurant.

As we crossed the Channel back to Tortola, and I enjoyed the sun and wind on the boat ride, I regretted that I was returning to an island mostly powered by fossil fuel. One more reason that renewable energy needs to be initialized as a viable source in the BVI is the end of oil. “Whether it happens fifty or a hundred years from now,” Jacco said, “all the technologies have to be developed and implemented so the BVI becomes energy independent; allowing us to afford the lifestyle we’re accustomed to as oil supplies are depleted.”

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