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In St Thomas, a New Kind of Off-the-Grid Caribbean Development

By Alexander Britell

It’s the newest development in St Thomas: Magens Junction, composed of 108 affordable rental apartments at the former St Thomas Dairy Site — and it’s rather unique for the entire Caribbean.

It’s a project by Jackson Development Company, one of the leading developers in the US Virgin Islands, which had very specific objectives, including a significant focus on sustainability.

And that’s where E-Finity Distributed Generation came in. 

E-Finity, an Independent Power Producer and Capstone distributor for the Caribbean, worked with Jackson to install one of its “Perfect Balanced Microgrid” systems — building the island’s single largest combined heat and power (CHP) Microgrid and the first of its kind in the US Virgin Islands. 

The microgrid produces around 1 million kWh of electricity, generates over a billion BTUs in free hot water and generates more than $250,000 in annual energy cost savings. Environmentally the system offsets over 700,000 pounds of CO2 per year that would have been produced if the project had been using grid power. This is equivalent to removing 100 cars from the road and planting 400 acres of forest each year in St Thomas. 

The system is comprised of seven Capstone Turbine propane-fueled C65 microturbines, complemented with a 150 kW solar array and an 820 kWh battery energy storage system (BESS).

“This microgrid installation not only provides 100% of the complex’s electrical power and hot water requirements, but it does it with the least amount of propane needed,” says Jeff Better, president and CEO of E-Finity. 

So how does it work? 

The waste heat created by the microturbines is directed into on board heat exchangers for generating domestic hot water while the electricity generated by the microturbines and solar charges the BESS. 

E-Finity’s m-TIM Controller is programmed to authorize the microgrid to select solar generation, microturbine generation, or both simultaneously to load follow and automatically adjust the amount of power needed to match and keep the BESS at the optimal “state of charge”, meeting the apartment complex load, achieving maximum energy efficiency, and achieving the lowest possible carbon emissions available. 

The system, which is designed with an 18,000-gallon propane tank that can fuel the system for 8-10 weeks before being refilled adding to significant resiliency to the system.

“E-Finity has provided Jackson Development Co. with a dependable and cost-effective means to generate off-grid power for our multi-family rental developments in the USVI,” said Bob Jackson, principal of Jackson Development LLC. “Without their expertise in power generation and microgrid technology, it would be impossible for us to provide safe, affordable and hurricane-hardened housing for Virgin Islanders.”

So what’s next?

Beiter says the company is supporting the development of three more “highly sustainable” microgrid power projects for Jackson Development in the USVI. 

That’s along with several more standalone resiliency projects, including in locations like Walkers Cay in The Bahamas; and numerous hotels and resort projects throughout the Caribbean.. 

And that’s a trend that should continue across the Caribbean — a place where sustainability isn’t just essential — it’s existential. 

For more, visit E-Finity.

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