At five megawatts, USVI Solar I is the largest photovoltaic system on the U.S. Virgin Islands. Installed on challenging terrain and under harsh weather conditions on Saint Thomas, the solar park received the 2015 “Ground-Mount Project of the Year Award”. After all, the system covers ten percent of the island’s energy needs. KACO new energy supplied the quintessential robust inverter technology.
A hard-to-access area known for its heavy rainfall, mountainous terrain and Hurricane Cristobal: there were myriad challenges for people and material in constructing the USVI Solar I solar park on Saint Thomas. As such, the demands for the products to be used were also high. The inverters in particular need to withstand the extreme conditions. The project planners, AES Distributed Energy, therefore selected the 32 and 50 kilowatt string inverters in the KACO new energy blueplanet TL3 range. 96 of these devices which are suitable for outdoor installation were deployed in a decentralised layout.
“Getting one central inverter of over 3,000 kilograms in weight to the installation site would have been too great a challenge. Compact string inverters offer more flexibility and were thus the logical choice here”, said Eduardo Casilda Weissen, KACO new energy‘s Senior Director of Sales for Latin America and the Caribbean. A good thing, given that module tables were moved and string lengths adjusted even after arrival at the site due to the ground conditions. Like knights on a chessboard, the lighter string inverters adapted to these unforeseen moves – something that would have been virtually impossible for heavier central inverters. The decentralised concept also scored in terms of network stability; indeed around ten percent of the power network relies on the solar park. By distributing the power to numerous inverters, a wide-ranging system failure becomes unlikely, and with isolated faults only small parts of the generator would be affected.
The decentralised design also permitted seamless financing: To meet the requirements for subsidies, it was necessary to register 18 sub-systems, each of which was assigned the corresponding number of inverters. This would not have been possible with only a small number of central inverters.
The perseverance and flexibility of AES paid off: The project was awarded the 2015 “Ground-Mount Project of the Year Award” by US solar magazine Solar Builder. USVI Solar I is the largest photovoltaic system in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It is of enormous importance for approaching 40,000 island inhabitants. The five megawatt output is intended to generate around 7.9 million kilowatt hours of green energy each year, amounting to about ten percent of the energy requirements. The plan is to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels by up to 60 percent by 2025. According to the U.S. Ministry for Energy, there was previously almost one hundred percent dependence on imported oil for power generation, water distillation and transport; the Virgin Islands are reliant on expensive, environmentally damaging diesel generators. This produced electricity costs four times higher than the national average.