The Future of Energy Could Be Anything
As the future unfolds for the U.S. Virgin Islands, our wild imaginations could solve some of our most challenging problems.
In June 2019, I sat in one of the ballrooms at Government House on St. Croix with a crowd of curious onlookers. Governor Albert Bryan Jr. and the Economic Development Authority hosted a business summit that likely transformed how I view critical resources in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
I wasn’t sitting in the press section of this event. At the time, I was working as the Digital Content Coordinator at Government House. By June, three months flew by in the new role.
The summit hosted interested investors as they met with government officials and local entrepreneurs. In retrospect, I was bored at the event but reminded myself that part of my job involved telegraphing what the governor said at press conferences. There was a lot of excitement that day, but most of the substance came from an unwritten speech from Bryan near the beginning of the summit.
I wondered what he would say as he walked up to the podium with his iPad. His speech was short, but it sent me down an energy storage and freshwater availability rabbit hole.
I’m still in that rabbit hole, but more on that some other day.
Early in his remarks, Bryan laid out his vision for clean energy in the U.S. Virgin Islands. He said, “For decades,” the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands and the broader Caribbean archipelago have “managed” their fresh water. He boasted that the entire region has mostly solved water retention and storage issues by requiring residents to abide by building codes that support infrastructure like personal cisterns.
At that moment, I realized I had never thought about that. We’d spent so much of the past decade working to solve our growing need for energy and pitching ideas for energy independence that we overlooked how much closer we were to attaining true water independence.
As Bryan expanded on his vision, he shared his belief that homes in the territory were ready to enter a new phase, one where residents managed their water source and electricity independently.
As the future unfolds for the territory, our wild imaginations could solve some of our most challenging problems. The simple and shorter version of the rabbit hole I fell into several years ago is this:
The possibilities for the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority are virtually unlimited. In the near or distant future, solar panels and other forms of renewable technology will blanket the territory. The work is underway. In a typical local economy, the private sector could fulfill repair services, insurance coverage, and customer support for homeowners.
A decade from now, a services-oriented WAPA could drive down the cost of renewable energy in the territory while fostering a competitive energy ecosystem.
The future laid out in Byran’s speech didn’t account for a reduced footprint by WAPA, but when you summarize his remarks, he alluded to it. In my head, I asked, “If the territory didn’t have powerlines to manage and homes and apartments had access to solar and battery technology, what would WAPA do?”
After Congress and President Joe Biden passed the Inflation Reduction Act, it kickstarted another wave of development and improvements for each island. The IRA offers a path to a modern grid and offshore wind farms to power homes and businesses.
WAPA engineers have already begun training to manage next-generation cloud systems and renewable energy platforms, and much of this shift is evident from the authority’s press releases, training announcements, and open positions.
There are several possible futures within our reach as we explore new forms of energy, transportation, housing, and agriculture in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
It took me several months to unpack why I was so intrigued by a short speech. While Bryan might not have gotten his core message to penetrate the minds of everyone that day, I’ve always thought it to be one of the most compelling speeches of his first term.
Buried in it was hope and a blueprint for the future. Our ability to recover from Earth’s most powerful storms is a testament to our persistence, strength, and ingenuity.
My pessimism can be an overwhelming force at times. We have the privilege of inheriting this modern world. We even get to complain about boring stuff like hoarding memes and internet rebellions that wouldn’t be possible without the stories of Caribbean people.
P.S. The rabbit hole I promised to expand on might need more time in the oven. It involves electricity, heavy salts like brine, and too much brain power for a Tuesday night. And some energy services, insurance, and things to consider like the VI Code and Public Service Commission regulation.
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