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Overview of US Territories Energy Infrastructures

With the infrastructure of Puerto Rico recently devastated (October 2017), this might be a good time to review the other four US territories. After all, they could be hit next year! In a nutshell, lots of imported oil and hopes about RE. The good news is that none of them use LNG or coal! They currently rely primarily on diesel gas/oil imports though, just as they have since vacuum tubes were considered modern technology.

This tends to leave the whole energy infrastructure (electricity, transportation, & local industries) of each territory exposed to the price fluctuations inherent in sometimes volatile oil prices.

Propane tanks on St. Croix Island, Virgin Islands. These eight tanks hold about 19 days worth of power.

The following US Energy Information Agency (EIA) data was updated in September 2017 – weeks before the US Territory of Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria.
Be sure to browse the three tabs on each EIA link; Overview, Data, & Analysis.

American Samoa Quick Facts

  • American Samoa uses imported fossil fuels for almost all of the territory’s energy needs, including transportation, water treatment, and most of its electric power generation.
  • A significant amount of American Samoa’s electricity is used to pump and treat drinking water and to collect, pump, and treat wastewater.
  • Electricity prices in American Samoa vary with world petroleum prices; in mid-2017, they were 2.3 times the U.S. average, and comparable to Hawaii’s rates.
  • In 2016, the largest island in American Samoa’s Manu’a group, Ta’u, converted to 100% solar PV electricity generation, replacing the use of about 100,000 gallons of diesel fuel per year.
  • American Samoa Renewable Energy Committee has adopted a goal of getting 50% of American Samoa’s energy from renewable energy resources by 2025 and 100% by 2040.

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Guam Quick Facts

  • Largest island in Micronesia, is located about three-fourths of the way from Hawaii to the Philippines. Guam has no fossil energy resources and meets nearly all of its energy needs, including electricity, with petroleum products shipped in by tanker.
  • To meet its energy needs, Guam imports petroleum products and uses its wind and solar resources to generate electricity.
  • Guam’s population is estimated to be about 162,000, plus more than 12,000 military personnel and their families. The U.S. military plans to move some personnel from Okinawa (Japan) to Guam, bringing a substantial influx of people to the island.
  • Guam has set a goal of cutting petroleum consumption by 20% from the 2010 level by 2020.
  • In 2016, the number of Guam Power Authority’s customers exceeded 50,000 for the first time.
  • Two of the four generating units at Guam’s main power plant were destroyed by an explosion and fire in 2015.
  • Wind turbines requires special engineering to cope with Guam’s earthquake and typhoons.
  • Two ocean-based technologies being investigated are Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion and Sea Water Air Conditioning These applications may be limited by pipe impacts on the fragile coral reef surrounding Guam.

Northern Mariana Islands Quick Facts

  • The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) meets nearly all of its energy demand by importing petroleum products, including 22 million to 24 million gallons of diesel fuel annually to run the islands’ electricity generating plants.
  • The Commonwealth Utilities Corp. is looking at long-term alternatives to petroleum-fired electricity generators, which are aging and cannot run at full capacity.
  • Active volcanoes make the CNMI–particularly the islands of Pagan and Saipan–unique in Micronesia in having significant geothermal energy potential.
  • The CNMI’s renewable portfolio standard requires the islands to get 20% of their net electricity sales from renewable energy if cost-effective resources are available, but, so far, only small-scale wind and solar resources have been built, mostly at government and school facilities.

US Virgin Islands Quick Facts

  • The U.S. Virgin Islands is about 600 miles southeast of Miami, Florida. Like most Caribbean islands, the USVI has no fossil energy resources but does have some renewable resources.
  • The USVI imports petroleum products to meet most of its energy needs, including electricity and desalination of ocean water for its public water supply.
  • The U.S. Virgin Islands is shifting from fuel oil to propane to generate electricity and produce public drinking water.
  • The USVI has two separate island grids that must each maintain generation backup and reserves.
  • Distributed solar generation on consumer rooftops can provide up to 15 megawatts of capacity. The island has nearly 230 MW of electricity capacity currently.

Puerto Rico Quick Facts (before Hurricane Maria)

  • Petroleum products fuel transportation, electricity generation, and industry in Puerto Rico, supplying three-fourths of the energy consumed in the commonwealth.
  • In 2016, 47% of Puerto Rico’s electricity came from petroleum, 34% from natural gas, 17% from coal, and 2% from renewable energy.
  • Two wind farms supplied nearly half of Puerto Rico’s renewable generation in 2016; one of them, the 95-megawatt Santa Isabel facility, is the largest wind farm in the Caribbean.
  • As of June 2017, Puerto Rico had 127 megawatts of utility-scale solar photovoltaic generating capacity and 88 megawatts of distributed (customer-sited, small-scale) capacity. In the first six months of 2017, more renewable electricity came from solar energy than any other source.
  • Electricity fuel surcharges have decreased with world crude oil prices, but, in mid-2017, Puerto Rico’s retail consumers still paid more for their power than consumers in any state except Hawaii.



Additional Resources:
In the US territories, the average residential rate for electricity has been about $0.37/kWh—about three times higher than the U.S. national average cost of electricity.

Though running power lines hundreds (or thousands) of miles under the ocean might be a poor idea, utilizing these recently confirmed mid-ocean winds for islands seems like a possibility worth studying further.

Start-up companies which are working on SMRs using spent uranium fuel include the Bill Gates backed TerraPower, Transatomic, and Terrestrial Energy. Another start-up, Oklo, seeks to create 2-megawatt reactors that fit inside shipping containers to provide electricity for remote off-grid locations. Toshiba has worked on a micro nuclear reactor that is designed to power individual apartment buildings or city blocks.

Ta’ū Island is all of 44.3 sq km (17.1 sq miles), and the population has grown to about 800 in recent years. In the 1920’s well-known anthropologist Margaret Mead conducted her dissertation research here. A solar + battery system was recently installed, designed to power the entire island for three days without sunlight and fully recharge in seven hours.

The well known wind-driven hydro system of El Hierro Island (Canary Islands/Spain) has shown improvements, but can still vary wildly from month to month. As of the end of September 2017, GdV [Gorona del Viento] had supplied 42.3% of El Hierro’s electricity demand since project startup in June 2015, up from 41.5% at the end of August; and 9.7% of its energy demand, up from 9.6% at the end of August.

For a rather nutty look at renewable energy on an island, try coconuts!

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1 thought on “Overview of US Territories Energy Infrastructures”

  1. Joe Romm has claimed to have the solution for Puerto Rico, that would be using mostly renewables, he believes now would be an ideal time simce their grid needs rebuilding. I wonder if he could assure Puerto Rican citizens that wind and solar electricity generators will not be damaged by severe storms as they were in summer 2017 hurricane season
    I see they also need about 50,000 utility poles to ensure proper distribution of electricity, it is unclear to me if Romm has considered this.

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