There is a great deal of truth behind the old saying “big things come in small packages” – and the residents of Block Island would certainly agree. As the smallest town in the smallest state in the country, Block Island is renowned for being incredibly self-sufficient and for making big things happen. Positioned off the southern coast of Rhode Island and reachable only by ferry or short commuter flight, the popular tourist destination has emerged as a leader in clean energy and sustainability.
Those familiar with the area believe it to be a magical place. With wind-swept dunes and majestic bluffs cascading into the waters of the North Atlantic, Block Island’s beauty is second to none and very reminiscent of Scotland or Ireland.
It spans an area of less than ten square miles, is home to nearly 1,500 residents, and has a climate heavily influenced by prevailing ocean winds. Those winds, in fact, do much more than just give it the look and feel of a tropical getaway – they transform Block Island into a powerhouse of clean energy production.
In December 2016, Block Island made history when it tested, commissioned, and powered up America’s First Offshore Wind Farm. The innovative project was the first in the nation to position wind turbines in the ocean to harness the energy of the island’s powerful tropical breezes. Made up of five turbines, the energy produced by the wind farm is enough to fulfill 90% of Block Island’s demand and nearly 1% of the entire state of Rhode Island. A submarine cable connection, known as Sea2Shore, transfers power from the island to a newly built substation on the mainland that acts as the distribution point for National Grid.
The connection to National Grid was beneficial in many ways. The noisy diesel generators that had long powered the island were finally shut down marking the end of an era for the aging – and costly – air contaminating machines. More importantly, Block Island voters approved a measure to purchase and acquire the assets of the local power company to create a non-profit and ratepayer-controlled utility district. The move resulted in a slight decrease in cost for consumers from what had been the highest in the country at $0.52 per kilowatt hour.
Perhaps the greatest advantage of its renewable energy framework was to help accelerate the deployment of solar like never before. Demand for rooftop solar, canopies, pavilions, and other solar systems, spread throughout the community with homeowners, businesses and local government entities looking to cash in on the new energy economy. The Block Island School went in early – and went big doing 2 rooftop solar projects over a few years.
Hannah Solar, involved in the process leading up to the RFP for the second and larger solar project, journeyed to the area in 2019 to install the largest solar array on the island atop the roof of the Block Island School. The system is fully ballasted with no roof penetrations, using robust solar equipment to withstand the harsh environment. The arrangement feeds into the main distribution panel of the building and is now being used to support another first for the state of Rhode Island – an electric school bus!
In September of 2022, Block Island School students became part of history when they traveled to class aboard one of the state’s first electric school buses. Thanks to an anonymous donor and the Block Island Solar Initiative, the new Blue Bird Electric bus will be “driving on sunshine”. The electric bus is charged by a Rhombus EV Charger, which is a bidirectional charger known as “V2G” or Vehicle to Grid, allowing for it to be powered by sunshine or provide energy back to the school in the event of a power outage. Using a Rhombus V2G charger, the Block Island School electric buses can recharge using electricity generated by on-site solar.
Another remarkable feature of the technology is that a school bus can serve as a backup energy provider to the school to help offset costs during peak demands. The possibilities for this new service are endless and the Block Island School is setting the standard for the rest of the country.
Hannah Solar is a strong supporter of V2G as a viable service model and believes that bidirectional charging will revolutionize the electric vehicle market.
Stay tuned to learn more!