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What is a Nanogrid?

AJ  Perkins's picture
President Instant On

With a background spanning over 25 years of building businesses (on an island in the middle of the Pacific), Mr. Perkins recently took the helm of Instant On (IO), a battery, fuel cell and...

  • Member since 2020
  • 3 items added with 3,983 views
  • Sep 28, 2020

What exactly are nanogrids? Think of a microgrid, but:

  • ▶ Smaller, which means quicker and easier to deploy and more affordable
  • ▶ Localized, so customer centric and able to be tied to other nanogrids, microgrids and the utility macrogrid
  • ▶ Able to be aggregated, which can create a coordinated response to support other grids in times of emergencies

Both nanogrids and microgrids are forms of local energy—self-sufficient systems with power generation, controls and often energy storage—that serve customers within a discrete footprint. Although they can operate on their own, most North American microgrids and nanogrids are also connected to the central grid. They are able to island from the larger grid and operate independently during power outages. Electricity continues to flow to homes and buildings served by microgrids and nanogrids even as others around them are in the dark. This is a prime reason for their installation, one that is especially important given that the U.S. is experiencing more outages caused by storms, wildfires and other dangerous conditions that affect the safety of communities. Meanwhile, power outages to homes, a prime market for nanogrids, are no longer a mere inconvenience; they can carry significant costs now that more people are working from home. Indeed, COVID-19 created situations where high ranking corporate officials were operating from their houses, shifting the corporations’ de facto headquarters to residences that lack the kind of backup energy systems more likely to be found at their office complexes.

But it’s not only electric reliability that makes these systems attractive. Because they are tied to the electric grid, they may supply services to it and be paid for doing so. For example, a utility might pay to tap into a nanogrid’s battery at a time when demand is high on the electric grid and it needs more energy, such as a hot day when air conditioning use is high. Nanogrid and microgrid owners also can save money if they use energy from their systems, instead of the grid, during times when grid power is expensive.

Another important benefit of nanogrids is their interconnectivity to a larger scale smart grid. An aggregated network of nanogrids can be very valuable to the grid. Currently, solar is generating power at times of the day when energy is at lowest demand. Besides simply turning off the solar panel production, through a practice called curtailment, the utilities do not have an effective way of managing all the separate points of intermittent connection. They don’t have a way to store the solar power effectively. In addition, at times when the utilities need the power most, current independent solar systems cannot necessarily supply it because they lack the intelligent technology to do so. This is partially due to the fact that the solar energy is not being produced at those critical times of the day. Nanogrids can help solve this problem.

How do microgrids and nanogrids differ? Size is one major factor that distinguishes them. Microgrids tend to be larger than nanogrids, and they usually serve the entire building or more than one building. Microgrids also may incorporate relatively complex energy systems with multiple sources of energy. According to a paper published by Bruce Nordman, a researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and Ken Christensen, a computer science professor at the University of South Florida, a nanogrid is a single domain of power — for voltage, capacity, reliability, administration and price.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 28, 2020

Do nanogrids offer any particular benefits for the rolling blackouts that happened earlier this year in California when supply couldn't meet demand across the grid? Can customers utilize their access to nanogrids during these events in ways that are advantageous even compared with microgrids?

AJ  Perkins's picture
AJ Perkins on Sep 29, 2020

Hi Matt,

  Absolutely. That's why we have been getting calls from all over CA whether power is shut off accidentally or on purpose because of public safety power shutoffs or supply not meeting demand. Customers with a true microgrid or nanogrid should be able to island themselves and use their on-site generation, whether it be solar or fuel cells and their batteries. Typically we design and build our nanogrid systems to withstand multi day outages similar to a traditional microgrid. What we see is that nanogrids are typically less costly and easier to integrate and interconnect making them a much easier deplyable system that provides resiliency, savings and in some cases, if you participate in demand response, it also can provide revenue too while supporting the grid.

Christopher Neely's picture
Christopher Neely on Sep 29, 2020

Can nanogrids and microgrids work together in a single neighborhood? Although they seem to have their differences when it comes to scale, it appears that microgrids would be useless in a world, community or neighborhood that fully embraces nanogrids.  

AJ  Perkins's picture
AJ Perkins on Sep 30, 2020

Yes they can and from what we see that is an ideal situation for them to work together. We have a contract to build nanogrids on 1 million homes for US Veteran's and within these communities, we are setting up a microgrid on the community center consisting of solar, CHP, batteries and controls to support the community. (see link)

We are also working on a couple pilots to see the viability of using the nanogrids/microgrids to allow for peer to peer sharing. There are a lot of opportunities out there with so much new technology coming to the market. We just need to work on interoperability of all of these "widgets" that seem to be built in a silo and not taken into consideration their ability to interact with the whole system and the users. Exciting times for sure.

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