Nanogrids Can Support Smart Grid Success

September 2012

The Smart Grid promises to deliver the right amount of power to the right equipment at the right time and at the right price. However, fulfillment of this promise is dependent on precise control of electricity, and is being offered just as renewable generation and variable pricing structures introduce more challenges to grid operations.

Berkeley Lab’s Bruce Nordman and Alan Meier, and Ken Christensen of the University of South Florida, offer a way to overcome those challenges in their article, “Think Globally, Distribute Power Locally: The Promise of Nanogrids.” The authors outline how nanogrids—relatively small, locally operated grids—can manage local power supplies at a lower cost and reduced energy use. A nanogrid has at least one load or sink of power, a gateway to the outside, and a controller to distribute power, using price signals to mediate supply and demand. It is the most effective way to integrate local renewable generation and storage, and it incorporates features such as peer-to-peer power exchange, bidirectional power flow, and managed distribution to loads. By separating power distribution from functional control, nanogrids allow different devices to be powered differently; some with AC and some with DC. In areas where buildings produce power, as well as use it, nanogrids can be structured so that a building using less energy can share its electricity with another building with a higher need.

For developing countries, nanogrids offer a hedge against cost-intensive central station facilities and their transmission and distribution networks by allowing distributed generation to provide more of the electricity and smaller central facilities to be built. Other benefits include secure communications, privacy, and local storage. 

Bruce Nordman and Alan Meier, and Ken Christensen, “Think Globally, Distribute Power Locally: The Promise of Nanogrids,” Computer September 2012, 45:9 pp 89-91.

Mark WIlson