Grids Explained: Micro, Nano, and Utility

This blog is accompanied by an infographic that can be found here

Introduction

Electricity is all around us. It is a staple of modern life and impacts every aspect from how we cook our meals to how we entertain ourselves.

But how does that electricity get to where it needs to be?

Let’s take a look.

The Utility Grid

The utility grid is the most common way for electricity to be transmitted in densely populated areas.

It involves a centralized source of power that generates electricity to be transmitted across distances short and long to the end user.

In Canada, the utility grid is powered by a mix of Hydro, Nuclear, Fossil Fuels (Natural Gas, Oil, and Coal), and other renewables like wind and solar. See the Government of Canada’s breakdown here.

The downsides to a utility grid include transmission losses, the delivery cost for consumers, and that the customer has no say in how their electricity is generated.  

For example, you could be extremely careful about your carbon footprint by shopping locally, riding your bike to work, and going zero-waste, but if your power is coming from a natural gas plant, you may have a larger carbon footprint than you think.

Transmission losses occur because of energy being dissipated as it goes through the grids network of transformers, cables, and overhead lines. Check out this article for more detail on transmission losses.

These losses are ultimately paid for by the consumer in addition to the cost of the electricity they are using.

The disadvantages of the utility grid can be mitigated by the adoption of a micro-grid.

Micro Grids

So, what is a micro grid?

To put it simply, a micro grid is a compressed version of a utility grid that serves a small area like a college campus or Hospital complex.

Micro grids can be configured to tie into a utility grid or to operate as a standalone “island.” The advantage to having this flexibility is that in periods of high demand, electricity can be drawn from the utility grid, and during times of low demand, excess energy generated by the micro-grid can be sold back to the main network.

The installation of a micro grid also increases energy security for those connected. Short transmission lines minimize the risk of them getting damaged and greater control of the power sources means shutdowns for maintenance can be communicated more effectively.

Nano Grid

A Nano-grid is even smaller in scale with their typically being only one customer. This is the kind of grid you would have if you were taking your home off-grid. However, nano-grids do not need to be completely off-grid and can be grid-tied so the user has access to power when the power source within the nano-grid is not producing enough.

A key feature of most nano-grids is an energy storage system to complement the microgeneration method in use. The most common type of storage is batteries as others like flywheels or water reservoirs are impractical on such a small scale. Energy storage systems can also be used in micro-grids.

Nano grids are great for those who want to have complete control and say in how their electricity is generated. If you are one of those people, contact us and we would love to discuss your microgeneration needs! Thanks for reading!

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