Nanogrid Technology Comes to IIT Campus

NECA/IBEW 134 has been taking progressive steps forward on the Renewable Energy front, playing a critical role developing and installing innovative solutions. One of the most recent can be found at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Established in 1940, IIT mirrors the city it calls home. Like Chicago, it boasts a proud history of engineering and architectural innovations. From Ludwig Mies van der Rohe who shaped the city’s skyline, to the development of re-entry technology for spacecraft, the institution is steeped in distinguished contributions. It’s fitting that another important development be constructed within the confines of theircampus - the self-suficient Nanogrid. The school’s Robert W. Galvin Center for Electricity Innovation recently unveiled the grid, featuring new LED lighting powered completely by its own solar panel and battery systems. The solution boasts a first-ever hybrid AC-DC grid solution of its kind, and allows the facility to generate enough electricity to power the entire IIT gym complex independently and off the grid, for an extended period of time.

Marc Lopata, President of Azimuth Energy in St. Louis, MO, helped to design the solution. “We develop similar solutions for Islands in the Caribbean that typically have their own generating systems, so they don’t have to rely on the grid. It’s just cheaper going to solar solutions in these remote locations, where the people often have to generate their own electricity.

Wenlong Gong, IIT Research Assistant and a lead developer for the project adds further details. He works closely with the school’s mastermind behind the project, Dr. Mohammad Shahidehpour, Director of the Robert Galvin Center for Electricity Innovation. “What makes this solution unique is that this solution is hybrid. AC and DC run at the same time, allowing more efficiency. It’s a wave of the future.”

The specs for the project are impressive. The battery room is built to meet data center standards and includes climate control protection, along with continuous monitoring and lighting. There are one hundred thirty two, 225-watt solar panels that were rerouted to harness solar energy, which was then delivered to DC converters and connected to batteries and electronics. Ninety six 48 volt DC LED fixtures were used to replace the fluorescent lights. If the grid fails, the DC battery and solar acts as a backup.

The IIT gym is made entirely of glass with a 30-foot ceiling and a panel solar array that covers the roof. Because it’s an older structure, wiring for the panels runs through columns. Finding adequate room to house the electronics was an additional challenge.

Bill Glass, owner of Klass Electric, was responsible for the installation of the system, overseeing a reliable trained team that worked around the unique requirements of the project.

“This is an older, academic building,” says Glass. “It was never built for this type of project. Essentially, the design called for 21st Century distribution systems in a 1960’s building.”

The team had to find space to house the power and electronics.

“One of the rooms we used to house electronics was an unused sauna,” Glass recalls. “There was another main closet and we had to break through one of the walls into the locker room to house the inverters. We also built two battery rooms.”

“Training made a big difference for our installation team,” says Glass. “The workmanship was impeccable.”

So what does the future hold? For developers like Wenlong Gong, tomorrow is wide open, just like the city in which he works.

“With more hybrid Nanogrids being built across the country, we won’t need the AC adapters people normally utilize,” predicts Gong. “Not only will we be more efficient, but this type of microgrid provides more safety for our world, because it allows critical functioning systems to stay up and running for long periods of time in the event of a natural disaster or other type of catastrophe.”