Power-Blox uses swarm intelligence to create autonomous ‘Internet of energy’ micro-grids

The company has developed a scalable energy product that can create plug-and-power grids capable of storing and distributing electricity from a variety of inputs.

A Swiss company has created a solution for developing fully autonomous power grids that can be scaled up easily without the need for extensive configuration or a centralized control, thanks to its "Swarm Power" technology. The Power-Blox energy storage devices are designed to be able to stack together into a bigger unit with a larger capacity, as well as to be joined together into a micro-grid that allows each of the connected units to have access to "the full power of all units."

At its simplest, a single Power-Blox 200 series cube and solar panel can function as an off-grid power supply, with the unit’s 1.2 kilowatt-hour battery and 230V AC / 200W inverter providing enough electricity for "one small fridge, a television, three LED lights (7W each)" and a mobile phone charger. A larger capacity system can be built by adding multiple units, simply by stacking them on top of each other like LEGO blocks to create towers or "Power-Walls." This modularity allows users to quickly scale up a system to provide more power or more backup capacity, with "no engineering, no calculations, no manual" required.

However, a single Power-Blox cube or tower of cubes isn’t necessarily a major energy technology breakthrough all on its own, because the real secret sauce is the ability for multiple units to be joined together into a "Swarm Grid" that "mimics complex systems in nature" to create a completely autonomous intelligent grid system that can handle electricity inputs from a variety of sources. This swarm technology enables a grid with a fully decentralized architecture that can manage fluctuating loads and inputs, with each component in the grid learning how to adapt to the current state of the grid.

"Swarm technology is based upon nature’s approach towards organizing complex structures in a fully decentralized way. In a swarm, the most complex systems are governed by a simple set of rules and that are acted upon without the need for centralized decision making. As the individual entities within the swarm follow this set of rules they interact with one another without knowledge of the swarm’s behaviour, giving rise to an ‘intelligent’ global behaviour for the entire system." – Power-Blox

One key advantage of this swarm grid setup is that even if an individual component fails, the system still functions, as opposed to conventional mini-grids, which will go down if the "master" device (which is responsible for building the voltage and frequency across the grid) fails.

"With Swarm Electrification, we radically changed this approach. In a swarm grid there is no master device. It is just the sum of all individual elements (=Power-Blox cubes) in the grid. Each element supports the overall grid. It starts to work with the first element and will be up as long as one device in the grid is switched on." – Power-Blox

Here’s how Power-Blox co-founder and Chairman Armand Martin explained the swarm energy concept at TEDxBasel:

The Power-Blox system could be employed as an off-grid electricity supply, essentially creating a solar-powered micro-grid to power a village, a hospital or clinic, or disaster relief efforts, with either a centralized installation (cubes stacked in one location with current supplied to the point of use via conventional wiring) or a decentralized "Snowflake-Topology" swarm grid (cubes installed at various locations and joined together into a single system by 16mm cables). The Power-Blox system can also be put into place as a backup power system in locations where the public grid is unreliable or unstable and a constant supply of electricity is crucial.

"The cubes can be powered by an optionally provided solar unit or from any external source (such as solar, wind, hydrothermal, biomass, or a generator etc). Power-Blox acts as a universal energy interface and can be combined with any external energy source or storage device." – Power-Blox

The company currently offers its Power-Blox 200 series cube in either a 52kg deep-cycle lead-acid (AGM) battery version (CHF 1,795 / US $1,811) or a 27kg lithium ion battery version (CHF 2,750 / US $2,772), with discounts available to nonprofits and resellers. Learn more at Power-Blox.

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