Ever since the Edison / Westinghouse battle was settled with AC power emerging as the winner, energy users have sought ways to ensure the reliability, availability, and quality of our critical energy source.
Within the mission critical sectors, we adopted low voltage DC (typically -48V DC) for most Telecom applications. For data centers we continued to rely on the AC power grid but ensure power continuity is deploying uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems in various architectures, often with some form of standby power generation.
Challenging the Status Quo Of UPS Systems in Data Centers
This has been the status quo within the data center industry for well over 40-years. We invest in critical infrastructure that we hope to never use, or at least not for an extended period of time or with any frequency.
No, the traditional data center electrical system comprising uninterruptible power supplies, automatic transfer switches, and generators has become a cost of doing business. And, when the UPS battery system isn’t being called on to bridge power interruptions, it represents a stranded asset. Not much more than a line item on the depreciation schedule of our corporate balance sheets.
That paradigm is changing due to new battery chemistries, advances in material science for power electronics, and new UPS inverter and power system control designs.
With the commercialization of robust Lithium-Ion batteries in form factors, chemistries, and construction suitable for high-power and long-duration critical infrastructure applications, combined with true bi-directional UPS systems, we have the basis for an entirely new way of managing these valuable assets. One where we unleash the power of our uninterruptible power supply to start generating a new source of revenue.
That revenue is available by tapping into these stranded assets to provide grid-forming services such as frequency stability, VAR compensation, voltage regulation, and short-to-medium term energy. This is accomplished by using the UPS inverter, battery plant, and in some applications the generators / fuel cells to provide energy back to the grid.
Today the battery and power electronics industries are deploying massive, hyperscale data center-level battery plants for grid-connected energy storage with relative ease. These systems have been installed in far-flung locations like Fairbanks, AK (26MW/15min) and South Australia (100MW/130MW/h) with numerous, smaller installations throughout the EU and Americas. The opportunity exists for data center operators to embrace the technology and associated operational practices to tap into this revenue stream.
Balancing Risk and Reward for the Data Center
The data center industry is understandably risk adverse. Currently, data center continuity is dependent on lead-acid batteries, with their penchant for short-life, inability to cycle, and demand to sit in ‘float charge’ tied to traditional UPS systems delivering power on a single path and unable to synch/source voltage and current with the grid. These factors make it impractical to pull-the-plug and isolate the data center from the grid.
But, now the new generation of technologies mentioned previously, like lithium-ion batteries and smart energy storage systems, is reducing the risk and increasing the rewards of tapping into this stranded asset. The UPS platform of today, at least from Vertiv, has the capability for bi-directional operation as part of their DNA. You only need to make a few software and facility wiring updates to capitalize on this inherent capability.
To get the full benefit Li-ion batteries are highly recommended as these are designed for long-life, numerous and frequent cycles, and can sit at varying levels of ‘charge’ with no impact on performance, reliability, or availability. These batteries were tailormade for use in energy storage applications.
When combined, the bi-directional uninterruptible power supply, Li-ion battery plant, intelligent system controls and, potentially the backup generators as well comprise a versatile energy system that can create a significant new revenue source for your critical infrastructure. One you can dispatch based upon current market drivers such as spot-market cost/MWh, frequency / grid firming pricing, and demand reduction incentives.
These can be factored across your current percent of capacity loading, customer risk profiles, customer SLAs, weather, time-of-day, and other business parameters to ensure that your Lithium-Ion battery plant never dips below a predetermined minimum energy storage reserve.
This concept has already been put into use with existing and new data centers. Check out this brief report on one such facility in the UK. And come visit with Emiliano Cevenini at Smart Energy World Summit, Milan this October 24 & 25 or with me and Emiliano at DCD London November 5 & 6 for more information on deploying this concept within your data center.
The time has come to unleash the power of your stranded assets and turn them into a new source of revenue.