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Global data centre power consumption is estimated at 200 terawatt hours (TWhrs). This is 1% of the total 20,000TWhr of global electrical consumption. Bundling data centres in with the overall Information and communications technology (ICT) industry inflates some predictions to 20% of the world’s electricity by 2040 or emissions rocketing to 5%-14%.
Whilst the statistics around how much energy data centres consume can be alarming, it’s important to note that measuring energy intake alone doesn’t necessarily tell you the full story. It’s not always correct to link a large energy consumption to a negative environmental impact, and the data centre is one example of this.
Historically, the traditional data centre has struggled with marrying the requirements for continuous up-time and reducing its environmental impact. Using power to help our digital economy stay ‘always-on’, data centres are often seen as an energy drain. However, this does not have to be the case. What if the data centre could help contribute to the grid, and by doing so, drive the increase of renewables through stabilising the intermittency of renewable energy generation?
Uninterruptible Power Supply-as-a-Reserve (UPSaaR) technology has the potential to unlock a data centre’s ability to successfully drive environmental sustainability.
What is UPSaaR?
As we transition into a renewable energy future, it is increasingly clear that new technologies sit at the core of our success. The data centre’s position at the heart of our digital environments gives it a unique opportunity to leverage this power to give back to the grid, whilst also improving functionality and driving overall company performance as a result.
UPSaaR technology enables organisations to profit from existing UPS investment through helping energy providers balance the demand for sustainable energy. By performing demand response activities, including time-of-use and peak shaving, data centre managers can save on energy costs. There is also the potential to create new revenue streams through frequency regulation. By reacting to real-time variability in grid frequency (as well as correcting real-time changes in demand and supply balance), data centres can offer capacity back to the grid without compromising critical loads.
For example, a recent pilot of UPSaaR with Norwegian data centre company Basefarm found that alongside its core function of protecting critical loads, the UPSs were now capable of providing 1.5 MW of capacity. A data centre could potentially earn €50,000 per MW of power allocated to grid support per year, depending on the local market.
Frequency response also means the grid is no longer reliant on the traditional model of a generation plant ‘piping’ power in only one direction. Instead, it creates a bidirectional relationship by helping grid operators manage frequency and keep it within its tight regulatory and operational limits. This control is essential for the stable operation of the grid.
Becoming an energy hero
Why is it so important for data centre managers to adopt this technology? The increased electrification of society means we need a way to balance growing demand for energy, including its peaks and troughs, with the increasing urgency for the adoption of renewables.
Perhaps most importantly, frequency response enabled by UPSaaR will allow for the accelerated adoption of renewable energy sources onto the grid.
Data centre managers will be able to help the grid balance demand-side frequencies by implementing UPSaaR technology, ensuring they can immediately respond to grid-level power demands to keep frequencies within the allowed boundaries and help grid operators avoid wide scale power outages.
By nature, renewables are a more variable source of energy, meaning their usage on the grid requires close management. This is where the large electrical capacity of a data centre can step in by using its reserves to account for this variability. The ability to manage sudden disturbances in energy production makes the entire grid greener, as it makes the move to renewable energy sources more viable from a service level and risk-management perspective.
Imagine not only reducing the instances of power failures but also reducing carbon energy usage. The recent UK power outage is a perfect example. This was caused by two generators going offline. The disturbance to the grid could have been offset and the outage could have been avoided with the same technology that helps stabilise a green grid.
By participating in frequency regulation, data centres can use new technologies to create greater flexibility, encourage the uptake of renewables and support the transition to a low carbon economy.
UPSaaR technology has the ability to shift the data centre from energy villain to hero by helping to stabilise the grid and support the energy transition. Not only are there the environmental benefits, but it will also enable companies to operate their data centres more efficiently and increase ROI on their existing investments.
About the author:
Ciarán Forde is responsible for strategy development and implementation for the Data Centre and Information, Communication, Technology (ICT) segment for Eaton across the EMEA region. Ciarán has significant engineering and commercial experience in the Telecom and Data Centre Industry. He has extensive international experience working in various engineering and commercial leadership roles and locations. He joined Eaton in 2019, having previously worked for a number of major manufacturers in the industry, including Avaya, CommScope and others.
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