The renewable energy transition is well underway. According to McKinsey & Company’s 2019 Global Energy Perspective, half of the world’s electricity will come from renewable resources within the next 15 years. This means that more and more distributed energy resources (DERs) – smaller scale units of electricity generation that are connected to the power grid – will be online and able to produce, sell and consume or store energy.
In the midst of this transformation, data center managers should take steps to reevaluate their own power infrastructure and consider the role they’ll play in the energy transition. In this article, we’ll explore the evolution of “Everything as a Grid” and the potential impact to the bottom line for data centers.
What’s driving the transition?
The energy status quo has seen a major shift thanks to several trends taking shape in the industry. For one, electricity demands are increasing after a flat period in developed economies. Recent studies suggest that:
- By 2050, there will be a 50 percent increase in the share of energy provided by electricity to buildings.
- Transportation electrification will increase global electricity demand by 27 percent in the next decade.
- Data and computing will demand four times more electricity over the next decade.
At the same time, the old model of centralized electrical supply is just that – old. DERs continue to grow in number and application type. The installed base of energy storage, for example, is expected to increase 13 times by 2030. Behind-the-meter assets will help create a more dynamic, “Everything as a Grid” scenario with two-way power flow and the potential for many different entities to produce and consume energy in a controlled fashion.
The transition to an “Everything as a Grid” model is already evident across a variety of industry sectors. In the education space, Eaton has worked with Catholic University of Lille France to move towards a zero carbon future by increasing consumption of self-generated renewable power. We’ve also helped our own Wadeville manufacturing plant in South Africa reduce downtime and energy costs by 50 percent with dynamically controlled DERs through a microgrid. Eaton has also been participating in Irish Frequency Regulation programs (DS3) through its headquarters in Dublin for the past year – applying an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) solution to help balance the Irish grid that has a large amount of renewables connected to the system.
For data centers, this shift towards DERs bring with it another unique opportunity – to maximize and even monetize previously under-used assets. For example, the UPS has long represented a critical safeguard against potentially damaging power anomalies, as well as vital battery backup to ensure business continuity during an unexpected power outage. Yet thanks to new technology, data center UPSs now have the capability to achieve a dual benefit – transforming from a load on the grid to a value-generating asset. And, in the process, enhancing the sustainability and reducing the environmental footprint of the data center.
It’s the growing adoption of lithium-ion batteries — which offer a longer lifespan and up to eight times the cycle rate of traditional VRLA batteries — that has created the potential for this evolution of the traditional UPS. While the data center maintains control of its energy, choosing how much capacity to offer and when, it has the ability to convert the traditional power backup into an energy storage device. This providing a range of benefits to operators seeking to lower energy bills and optimize consumption. The local electric utility or regional transmission organization (RTO) also reaps benefits with the ability to regulate power and balance load during periods of rapidly fluctuating consumer demand.
With new EnergyAware UPS capabilities, existing lithium-powered devices can help organizations optimize those costs and generate additional revenue. Opportunities include providing peak shaving to help avoid or reduce demand charges; shifting energy consumption for time-of-use rate optimization; providing frequency regulation to help grid operators meet explosive growth demands; and to balance impact of increasing renewable production. Unlike a gas peaker plant, the battery banks are able to dispatch instantaneously to better meet short-term demand spikes or provide fast response in production disturbances.
Eaton recently partnered with Microsoft to test the performance of this technology, putting Microsoft assets to work around the clock. Eaton’s controller allowed the UPS to track frequency regulation signals and quickly respond by charging or discharging the battery to balance the grid. In a technology demonstration with PJM, an RTO serving 13 states and the District of Columbia, the UPS exceeded the operator’s requirements for accuracy, response time and precision on a self-scored test, proving the technology’s ability to serve as a viable distributed energy resource.
As the energy transition evolves, electrical infrastructure will continue to change. This new reality will offer tremendous possibilities for innovation and data center operators should consider the opportunities this will present for their IT systems – identifying areas where advancing capabilities could become a revenue driver as well as a valuable, sustainable initiative. In an “Everything as a Grid” landscape, data centers can safely move towards a low-carbon future that’s more sustainable and energy efficient, one that also puts them in position to not only be a user of energy – but a partner in energy transition.
Ed Spears is a product marketing manager in Eaton’s Critical Power Solutions Division in Raleigh, North Carolina. A 40-year veteran of the power-systems industry, Ed has experience in UPS-systems testing, sales, applications engineering and training—as well as working in power-quality engineering and marketing for telecommunications, data centers, cable television and broadband public networks. He can be reached at EdSpears@Eaton.com, or find more information at Eaton.com.