Blowing climate change out of the water

Throughout July of this year the UK experienced soaring temperatures that reached record highs of 37.8C. Major weather events like this can put pressure on the national grid through increased usage of air conditioning in commercial and residential buildings. Then in August a large network outage occurred effecting rail transport, businesses and homes. The outage was caused by two power plants going offline. The cascading effect shutdown many parts of the overall grid and as with any outrage – brought into  the criticality of the UK’s power management and supply network. 

Where there is a major rise or fall in demand or an unplanned surge or outage, the impact on the grid can be detrimental. That is because the grid is an energized system where both generation and load have to be balanced and managed. In the simplest electrical terms, the power voltage (v) and frequency (Hz) both have to be maintained like a giant balancing act. Large deviation in either can have a catastrophic effect.  

To assist with this, secondary sources can deliver supporting services to the grid. This comes in the form of demand response and frequency response. Thanks to new types of technology this functionality can now be integrated into data centre facilities. Data centrs require large amounts of electrical energy and in terms of power they can range from 10-70 megawatts. This vast amount of energy is needed to run all the business critical and technology applications associated with modern life. However, with a technology called energy aware Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS)in addition to ensuring the uptime – the data centre UPS itself can provide grid services back to the operator.  

The days of the traditional data centre are long gone and it is becoming increasingly important for IT professionals to look at how they can best leverage new technologies to go green. This will not only allow them to reap the benefits of improved data centre functionality, but will drive better overall company performance.

Why is this important?

Such services are critical to the adoption of renewable energy. The grid operator faces a tremendous challenge when adopting renewables. The sun doesn’t always shine, and the wind doesn’t always blow – and such variability is not compatible with a grid that must be fully energized and maintained within critical limits. Like a room full of spinning plates, enough energy is needed in the right place and the right time to ensure the overall system functions (termed grid inertia). 

An energy aware UPS performs this function brilliantly. Generally, a UPS takes inbound power and produces high quality constant power output. In addition, it uses its integrated batteries to store ample energy, so if a grid outage occurs, there is enough energy to run the data centre until such time as the backup generators start. In general it will store energy far beyond this primary requirement.  

An energy aware UPS will measure the incoming voltage and frequency from the grid. It can also be connected to detect signaling from the grid and with this capability it can autonomously provide Fast Frequency Response (FFR) which helps alleviate grid disturbances and issues. This has three major benefits which include: 


1. It contributes to stabilising the grid which is serving the data centre. 

2. It enables the grid to adopt green renewable energy. 

3. Grid operators will pay for such services, thereby creating a revenue stream that offsets the cost of the data center electrical infrastructure.  


In this scenario large energy users like data centres create a bi-directional relationship with the grid operator.

Can you imagine mitigating the effect of extreme weather while also helping to de-carbonise our energy? The technology is there to ‘green the grid’ it just needs the will of all the stakeholders to make it happen

In addition, data centres and large energy users are looking towards to various levels of “on site” generation. Generating power not only for their own use but for potential supply back to the national grid. This again creates this bi-directional relationship with the grid and consumers become producers, or “Prosumers”.  

So as we move away from carbon based energy, it is clear we are also moving away from  the old model of a generation plant ‘piping’ power in one direction. The combined effect means when that air conditioning use suddenly rises during a heatwave, power can be supplied from secondary sources to support the grid and manage the surge. And when that windfarm output rises or falls grid services from the same secondary sources can support grid stability. 

The large electrical capacity of data centres can play a fantastic role here. Can you imagine mitigating the effect of extreme weather while also helping to de-carbonise our energy? The technology is there to ‘green the grid’ it just needs the will of all the stakeholders to make it happen. 

Instead of data centres only being heavy consumers they have the opportunity to become green energy heroes, accelerating and enabling the adoption of renewable energy. Energy efficiency is essential, but it doesn’t decarbonize electricity. Data centres are already the most efficient of all electrical environments and can now also be an agent of change to de carbonise electricity.  

Ciaran Forde is a data centre and IT segment leader for Eaton EMEA.

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