Microsoft data centre batteries to support growth of renewables

Banks of lithium-ion batteries at a Microsoft data centre in Dublin will support the growth of renewables in Ireland by providing backup to the electricity grid, according to a new blog post.

Nearly 400 wind farms in Ireland today collectively generate more than 35 per cent of the island’s electricity, but the intermitency of renewable energy is causing issues with variable power production.

Lithium-ion batteries, which typically provide backup power for the data centre in case of emergency, have been certified, tested and approved for connection to the grid in a way that helps grid operators provide uninterrupted service when demand exceeds the supply generated elsewhere on the grid by wind, solar and other sources.

“Providing this grid service is a way for us to unlock the value of the data centre,” said Nur Bernhardt, a senior program manager for energy at Microsoft. “The ability to use the data centre’s batteries to provide these services reduces the need to maintain spinning reserve at power plants, which lowers power sector carbon emissions.”

The batteries are part of what is called the uninterruptible power supply, or UPS, for the data centre. The UPS in Microsoft’s Dublin data centre includes new technology that enables real-time interaction with the electric power grid.

If grid-interactive UPS systems replace the grid services currently provided by fossil fuel power plants in Ireland and Northern Ireland, about two million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions could be avoided in 2025, according to Baringa, an energy advisory firm that Microsoft commissioned to analyse the potential impact of the technology.

“This is definitely moving the dial on emissions at a national level,” said Mark Turner, a partner in Baringa’s energy practice who helped perform the analysis. “Two million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions is about one-fifth of the total emissions expected across the island of Ireland from the power sector in 2025. What is more, by relying on grid-interactive UPS technology for grid services, end consumers across Ireland would save tens of millions of dollars on fuel and other costs required to maintain the spinning reserve at coal and natural gas fired power plants.”

“The third win is you reduce the amount you have to turn down renewables,” said Turner. “That is because if you turn gas-fired power stations on to provide this service, you have got to turn something else off. Often that is renewables. If you provide this with UPS, you no longer have to do that.”

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