Virtual power plants open new business models for a sustainable future

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Enel X has been recognised for its work with Digital Realty in deploying a virtual power solution that provides flexible capacity to the Australian power grid to address peaks in electricity demand. The award honours Enel X’s VPP programme as an innovation making the most positive difference to data centre design, operations, and management practices.

Digital Realty has enrolled two of its Australian sites in Enel X’s virtual power plant VPP, allowing the company to innovate how it consumes energy to support the Australian electricity grid’s security and reliability. The initiative supports Digital Realty’s continued focus on driving operational efficiency and bringing innovative solutions to market on PlatformDIGITAL, a purpose-built data centre platform that enables the ever-changing data, control, and networking demands of global enterprises.

As part of the initiative, Digital Realty’s sites can be made available to reduce load on the grid at peak times. By switching over to UPS and back-up power generation, the sites reduce the strain on the power grid at peak times, which aids grid resilience. As an early participant in Enel X’s VPP programme, Digital Realty benefits from more efficient use of equipment, robust testing practices and new revenue that reduces the total cost of ownership.

Money for spare power

Businesses are being financially rewarded for reducing the amount of electricity they use in times of grid or market stress. This is called demand response or power flexibility, and it gives consumers more control, more power, and more visibility of their energy use. It is also disrupting traditional energy companies, whose typical retail models of supplying power to business are increasingly out of step with the changing market.

Power flexibility gives businesses the ability to strategically adjust when they use power from the electricity grid. Not only does this support the grid in times of need, but power flexibility also helps to reduce the cost of energy for businesses and consumers. Most large-scale companies already have inherent flexibility and can harness it by making temporary adjustments to their electricity use or switching energy use from the grid to a back-up generator or battery storage, with little to no impact on operations. This is achieved by using a VPP. A VPP is a collection of distributed energy resources such as back-up generators, batteries, and industrial equipment, that work together to provide capacity to the grid when needed.  Once the grid need has passed, businesses return to normal power consumption. Organisations receive regular payments from participation, which can reduce the cost of energy or be reinvested to further enhance the site’s operations.

“We are delighted to have won this award for mission critical tech innovation,” Jeff Renaud, head of Asia and Oceania at Enel X, said. “Being on call to use less energy from the grid at critical times is fundamental to enabling more power generation from intermittent renewables like solar and wind, which reduce carbon emissions and the cost of energy for all consumers. Participation also helps to prevent larger power outages and reduces the need to build more carbon-emitting power plants.”

Utilising existing assets

Enel X works with Digital Realty and many other commercial and industrial businesses to deliver the aggregated virtual capacity from all participants to the grid. Digital Realty did not require capital expenditure investment in additional equipment to participate in the VPP, but uses existing assets, and receives availability payments for being on call, which provides a forecastable revenue stream.

“We are thrilled to be recognised alongside Enel X for our innovation in Australia,” Jon Curry, vice president of operations, Asia Pacific at Digital Realty said. “By participating in Enel X’s VPP, we have improved our mission critical infrastructure to ensure the highest standard of preparation in case of a power grid failure. VPP participation gives a true test of mission critical equipment, including UPS and back-up generation assets, with the safety net of grid power to switch back to if required. Our team is also skilled and ready to respond to a grid emergency if needed. By altering our grid power use, we also directly help Australia’s grid to be more reliable, efficient, and sustainable, both now and into the future.”

Data centres more broadly are well suited to VPP participation because they use a large volume of electricity that is relatively consistent, providing a predictable amount of load to support the grid when needed. They can transfer to their reliable back-up power sources quickly and completely in case of a grid outage. Data centres of any size at any location, whether colocation or fully owned, can participate, regardless of onsite technology employed or energy provider. In addition, no new risks are introduced to the site because of participation, as existing load transfer methods are used in all cases.



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