Will bidirectional power be the new normal for data centres

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 A white paper issued jointly by the i3 Solutions Group and EYP Mission Critical Facilities (EYPMCF) collaboration on greenhouse gas abatement explains the role that low carbon energy sources will play in the data centre powered grid. The first in a series of white papers provides detailed technical analysis for data centre operators as they move to carbon net-zero operations.

The series of white papers aims to provide vendor-neutral decision-making support together with insights into the factors associated with the many technology options currently available to the sector for lowering the carbon footprint of data centre operations.

Titled ‘Infrastructure Sustainability Options and Revenue Opportunities for Data Centres’, the first paper covers how targets for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and increasing revenue-generating opportunities are not mutually exclusive objectives.

“With government regulation driving data centre owners to consider the impact of their businesses on climate change, the drivers for change incorporate a wide range of financial, operational and environmental elements. This includes the commercial imperative as end users demand reduced costs and carbon neutrality,” Ed Ansett, founder and chairman of i3 Solutions Group, says.

“The purpose of this series of white papers is to help inform decision making as data centre owners play their part in reducing and removing greenhouse gas emissions in order to reach carbon neutrality by 2030.”

The first paper provides in-depth technical insight into areas including Demand Side Response, Data Centre Power Generation, Energy Storage and Sustainable Energy Trading, as well as System Selection criteria such as Sustainability Performance Indices (SPIs).

Opening new revenue opportunities

Ansett believes that the shift in the energy mix from reliance on carbon producing fossil fuels to renewable, gas and nuclear power will present challenges but also potential revenue opportunities for data centre owners. “As power generation changes so too will the grid and this will present significant challenges to the utility providers,” he says. “For data centres with low-carbon generation sources and sufficient energy storage it opens opportunities to assist in backfilling grid capacity shortfalls by interacting with the grid.”

The primary function of the electrical infrastructure remains feeding conditioned utility power to the load with UPS and back-up generation able to supply 5-10 minutes and 24-74 hours of power.

All data centres have some excess capacity. Using power generation and efficient storage data centres can act as bidirectional and unidirectional microgrids.

But for power to be fed back to the grid the energy source will need low carbon. This means moving away from diesel generators for back-up. Diesel engines have high emission factors and therefore are unsuitable as a sustainable energy source for grid support.

“Substituting diesel engines with low-carbon alternatives such as gas reciprocating engines or turbines in conjunction with sustainable energy storage devices will enable many data centre owners to reduce their carbon footprint, and gain additional income derived from grid support schemes,” Ansett adds. “As they move to renewable sources the utility companies will still be tasked with maintaining power availability at current levels. This means finding demand side response power alternatives for when wind or solar power is unavailable.”

Utilities must lower the grid emission factor (GEF), and this can be helped where on-site data centre energy generation and storage decreases the GEF by exporting low-carbon energy into the grid. “Data centre owners should consider whether it is possible to increase the utilisation of standby and redundant generation and energy storage assets for DSR or, indeed, configuring low-carbon generation assets to be the primary source of power to the data centre,” Ansett concludes. “Digital demand shows no sign of slowing down. In the next decade and beyond two things will accelerate in tandem. These are demand for data centres and the services they provide, and the decarbonisation of the world economy.”
The fuel mix in data centres is already changing and new primary power technologies are being tested. The data centre as a low carbon power source for the changing grid is coming.

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