New Approaches Backup Energy in Data Centers
01 September 2021
Undeniable, electricity is the lifeblood of every data center. The data center industry was created to ensure that mission-critical applications never go offline. The goal has typically been achieved through layers of redundant electrical infrastructure, including uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems and emergency backup generators.
Looking into the carbon-free energy trend, many hyperscale operators such as Microsoft and Google tend to eliminate diesel fuel and implement new approaches to their power resiliency, like using alternative fuels, large-scale batteries, hydrogen fuel cells, geothermal, Combined Heat and Power (CHP) System
Photo Credit: Alexandre Viard, Unplash
Renewable Fuel – Kao Data
Kao Data, a specialist developer and operator of advanced, carrier-neutral data centres for high-performance colocation, has announced it has taken a further step towards its Net Zero ambitions. They are the UK’s first data centre to transition all backup generators at its Harlow campus to HVO (hydrotreated vegetable oil) fuel in July 2021.
HVO is one of the cleanest fuels on the market and is a second-generation, advanced renewable diesel alternative. Synthesized from vegetable oils using a specialist hydrotreatment process, HVO has been designed to combat the performance inadequacies of earlier biofuels. It offers improved burning efficiency, delivering the same level of resilience as traditional fossil fuels.
Renewable Fuel – Microsoft
Microsoft selects Preem, the world’s first Nordic Eco-labelled diesel, to be its supplier of the low-carbon fuel for their Sweden datacenters’ backup generators. Microsoft expects to have at least 45% lower net carbon dioxide emissions than conventional diesel fuel by choosing Preem Evolution Diesel Plus as a fuel option.
“While diesel fuel accounts for less than one percent of our overall emissions, we believe it is important to help accelerate the global transition away from fossil fuels and a step to help drive demand for sustainably sourced, low-carbon fuels,” said Noelle Walsh, corporate vice president, cloud operations and innovation, Microsoft.
Large Lithium-Ion Batteries – Google
Unlike solar panels only generate power when the sun is shining and wind turbines are idle in calm weather, large-scale energy storage could also be a key enabler to lead the innovation in utilities and grid management.
Google uses large batteries to replace diesel generators at one of its data centers in Belgium as cleaner technologies in backup power. Joe Kava, Vice President for Data Centers at Google, described this as “A first step that we hope will lay the groundwork for a big vision: a world in which backup systems at data centers go from climate change problems to critical components in carbon-free energy systems.”
Moreover, Google isn’t the only data center operator looking to part ways with diesel generators.
Large Lithium-Ion Batteries – Switch
Data center technology company, Switch announced that they would use new large-scale energy storage technology from Tesla – Megapack – to boost its use of solar energy for its massive data center campuses in Las Vegas and Reno. Although Switch didn’t mention how the energy storage system will impact their diesel generators system, the company expects to use Tesla Megapacks to create more than 800-megawatt hours (MWh) of energy storage capacity.
Hydrogen Fuel Cells – Microsoft
Microsoft is regularly researching replacement technologies to diesel that would maintain or improve service availability and sees promise in hydrogen fuel cells and batteries since 2013. In June 2020, Microsoft conducted the first test at a system developer’s lab in Salt Lake City. They powered a row of server racks for 48 hours straight with a 250kW hydrogen fuel cells system. And now, they are aiming to become “carbon-negative” by 2030.
What about Geothermal?
Another option is geothermal energy, which appears to be in a lengthier development cycle. Geothermal power plants use steam to produce electricity. The steam comes from reservoirs of hot water found a few miles or more below the earth’s surface. The steam rotates a turbine that activates a generator, which produces electricity. But the effort is underway, as Google will soon begin using geothermal energy to power its data centers in Nevada with carbon-free energy. Google will be the first hyperscale cloud operator to tap the earth’s heat to power its servers, an approach that can provide green energy around the clock.
The Modular Gas Engine with CHP
In recent years, gas engine performance has drawn up alongside diesel, but with significantly lower emissions and ongoing operating costs. Investing in gas engine power generation creates an opportunity to run on biomethane and convert the plant to hydrogen power in the future, enabling current or future carbon-neutral operation.
Whether a data center requires a fast start for traditional standby power applications or 24/7 operation as the primary power source, Power Partners Gas Solutions with CHP systems can deliver power, heat, and cooling to the data center at its highest possible efficiencies. Furthermore, the standardized pre-engineered modular gas solutions enhance application performance by achieving the highest possible reliability through fast facilitates and a stable grid system.
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