Data Centre Alliance (DCA): Is 2019 The Year For Smart Grid Ready UPS?

We explain why smart grid ready UPS systems have the potential to help transform the National Grid.

Looking ahead to 2019 and it’s clear demand for data centre capacity will continue to grow. Data-driven society depends on interconnected devices, which in turn relies on significant processing power.

But the UK energy mix is changing. Traditional coal, nuclear, and thermal power is being edged out in favour of renewables. But for the National Grid to deal with increased demand, the only sustainable solution is for a smarter electricity network that better balances that demand with supply in real-time.

As the saying goes, “making predictions is a mug’s game”. However, the Data Centre Alliance (DCA) Journal has gathered several industry experts to make some forecasts for the coming year. The results feature in Digitalisation World‘s December edition.

Our General Manager Leo Craig suggests the move towards smart grids offers the potential to unlock the true power of an uninterruptible power supply.

How Does UPS Battery Storage Work?

Battery storage isn’t a new concept. The qualities of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries make it possible for a UPS to store energy and then use it instead of mains supply. Data centre take-up of such demand side response (DSR) mechanisms has so far been limited.

The need for 100% uptime has been a far higher priority for operators. But this means that in most cases, a UPS system is purely a reactionary asset, only kicking into action when there are power problems. Data centres obviously need this safety net, but the consequence is their UPS power supply is an expensive, underutilised asset.

Embracing the possibilities offered by battery storage turns a UPS into something that’s proactively working – and potentially earning money – for a data centre 24/7.

Naturally, at this point in time, DSR and energy storage is only really a commercial proposition to substantial energy users. The largest UK data centres easily consume 30 GWh of power a year, a £3 million annual bill. But there are plenty other facilities with £500,000-£1 million power bills that are just as viable.

Riello UPS general manager Leo Craig quote, potential of UPS as an energy source
SMART MAKES SENSE: Smart grid ready UPS offers data centre operators the chance to turn an underutilised asset into something working for them 24/7

Find Out About Frequency Response

Our article explores the incentives on offer from the National Grid to encourage businesses to balance the network. There’s the Capacity Market, which has been temporarily suspended following a shock EU court ruling last month.

More realistically, there are Reserve Services that cover unexpected increases in demand or lack of generation. This includes Short Term Operating Reserve (STOR), where businesses reduce demand or increase generation with around 10 minutes’ notice, and Demand Turn-Up, where a fee is paid to use energy at times of surplus, for example overnight periods.

At present, possibly the easiest route into DSR for data centres is Frequency Response. This plays the vital role of ensuring constant grid frequency of 50Hz, with one hertz latitude either side.

Li-ion batteries in a UPS system are ideally suited for Firm Frequency Response (FFR). This challenging but lucrative mechanism rewards users that can feed into or reduce demand by 10 MW within 30 seconds’ demand.

The grid requires 800 MW of FFR electricity on average, so that’s an ongoing consistent demand.

As well as the financial benefits, Leo highlights some other advantages of smart grid ready UPS. Probably the most important of these is increased system resilience. Unlike sealed lead-acid blocks, Li-ion batteries have advanced battery monitoring. And when they’re utilised for energy storage, they’re constantly in use. This means they’re far less likely to fail when called upon than batteries only required once in a while to provide backup power.

Learn more about the potential of smart grid ready UPS in December’s Digitalisation World magazine