NCN Feature: Power Struggle

In a world threatened by power outages the UPS is expected to play a key role in keeping the lights on and the IT systems online. Leo Craig of Riello UPS explains how demands can be met both now and in the years ahead.

Demands facing UPS in a world threatened by power outagesncn

Hundreds of years of burning carbon has taken its toll on the world and scientists predict that by the end of the 21st century the planet will warm by at least two degrees. The threat of climate change is not a new notion but as time goes on, it is clear that we cannot carry on consuming natural resources without consequence. With fossil fuels running out and oil, gas and nuclear power plants closing, the UK faces a very real threat to its power supply. With no other significant plant generation in the near future, this will bring an increased reliance on renewables and imports. Although renewables will go some way in adding power generation to the National Grid, it certainly won’t be enough to cover additional demand. This concerning decline in energy reserve in the UK means increased risk of blackouts and further strain on the stability of the National Grid as it looks to switch between the grid and renewables.

Fighting back against power problems

These demands place additional pressure on the role of the uninterruptible power supply (UPS) as it extends from simply providing back-up power in the event of an outage to having to tackle more frequent grid-switching, micro breaks and spikes and power voltage dips. This instability means that the UPS needs to be a myriad of things – resilient, efficient, future proof and compliant with new energy legislation. So how has UPS evolved to cope with this?

Traditionally, the UPS has only been used on critical loads within the data centre with other services such as air handing relying on a generator for emergency power. But there is now the possibility to use Lithium Ion (Li-ion) batteries with the UPS in ‘offline’ or ‘emergency standby’ mode. This means the UPS is running at 99.5 per cent efficiency and is effectively acting as an energy accumulator which can be used in power outages.

As Li-ion batteries have greater cyclic properties (10,000 cycles) compared to valve-regulated lead acid (VRLA) batteries (500 cycles), they have a faster rate of recharge which makes them suitable for energy storage applications. Li-ion batteries now give data centres the ability to store sufficient power capacity to keep the data centre running for 30 to 60 minutes or more without having to run the generator. From an environmental point of view, Li-ion can work in temperatures from 0-40 degrees without affecting the battery life, hence removing the need to keep the battery room at 20 degrees as demanded by VRLA, thereby offering a saving on cooling.

Smarter technology for the grid

UPS manufacturers are developing products that are smart grid ready so that they can be integrated with alternative renewable power sources and facilitate switching between the grid and solar, while allowing export back to the grid. For example, more and more data centres are taking up ‘triad’ or ‘smart’ contracts with Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) which means that when demand from the grid is high, instead of cutting power from a facility without warning, the data centre receives a request from the DNO to remove itself from the grid and use generators instead to support the data centre. For data centre operators, this not only helps to manage energy costs but also creates an additional revenue stream and offers an opportunity to test the resilient power system in real time with minimal operational risk.

The Move to Modular UPS

In the past, future proofing meant that data centre owners were forced to install much bigger UPS to meet capacity for the years to come. But rightsizing a UPS now makes it possible to invest only in the functionality required for the current load requirement, minimising up-front costs for capital equipment and maximising efficiency. Modular allows the system to be scaled up or down to meet future demands.This solution also helps to maintain a UPS’ online efficiency at around the 96 per cent efficiency mark.

Modular design offers the maximum in availability, scalability, reliability and serviceability whilst also offering high efficiency, low cost of ownership and a high power density. And this trend is only going to increase as according to global research body Frost & Sullivan, the market for modular UPS is expected to grow to £260m (US $400m) by 2017. The 2012 Best Practice Guide for the EU Code on Data Centres also recommends a modular approach to data centre design.

Energy legislation and more

Before long, businesses will not have a choice when it comes to being environmentally responsible as it will become legally binding. With new European directives on energy management edging ever closer, now is the time for businesses to think carefully about energy consumption and the overall effectiveness of the data centre. Preparing businesses for the pending legislation in 2016, the European Commission has created the ‘Code of Conduct for Energy Efficiency in a Data Centre’ which details measures for data centres to consider the environmental impact of their operations. Whilst this is voluntary at the moment, the measures are expected to form the basis of more stringent legislation in the future. Similarly, the Data Centre Alliance (DCA) has introduced a new certification scheme, which aims to provide the industry with a clear set of criteria designed to embrace existing codes and standards of best practice to assess the quality and resilience of a facility.

While some schemes are (for now at least) voluntary, one mandatory scheme which will take effect from December is the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS). This was introduced by the UK government in response to the EU Efficiency Directive. The scheme obligates large companies to have four yearly energy audits from which detailed reports on energy use and the efficiency of their organisation will be produced. ESOS will affect companies with more than 250 employees or companies with fewer than 250 companies but with an annual turnover exceeding €50m/£40million. Failure to comply with ESOS could result in fines up to £50,000 and / or an additional fine of £40,000 in daily penalties – way more expensive than an audit. Companies which do not comply will also be publicly named by the Environment Agency. Obligated businesses will be required to carry out this assessment and reporting process in each four year compliance period, ending on 5th December 2019, 2023, 2027 and so on.

The European Commission on Climate Action has a number of key targets to hit by 2020 – a 20 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions, a 20 per cent increase in energy efficiency and for 20 per cent of total energy consumption to come from renewable energy. The ultimate aim is to turn Europe into a highly energy efficient and low carbon economy, and it has its sights set high with hopes that there could be a 80 to 95 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Measuring efficiency

Whilst it is easy to update to the latest UPS with the highest efficiency and change or upgrade the cooling system, this is not the key to an efficient data centre. Instead, getting a base line on where the energy is being used should be the starting point. This means monitoring the power used and the key temperature and humidity readings across the data centre. The ideal is to install a DCIM monitoring system that oversees the key power users supporting the data centre such as the UPS, computer room air conditioners (CRAC) and computer room air handlers (CRAH). This monitors the performance of the cooling system by looking at the temperature of the air entering the server racks and the return temperature to the CRAC. Simple monitoring of just these two parameters enables the data centre manager to ensure that the equipment is actually performing efficiently and that the flow of cooling around the data centre is where it should be and not bypassing the server racks and returning straight to the CRAC.

Simple things within the data centre environment can make the biggest difference, such as ensuring that blanking plates remain in place within the server racks to stop bypass airflow. There should also be control on cabling within data centres to ensure there are no airflow pinch points due to legacy cables not being removed and new cabling simply put over the top. It’s the ‘low hanging fruit’ that is simple and cheap to do which can result in the greatest savings.

UPS and the power supply of the future

UPS will continue to play a vital role in the power chain but the role will go beyond simply back up power and focus on the additional benefits to businesses. These include combining with batteries to act as energy accumulators and linking with the smart grid. It is this blend of newer technology with practical energy efficiency measures which will work in the ongoing battle to reduce our reliance on the National Grid.

And the good news from recent Ofgem reports is that energy efficiency measures are working. Back in 2014, Ofgem reported there would be a one in four chance of having power cuts when demand exceeded capacity but this has reduced to one in 37 because of the impact of energy efficiency measures implemented across homes and businesses. We can only hope that the message is beginning to sink in and that eventually energy efficiency measures will become law. That is when we’ll really see a reduction in carbon emissions.