Data Centers and the Move to Smarter Grids
- Sep 3, 2021 1:25 pm GMT
Computer data centers use a lot of power. Many people see them as part of the emissions problem, but could upgraded facilities be part of the low-carbon transition?
Battery technology is rapidly improving. The impulse behind cleaning up energy that powers data centers together with reducing battery costs have created an opportunity for data center facilities to be part of a smart grid load management program.
The plan is to use energy that data centers already store as a backup to balance utility grids, where intermittent renewable energy sources increase load stresses. This proposal is in its infancy as progress will be needed before most electrical grids are made “smart” enough for this to be practical, but a convergence of factors has made this an opportune moment for it to be piloted.
Data centers need power 24/7/365 so are equipped with various backups, including batteries. With a bidirectional grid, and given the reduction in costs and improvements in battery power generally the data centers can be useful in balancing loads. Google has already tried “load-shifting” to balance when non-urgent tasks are processed with wind or solar availability, reducing the carbon-intensity of the electricity used. This year one of its data centers in Belgium experimented with using lithium ion batteries instead of diesel generators as backup power. The reserve power could be used for load balancing the local grid.
The Department of Energy (DOE) is also investigating this area: The Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) provides best practice guidance for all sizes of data center to reduce their energy consumption and carbon footprint. As battery costs come down this will be a standard method of power backup.
Researchers at the University of Washington examined a Microsoft data center to see whether its battery system could be used for both data center backup and grid services. They concluded the company could cut its annual electricity bill by nearly 11% by lowering energy use at peak usage times. In addition, data center companies could add a new revenue stream by offering power services to the grid.
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