Reevaluating the traditional data center energy strategy

ABB's Director of Data Center Industry for North America shares insights into the industry trends in 2016.


This fall, there have been many collaborative conferences and expositions where we have gotten the opportunity to get Mark’s exclusive observations and expectations for the market in 2016.


As companies and federal agencies continue to focus on reducing their carbon footprints, how are data centers doing their part?

Data centers have always been looking for ways to reduce their power consumption, because it takes so much power to run and cool the equipment that makes up the center. As the technology and economy of solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources continues to improve, data center owners have been utilizing these sources.  Future advancements in energy storage, microgrids, and smart grid technologies will only continue to help build the business case for data centers incorporating more renewables. There is also a great effort to reduce energy consumption via several other methods.  Data center owners are exploring innovative ways to reduce power for cooling. Examples include using outside air, increasing the server utilization via virtualization and other methods, managing the hot and cold air flows, and automating the cooling and power distribution. New IT hardware technologies such as ARM and RISC processors and solid state storage have also made a big impact.  All pay big dividends in reducing the energy consumption and carbon footprint of a data center.


What are the advantages and challenges of establishing a microgrid to power data centers?

Data center owners spend much capital on UPS systems, generators, and batteries, in many cases redundant, to ensure highly available power for critical loads.  This back up infrastructure is typically under-utilized and idle, waiting for power interruptions that typically are rare in occurrence.

Microgrid technology allows for seamless integration of one or more locally available renewable energy resources with the main grid. The microgrid can provide high availability, resiliency, and security that data centers require by substituting standby infrastructure with distributed power generation assets and energy storage technology, providing direct and continuous financial value.

The challenges to establishing a microgrid for a data center is of course availability of local renewable generation resources. But as data center owners begin incorporating renewables into their power strategy, this becomes a more viable option.  As renewables are integrated, then the automation and control systems must ensure the most efficient and reliable power flow possible throughout the data center power network – yet another challenge, but one that is proven and reliable.


What’s standing in the way of more data centers adopting clean technologies?

Resource availability and costs. The data center may not be located in an ideal region for wind or solar or they may not have the space to install large scale PV panels or local wind turbines. Additionally, these projects take capital that may not have been planned into the design. This changes the ROI of the facility. Finally, power reliability. The data center is a mission critical facility, and cannot lose power. Renewables can be intermittent, requiring a backup power source. All of these factors can be overcome. As data center owners begin to plan for renewables in advance, they can influence site location based on the renewable availability. And as I mentioned before, as cost of renewable energy continues to decrease, the financial benefits will continue to become more obvious. Finally, the integration of renewables with a microgrid, can help increase the power quality and reliability of the renewable sources and seamlessly integrate with the local power grid.


Stayed tuned for the rest of this blog series on energy consumption trends and automation strategies. Read this feature article to learn more about the benefits of microgrid integrations to a data center. If you have additional questions about ABB’s offering, visit our Data Center Industry site.


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About the author

Mark Reed

I lead the sales and marketing activities for the Power Generation and Water industry groups in North and South America and have worked over 32 years for ABB while based in the state of Georgia, USA. Being involved in mission critical automation projects for most of my career, my experience stretches across many industries. My role is to bring more ABB products and solutions to the power and water markets. I received my BS Chemical Engineering degree from North Carolina State University. Outside the office, you will find me playing tennis, golf, or boating.
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