Industry Insights

CI: Data Center Trend #7: The Grid as a Backup?

Tuesday, October 11, 2016 | by Justin Baillargeon

In all of 2015, nearly 3,600 power outages were reported in the United States. The number of outages reported each year has increased with almost every year in which there was available data. A non-profit organization, Pew Charitable Trusts, published a report as well which corroborates this trend and attributes it to the growing age of the electrical grid.

Most data centers are designed for maximum uptime and resiliency in the face of challenges, and the US electrical grid is proving to be a greater challenge with each year that passes. As a result of the questionable reliability of grid power, several data centers have started to resort to creating their own microgrids. These microgrids include on or near-site power generation with several, often renewable, sources that serve to help power the data center, either alongside grid power (as a backup or supplement) to power mission critical applications, or to independently power the entire data center and utilize the grid as a backup.

That last part, using the grid as a backup, is a practice eBay has implemented with their Utah data center and their Bloom Energy fuel cell installation. The fuel cells at eBay utilize a renewable biogas supply, producing zero carbon emissions, and provide 6MW of power to the data center on top of the existing 665kW solar array on top of the data center.

By building their own microgrid, data center giants like eBay, Equinix and Centurylink, are realizing increased reliability, lower total cost of ownership and a reduced carbon emissions. The latter of which is leading a lot of companies to start investing in clean renewable energy sources in an effort to become more environmentally friendly and sustainable, whether as a company initiative or as a result of federal policies. Just this year we installed our own set of Bloom Energy fuel cells at our North American headquarters, supplying 500kW of green energy as part of our efforts to become a more sustainable company.

We expect an increasing number of larger data centers to start creating their own microgrids as greater reliability becomes realized when compared to our aging electrical grid infrastructure and we are able to reduce our carbon footprint through the use of renewable sources.

Could we see microgrids develop beyond the large hyperscale data centers? Will they be called nanogrids? Let us know what you think by tweeting us @Ortronics and sharing your thoughts on the aging electrical grid and new energy generation technologies.