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Intelligent grid connections

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Stephen Jones, ABB Power Grid’s head of business development for the Distributed Energy Sector, explains what makes a grid connection intelligent – and how this can help data centre operators.

Growth in the data centre sector has been mind blowing. Ninety percent of all the data in the world today has been created in the last two years. Our personal and business lives are now more reliant than ever on timely and accurate data processing. And as machine-to-machine communication and the Industrial Internet of Things become more popular, our reliance on data centres is set for more exponential growth.

This poses a huge challenge for data centre operators. According to the 2018 annual survey from the think tank the Uptime Institute, many data centres are experiencing more outages due to growing complexity. In addition, they are under pressure to reduce energy consumption, which will both reduce energy bills and carbon dioxide emissions. As a result, data centre operators need to know that they can rely on always-on power from the grid.

This is where intelligent grid connections come in. They are systems that integrate all necessary hardware and software into a none comprehensive solution to assure high reliability, interoperability and real-time performance management of the data centre. As with the technology at the heart of the data centre itself, advanced digital technologies are essential for intelligent grid connections. In addition, they can be delivered quickly and effectively.

Fast-track grid connection

When planning to extend capacity or build a new site, many data centre operators face the challenge that grid connections often require long lead times.

At the root of this issue is that there is often high demand for new connections, for example from property developers, industry, renewable energy developers and other data centres. However, utility companies often have limited resources available to meet demand. As a result, their new connections teams are often booked well in advance.

In 1997, Ofgem recognised the need to offer an alternative, so brought competition to the market. Today, Lloyd’s Register Group operates certifies Independent Connection Providers (ICPs) under the National Electricity Registration Scheme (NERS) on behalf of the UK’s distribution network operators.

ABB Power Grids is one of a select group of contractors that is accredited to deliver grid connections at voltages from 11 kV to 132 kV sub-transmission level. This gives us the capability to create new grid connections on a turnkey basis, only calling on the utility to provide the connection point.


Working on this basis, we can consult, design, engineer and construction a complete substation, managing the entire project, including civil engineering, installation of substation equipment, commissioning and testing.

One example in the UK is at Telehouse’s Docklands campus, where we delivered twin grid connections to two separate 132 kV distribution grids. By tapping in at this voltage level, Telehouse can avoid paying DUoS (distribution use of system) charges and by connecting to two separate grids, the operator gained a redundant supply. This is helping it achieve its goal of 99.999% availability. In the case of an outage on one supply, the feed will switch seamlessly to the other feed.

With our Power Consulting Services, we can support data centre operators with reliability, operational and energy cost optimisation, power quality analysis and full electrical site audits.

This required installation of two 132/11 kV grid transformers and 132 kV ELK-04 gas insulated switchgear (GIS) as well as medium and low voltage switchgear and transformers. ABB created an indoor substation design on a small footprint to minimise the space required inside the building. Indoor substations also increase physical safety and security for the data centre operator.

Digital substation and automation

We also provided a SCADA interface to enable Telehouse’s operating technicians to monitor the substation remotely.

Going beyond the SCADA system, digital substation and automation brings additional superior benefits: reduced footprint, less site works and commissioning, increased safety (from reduced electric hazards risks) and system reliability.

It’s possible to apply the IEC61850 standard down to the primary assets, by digitising all control, measurement and condition monitoring information from the equipment to the control and protection panels. ABB Power Grids can deliver a state of the art fully integrated digital substation solution that includes the use of Digital CTs, VTs, I/Os and sensors.

Balancing cost and space savings

Operators of city centre facilities want to house substations indoors or in very compact sites. As a result, they often order the most compact equipment available. For example, they typically opt for GIS switchgear, as Telehouse did for its Docklands campus.

Dry-type transformers are another option to minimise footprint. They are made with solid insulation that is compact, non-flammable, non-combustible and that has no chance of leakage. As a result, they are often used in indoor substations where there is little space for oil containment, perimeter clearance and fire-rated walls.

A recent development in dry-type transformers is that they are now rated at up to 72 kV, which makes them an option for some indoor data centre grid connections.

Operators of data centres in areas where land is abundant and low cost, may prefer to opt for a substation based on air insulated switchgear (AIS), although this requires a lot of space. Alternatively, they can opt for hybrid switchgear such as ABB PASS (plug and switch system) switchgear. This combines elements of both AIS and GIS in the same module, therefore is a compromise between compact and low-cost solutions.

While it is available in different configurations, the PASS M0H is particularly useful for data centre applications as it includes all the functions of a complete switchgear bay in an H configuration. This makes it suitable to control the flow between two incoming and two outgoing circuits.

Full lifecycle philosophy for service solutions

ABB Power Grids provides lifecycle services with service solutions spanning from rapid response and operational excellence, including high performing service level agreements, to performance improvements and lifecycle management.

Being experts in grid technology, we can help utilities and end users to expand and extend substations to meet growing power demand from data centre operators. The result is that data centre operators can plan their business growth with confidence.

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