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How UPS technology could help balance a grid full of renewables

Russ Barker

Russ Barker

Product and Service Sales Director, Ireland at Vertiv
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Russ Barker, Product and Service Sales Director, Ireland at Vertiv, describes how the UPS could be perfectly placed for balancing a grid increasingly made up of intermittent renewables. 

Renewables overtook fossil fuels as the number one power source in the EU for the first time in 2020, according to the European Commission report on the State of the Energy Union 2021.

As the mix of energy sources continues to shift to renewables, this transfer of generation from large fossil fuel power plants has left power networks less predictable and more susceptible to network faults. 

Matching demand to available supply – given the unpredictable nature of many renewable sources – and building in greater system resilience for faults is a most prescient challenge for the new renewable-powered grid.

Stabilising supplies

When mismatches in energy from generators and customer use occur, frequencies begin to change. Then, when supply rises above demand, the frequency rises, and vice versa. The greater the intermittency of energy supply, the more often imbalances occur.

A further hindrance to grid stability is that traditional frequency regulation is too slow for today’s demands where containment reserves must be able to increase or reduce electricity demand within seconds.

With these factors in mind, it is understandable why data centres and their power and battery systems are best placed to help balance the grid services critical to the infrastructure and ever-changing needs of the modern energy landscape.

Data centres and balancing energy

Data centre assets include the presence of battery energy storage – these could alleviate grid infrastructure constraints and offer the potential to provide grid services and generate new revenue streams, as well as cost savings.

They can also provide grid-balancing services by using two types of energy devices. These services can be advantageous for any asset that consumes electricity and is connected to a meter. ‘Behind the meter ‘ refers to the power used on-site, on the energy user’s side of the meter, whereas ‘in front of the meter’ accounts for electricity on the grid and utility side.

In Europe, balancing services vary by country and are dependent on factors such as how quickly the additional power is needed and for how long. A Vertiv whitepaper found ‘fast frequency’ response – the requirement of active power to be adjusted within 500 milliseconds to one second – to be the most lucrative area of energy-balancing services for data centres. In this instance, the uninterruptible power supply (UPS) is expected to discharge/recharge the batteries for an average of five minutes.

Smart grid-ready UPS

As well as stabilising energy supply, UPSs help support energy management initiatives. A recent survey by research group Omdia, expects smart grid-ready UPS deployment to be prevalent in data centres within the next four years as operators look to develop demand-side response energy management strategies.

Delivering on sustainability initiatives was the main reason survey respondents gave for their interest in adopting smart grid-ready UPS systems. Reputational benefits, closely linked to gaining a competitive advantage, were also cited.

Furthermore, UPS backup power systems make financial sense as they often stand idle. Almost 80% of survey respondents estimated that 10-50% of the capacity of batteries in today’s data centres are in excess and can potentially be used to support the electric grid. Vertiv’s whitepaper found that 1 MW of flexible load and related battery backup can earn a data centre up to £85,000 in revenue per year and millions for a company with multiple megawatt data centres.

UPS systems have evolved to attain high efficiency with smaller footprints and improved battery energy storage and monitoring systems. The incorporation of technology to interact with the electric grid means data centres can be smarter about the amount and timing of energy consumption.

Taking this a step further, under the tariff-based schemes available in some regions, some data centre operators are running grid-balancing projects using UPS technologies to put surplus electricity back into the grid during peak demand.

Moving into the next stage of energy balancing

Increasing the use of renewable energy is critical for the global economy to secure its energy future. As data centres and other energy-intensive industries transition to a greener approach, UPS technology will be pivotal. The subsequent adoption of grid support and demand-side services within the industry will result in environmental benefits, including reduced carbon emissions.

The grid-balancing market is in its infancy. As the intermittency of renewables continues to pose a challenge, access to smart assets like the UPS with grid support functionalities and backup power systems offer the solution to stabilising the electricity grid and for data centres to become valuable energy hubs for meeting sustainability goals across all industries and geographies.

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