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Key attributes of sustainable UPS and critical power systems

Marc Garner

Marc Garner

VP Secure Power Division, Schneider Electric, UK & Ireland
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One of the greatest challenges faced by today’s data centre operators is the need to meet the demand for reliability with minimal impact on the environment, but Marc Garner, VP Secure Power Division, Schneider Electric, UK & Ireland, has some tips for being sustainable and maintaining power continuity. 

Data centres are estimated to represent between 1-2% of global electricity consumption and when combined with the continued growth of data centre capacity; efficiency and sustainability have become more critical than ever. In fact, a survey by Schneider Electric and 451 Research found that 97% of colocation customers are demanding contractual commitments to sustainability, and of the more than 800 global businesses surveyed, over half believe that efficiency and sustainability will be important competitive differentiators within three years.

In recent years data centre operators have come under increasing pressure to make their facilities more efficient, resilient, and sustainable. A growing awareness of the impacts of climate change, combined with end-user demands for sustainability, has seen a number of transformative initiatives take place within the sector, including the emergence of the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact. However, as sustainability demands continue to gather pace and become a key factor of both differentiation and decision making, how can an industry built on reliability, meet demands for resiliency and sustainable operations?

A balancing act 

According to the Uptime Institute, ‘power remains the leading cause of outages’, so it pays to invest in technologies that can balance the need to be environmentally-conscious and risk averse. Uptime and uninterruptible power are, in many respects, business-critical, and for data centre operators, a sustainable backup power system can offer a resilient solution to safeguard against downtime and meet environmental demands.

One key attribute of a sustainable uninterruptible power supply is its operating mode, which can boost efficiency, or reduce energy usage in the system, without compromising on the level of redundancy. Advanced eco modes such as Schneider Electric’s patented ECOnversion technology, which is found in its Galaxy VL three-phase UPS, offers efficiencies of up to 99% without sacrificing load protection. Further, the UPS contains pioneering safety features such as its Live Swap function, which ensures unscheduled downtime is kept to a minimum during the maintenance process.

Battery technologies

UPS batteries and the associated number of charge or discharge cycles is another important sustainability attribute, especially if an organisation is looking to reduce its energy usage and emissions over the lifecycle. Single-phase UPS systems, like the APC Smart-UPS range, can offer two to three times the life expectancy of traditional valve-regulated lead-acid (VRLA) powered systems by utilising Lithium-Ion (li-ion) batteries. Furthermore, they offer users significant benefits, including a 30%-50% lower total cost of ownership (TCO) and reduced carbon emissions.

Li-ion powered solutions can also have a 50-75% smaller physical footprint compared with VRLA batteries, thereby enabling the user to right size for the load and scale up according to power demands. This reduces the need for redundant infrastructure and wasted energy, meaning users can provision now and plan sustainably for the future.

Circularity attributes 

Another sustainability consideration is the circularity attribute of an uninterruptible power supply. Green Premium products can ensure vendors are crystal clear about the sustainability impact of their hardware systems, and help end-users to gain a greater understanding of the technologies’ embodied carbon footprint. 

Such aspects might include transparent environmental information about products, minimal use of hazardous substances and compliance with regulations such a Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) and the European Union (EU) Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH). 

Further, environmental disclosures such as a Product Environmental Profile (PEP) or circularity profiles can provide owners and operators with guidance on responsible product end of life treatments along with circular value propositions.

A reduction in harmful materials

Switchgear is another key attribute of a resilient power system and in recent years, many changes have been made to reduce its environmental impact. Until recently, sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) had long been used within high- and medium-voltage switchgear as an insulating and circuit-breaking medium, offering the advantages of being extremely effective and low cost. However, one big disadvantage is that it is a Greenhouse Gas (GHG) and is 23,500 times more harmful than CO2. As such it is quickly being replaced by newer and more innovative switchgear technologies. These new systems combine pure air insulation, vacuum technology with innovative Shunt Vacuum Interruption to deliver industry-leading circuit-breaking performance with zero GHG emissions.

Schneider Electric’s medium-voltage switchgear systems incorporate these advanced sustainability improvements, which can deliver a proven solution for safer network management, while avoiding the use of GHGs, SF6, and eliminating the risks associated with leaks or toxic by-products. Furthermore, many of the anticipated cost efficiencies have already been addressed, which helps to support greater adoption of sustainable equipment in live and mission-critical environments.

Today, meeting the needs for sustainable and resilient critical power systems is paramount. Yet, by carefully considering the type of technologies deployed, their energy efficiency and circular attributes, today’s data centre operators have the means to ensure operational continuity, while minimising their impact on the environment.

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