The State of the Grid: Understanding the Power Paradigm Shift

The electric grid is more than just generation and transmission infrastructure. It is an ecosystem of asset owners, manufacturers, service providers, and government officials at Federal, state, and local levels, all working together to run one of the most extensive electrical grids in the world. However, reliability, efficiency, and sustainability continue to be challenging as more strains are placed on our power grid solutions. This launches our article series on the improving energy solutions for evolving digital infrastructure power needs.

Microgrids

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How prepared are you to ensure you have the power needed to support your data center in an emergency? How confidently can you support emerging sustainable power requirements to create a greener tomorrow?

Studies show that emergency diesel generator configurations are only 80% likely to provide power for the duration of a two-week grid outage. Furthermore, with ESG requirements growing, is diesel really the future you want to invest in?

As we explore the future of power, we see that microgrids offer the potential for much higher resiliency level, and can be better for the environment and also offer improved economics. Modern microgrids quickly become the intelligent bridge between legacy power technologies and emerging power solutions.

This article series will examine some myths and legacy concepts around microgrids and today’s power requirements. Also, in the following weeks we’ll explore how microgrids can become an alternative energy source for the future, specifically, how microgrids can help with grid stabilization as a dual-purpose energy source. Finally, we’ll touch on how microgrids can get you close to carbon-neutrality and how to deliver new solutions like power-as-as-service.

Introduction

Power is an absolute requirement to support critical data center (and even edge) operations. This means supporting resiliency, reliability, and staff to support power needs in remote locations. Beyond that, it’s critical to work with partners who not only deliver on power but have add-on visibility and sustainability capabilities as well.

The continued data center market growth and strains on power needs are a huge challenge. Data center and business leaders must deliver more while retaining optimal efficiency. A recent U.S. Department of Energy report indicates that U.S. data centers are projected only to increase the amount of energy they consume based on current trend estimates — a trend that’s been steadily rising since 2000.

Today, data centers consume several hundred terawatt-hours (TWh) each year, more than some countries’ national energy consumption.

As more organizations expand their data center environments, energy efficiency and management are more closely linked. Not only are data center administrators working hard to cut costs — they’re also working to minimize management overhead and improve infrastructure efficiency.

This focus on power and growth in energy consumption has also raised another critical concern: outages.

According to a 2016 Ponemon study, the average cost of a data center outage has steadily increased from $505,502 in 2010 to $740,357. Now, it averages out to about $9,000 per minute! Throughout their research of 63 data center environments, the study found that:

  • The cost of downtime has increased 38% since the first study in 2010.
  • Downtime costs for most data center-dependent businesses are rising faster than average.
  • Maximum downtime costs have increased 32% since 2013 and 81% since 2010.

Yes, power is critical. And the delivery of that power in its various forms is also important. However, our industry is actively experiencing a shift in how we look at power delivery, sustainability, and new energy source.

power

Source: Nature

power

Source: Nature

Understanding Usage and the Power Paradigm Shift

A very recent study published in the journal Science concluded that data centers accounted for about 205 terawatt-hours of electricity usage in 2018. According to the report, the 205 terawatt-hours showed a 6% increase in total power consumption since 2010. However, over that same period, data center compute instances across the globe rose by 550%. This compute distribution represents what we see both at the core and the new edges of our technology ecosystems.

The report noted that although the amount of power data centers are consuming is generally steady due to advancements in efficiency, converged infrastructure, and better power utilization, considerably more computing is still being deployed. Furthermore, the critical nature of this compute continues to increase as well, which means that the power associated with essential infrastructure becomes even more critical.

Power

Source: Enchanted Rock

And this is where the power paradigm begins to shift. It’s essential to look at power from a different perspective. Let’s start with traditional generators. Sure, generators could get you up and running, but for how long? What can communities, cities, schools and universities, data centers, hyperscalers, and even edge leaders do to deploy more resilient power solutions above and beyond generators and traditional backup solutions? The other vital consideration was the intelligence and data-driven architectures behind new power delivery options.

This is where the thought process must evolve. Specifically, understanding that modern microgrids can do all of this and are now supporting a lot of different use-cases.

Microgrid Use-Cases: A Quick Look at Modern Solutions

It’s important to note that microgrid solutions are entering mainstream use-cases and delivering serious benefits to resiliency, uptime, and power delivery. And the list of microgrid applications continues to grow. California wildfires have continued to cause power disruptions and PG&E has turned to microgrids to support the local power requirements. There is another use-case outside the California wildfires.

Power

Source: Enchanted Rock

What helps power Alcatraz Island for the more than 1.5 million people that visit it annually? The answer is: one of the nation’s largest microgrids, helping save more than 25,000 gallons of diesel a year while reducing the island’s fuel consumption by more than 45% since 2012. How did the Texas A&M RELLIS Campus, boasting a growing list of multimillion-dollar state and national research facilities, testbeds, and proving grounds, deliver a high availability power supply for their mission? Microgrids.

In a traditional sense, microgrids act as a self- sufficient energy system. And they are capable of serving discrete geographic footprints, and these locations and geographies include college campuses, hospital complexes, business centers, or entire neighborhoods.

Here’s what’s changed: Microgrid architecture has advanced from merely delivering power to doing so intelligently. Advanced microgrids are smart and leverage data-driven solutions for software and their control plane.

Download the entire special report, “The State of the Grid: Improving Energy Solutions for Evolving Digital Infrastructure Power Needs” to learn more. In our next article, we’ll look at why it’s time for the grid to be refreshed.

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