Eaton reports pilot success for UPS-as-a-reserve

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Louise Frampton recently caught up with Eaton’s Mike Byrnes and learned how UPS-as-a-reserve has been received by the data centre sector since its initial launch 

Two years ago, Eaton announced its move into developing technology that would enable participation in demand-side response (DSR) and set its sights on engaging data centres with the concept of UPS-as-a-reserve’ (UPSaaR). The aim was to enable data centres to contribute to renewable energy, by helping to stabilise the grid, while earning revenue from their power assets. 

The sector, historically, has been reticent about DSR, however, and many data centre providers have expressed concerns over the perceived ‘risk’. With few publicised cases to allay their fears, the sector has been slow to come on board, but attitudes are now starting to thaw. Eaton’s Mike Byrnes says that UPSaaR is showing increasing promise and a pilot project in Norway has proven that the concept can be rolled out to data centres without impacting resilience. 

Byrnes revealed that Basefarm, a Norwegian data centre company, has trialled the service as part of a project led by Statnett, a Norwegian transmission system operator, and Fortum, a leading energy provider in the Nordic and Baltic countries. 

As part of the project, Eaton 93PM and Power Xpert 9395P UPSs were upgraded with UPSaaR functionality. This capability enables data centre operators to work with energy providers to momentarily reduce the power demands of the data centre and even return power to the grid. 

During the pilot, the UPSs were tested during a power plant failure that caused instability in the grid. The data centre reserves were the quickest to activate, providing the desired power impact in far less than the required two seconds, and faster than other reserves connected to the grid, such as pumps, industrial consumption and electric vehicles.

The pilot has proved that energy storage in data centres is a viable and fast-acting means of reserve to balance power grids and does not impact the UPS’s primary function of securing data centre loads. 

“Grids have stability issues for frequency, due to the increasing use of renewables, and the UPS is like the first responder – the ‘paramedic’; it is the digital interface. The testing we have undertaken is going extremely well. Any fears over risk, expressed by customers, have been allayed from an engineering perspective, but also in terms of having a secure software connection back to the aggregator,” commented Byrnes.

Having completed successful pilot projects in the UK and Scandinavia, the UPSaaR concept is now ready to be offered to DSR markets as a retrofit solution or as inbuilt functionality in new data centres. According to Eaton’s estimates, a data centre could potentially earn ¤50,000 per MW of power allocated to grid support per year, depending on the local market. However, revenue streams do not appear to be the motivating factor, according to Byrnes.

“We pitched this concept two years ago as offering ‘easy revenue’, but what we have discovered is that the main driver is not around revenue but sustainability. A CTO from a very large facility commented that the greatest risk to the business is the fact that the data centre is a burden on the grid by virtue of its presence, size and capacity. As this contributes to the risks of grid frequency, helping to stabilise the grid through UPSaaR helps to mitigate risk…Eaton has also partnered Microsoft on the development of dual purpose UPS, in the US, and it is all about sustainability,” commented Byrnes.

He highlighted further emerging trends in the data centre sector including growing interest in replacing diesel generators with batteries, as well as increasing demand for microgrids. A growing number of number of data centres are seeking independence from the grid, particularly in countries that have been hit by extreme weather events in recent years. Modular solutions are also gaining traction, according to Byrnes, and this is being driven by the rapid growth of the colocation market. 

“It is a great time to be in the data centre market. Not only has there has been growth in the hyperscale space, but the hyperscalers have also had an impact on the colocation sector. 

“This has led to a number of things: there is a need to move fast as there is a lot of competition in the market; and there is a need for infrastructure that is right-sized and delivered on time. This is driving the pace of innovation – not just in terms of what we do, ie the technology, but also in terms of how we do it. This is driving increasing interest in modular designs,” he concluded.

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