Securing reliable power for critical sites

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    Powerstar CEO Alex Mardapittas discusses the risks of power supply issues in mission critical facilities. He outlines the benefits energy storage and voltage optimisation technology can provide for businesses looking to ensure a reliable power infrastructure and reduce energy costs

    Mission critical facilities support a wide range of vital operations where power supply failures result in significant complications, whether that is severe disruptions to business operations or more serious circumstances such as a risk to the health and safety of the public. The latter, especially clear in applications such as hospitals, has highlighted the risks of an unsecure electricity infrastructure.

    Although serious cases are rare, a number of high-profile power outages at data centres and airports have been documented recently, highlighting the risk of power supply quality issues, such as blackouts, brownouts, voltage spikes and dips. Such occurrences can cause significant damage to highly sensitive areas, resulting in major disruption for companies and their customers.

    It has, therefore, become increasingly clear that mission critical applications must have measures in place to secure facilities. An upsurge in the National Grid’s DUoS (Distribution Use of System) and Triad charges have further compounded the issue. Such charges have proven to be major contributors to the increasing energy storage requirements of mission critical applications.

    Businesses are concerned about consuming energy at periods of high demand throughout the day, given such network charges can account for up to 24% of a company’s energy bill.

    In the past, faced with such charges, some sites simply switched off all but essential supplies during these peak times. However, it is not always possible to take such a dramatic step, especially in today’s technologically advanced world and particularly within businesses such as data centres, where power is constantly required to protect critical data.

    The latest strategies aimed at protecting and optimising mission critical applications – from a decentralised energy network to energy storage and voltage optimisation – are contributing to a more reliable power infrastructure and mitigating the risks of unplanned outages.

    Decentralisation

    With energy prices continuing to rise, and increasingly stringent targets on carbon emissions in place, facilities with critical power requirements are looking at decentralised energy storage schemes as one solution.

    The government’s Clean Growth Strategy expects to invest about £265m nationally in smart systems to reduce the costs of electricity storage, advanced innovative demand response technologies and develop new ways of balancing the National Grid. Included in the remit of the strategy is the concept of a decentralised energy network, where energy is generated locally to the application and makes the most of both energy efficiency and renewables.

    Driven by fears about the security of energy supplied through the grid, particularly as demand is predicted to escalate due to further adoption of electric vehicles, an increased investment in energy storage systems by critical power facilities is helping energy sources be more effective and secure, and assisting the National Grid with balancing demand.

    Energy storage technology

    The new generation of energy storage systems, such as Powerstar Virtue, can be installed to support a backup supply to the load in the event of a power failure. Onsite energy storage solutions are one example, with the ability to offer full uninterruptible power supply (UPS) capabilities that kick in automatically when a supply issue is detected and can respond rapidly or even seamlessly within milliseconds to provide full support to the load and negate the need for any additional backup.

    Adopting energy storage systems with full UPS capabilities will help organisations prepare for energy failures without interruption to the power supply, no matter what the cause of the power outage. Leading solutions can activate within a timeframe of just three milliseconds after a supply issue is detected, which is vital when figures show that blackouts or brownouts are becoming more frequent, with a 46% increase recorded in 2016 compared with the previous year.

    In addition to UPS, energy storage can provide significant cost savings to businesses, particularly high electricity users, by capturing energy during off-peak tariff periods, or through renewable sources, and storing it ready for use when required.

    This allows the user to come off the grid and switch to stored electricity as needed. It is estimated that storing off-grid energy can save organisations up to 24% on electricity bills – particularly attractive to facilities such as hospitals, data centres and airports.

    DUoS, Triads and demand-side response Alongside providing a host of UPS benefits, energy storage technology can provide support in negating the increasing energy costs from providers, including increases in distribution use of system (DUoS) and Triad charges for commercial sites, such as airports that consume moderate to high levels of electricity.

    In basic terms, DUoS and Triads are charges that distribution network operator (DNOs) and the National Grid place on businesses for consuming energy at periods of high demand throughout the day.

    By using energy storage technology, facilities such as banks, transport networks and universities can harness the energy that has been stored during off-peak tariff times, and use it during peak DUoS periods. This process can be replicated for Triads – three half-hour settlement periods with highest system demand within the year. Even though Triads aren’t announced in advance, they can often be accurately predicted, allowing energy storage to assist companies in attaining further savings on energy costs.

    In certain applications, such as data centres, using energy storage can also enable corporations to supply electricity back to the National Grid in order to generate additional revenue through demand-side response (DSR) contracts. Supporting grid capacity through DSR attracts financial reward for organisations that are able to be flexible with their energy consumption, increasing or reducing electricity usage as required.

    As batteries can be used to support the National Grid, this form of energy storage technology can provide instant energy discharge when required. As a result, specifying and installing a bespoke-engineered solution based on a business’s requirements will ensure businesses have the ability to successfully respond to the majority of all DSR events.

    Battery-based energy storage technology is an ideal solution for organisations that are reliant on the continuous, uninterrupted functioning of IT or critical equipment. Additionally, if capacity needs to be expanded, more batteries are installed in line with demand, future proofing the solution.

    Experienced providers of energy storage systems should deliver a concept-to-completion service including assessing and monitoring a building’s energy supply to understand which system specification will best meet the required needs.

    They will also be able to advise on optimising processes, minimising consumption and other energy-saving options. As no two sites are the same, a bespoke solution can be put together to reflect the specific needs and requirements of each facility.

    Voltage optimisation

    While next generation innovations, such as energy storage and UPS, offer obvious advantages for mission critical applications and have been much vaunted in recent years, they should impede the more established technologies such as voltage optimisation from being a valuable solution.

    As a widely recognised technology, voltage optimisation has already been proven in a range of applications from hotels, data centres, hospitals and universities. Voltage optimisation is an effective way to reduce energy consumption and, consequently, carbon emissions, while offering benefits such as improvements to power factor and harmonics.

    The problems associated with the oversupply of voltage can be harmful for any application, especially those operating critical equipment. Not only can it have costly financial ramifications incurred through higher than necessary electricity bills but it can also lead to increased replacement expenses as the lifespan of electrical equipment decreases due to excessive strain.

    What’s more, the avoidable inconveniences caused result in wasted energy and higher carbon emissions, an unattractive proposition for any business attempting to conform to corporate social responsibility standards.

    Voltage optimisation was developed to optimise power from the National Grid, which is generally supplied at a higher voltage than necessary. The average supply delivered within the UK is 242V but can be as high as 253V, while the optimum for most UK electrical equipment sits around 220V due to European design characteristics. Voltage optimisation reduces the excessive supply to an optimal level, therefore preventing the problems typically associated with excessive voltage.

    Technologies are typically installed between the distribution transformer and the main low voltage distribution board, allowing the majority of the consumer’s electrical equipment to benefit from a regulated and optimised power supply.

    There are two types of voltage optimisation systems for low voltage applications: ‘fixed’ systems, such as Powerstar LITE, optimise the voltage by a set amount to match the incoming profile; and ‘electronic-dynamic’ solutions, such as Powerstar MAX, that use intelligent controls to optimise the voltage and maintain it at a constant level, even when an unstable supply is present.

    Optimising the supply voltage for facilities within mission critical sectors ensures companies only pay for the energy that they actually use. In addition, it can assist with harmonics, transients and phase voltages to give a smoother power supply and extends the life of equipment – providing the added benefit of reduced maintenance costs.

    Securing a future for mission critical power

    An ageing energy infrastructure and increasing pressure on the National Grid to deliver an adequate power supply are placing growing strain on mission critical facilities. Keen to avoid failures in their critical power infrastructure, which can lead to high energy costs, physical damage to electrical and essential medical equipment, as well as dangers of serious data breaches, facilities are increasingly turning to multifaceted technologies to improve, maximise and future proof their energy infrastructure.

    Battery-based energy storage and voltage optimisation technologies offer an ideal solution for providing an uninterruptable power supply to organisations such as data centres, the NHS, transport infrastructure or those that are reliant on the continuous, uninterrupted functioning of IT or critical equipment.

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