How To Safely Power Datacentres In The UK

The UK remains an attractive market for datacentre development thanks to a mainly service based economy, highly skilled workforce and advanced telecommunications infrastructure. What the UK now lacks though is a stable electrical supply that can support more wide-scale adoption of IT and datacentre technologies without the need for more advanced power continuity planning and power monitoring.

The UK electricity market is in transition thanks to both a need to be more environmentally friendly and the successive failures of government to invest in the public infrastructure projects required to keep the UK powered. Energy Ministers have known for years that generating stations needed to be replaced either because they were approaching their end of service life or were not environmentally friendly enough to meet the UK’s carbon commitments. It can take up to 20 years to design, build and commission a new nuclear power station. At the same time demand for energy continues to rise fuelled by wide adoption of IT technologies, growing population and more internet-connected society. In the UK energy demand is expected to rise 40% by 2030.

Renewables were seen by government as a saviour industry. Not only would investment through incentives create jobs, it would also generate power that could be used to meet rising demands and the lack of power from decommissioned systems. The Feed-In-Tariffs (FITs) of recent years boosted solar PV installations including domestic, commercial and agricultural systems. Wind turbine installations are far more capital intensive and though subject to financial incentives there were more at the large multi-national country level of inward investment. The UK is now more dependent on a wide mix of renewable power generation technologies. However, what was not predicted accurately was the effect of multiple injection points into an existing national grid system. These can lead to high mains voltages, harmonic pollution and momentary power breaks.

The UK has always had a higher mains power supply than Europe. Remember when it was 240Vac? Well to harmonise to 230Vac the voltage window was simply adjusted to accommodate from +/-6% to +6 to -10%. As mains supply voltages have risen, so has demand for voltage otpimisation i.e. the lowering of the mains supply to around 220Vac to save energy with suitable 230Vac loads. Voltage optimisation when coupled with other energy saving programs remains attractive but only where the existing mains voltage level is high. Care also has to be taken to ensure all other energy saving programs have been implemented prior to voltage optimizer assessment. However, as with such an investment, whilst energy saving can reduce consumption, cost-savings can be easily eroded by rapid rising energy prices.

With a rapidly destabilizing grid, energy storage is seen as one way to meet peek demand. However, these are grid-scale applications of several MWs and only benefit those within easy deployment of the stored energy. Furthermore the energy is not unlimited and is often stored through some form of renewable power generation, principally wind power.

So how can datacentres address their own power needs?

At EcoPowerSupplies we are seeing a shift now in clients looking for the most efficient on-line uninterruptible power supplies. Eco-Mode (a standby or line interactive) option is only really viable when the mains supply is stable. At the same time, clients are now investing in longer autonomy times using a mixture of battery technologies, standby power generators and fuel cells. Clients expect the future to not hold the prospects of a great number of power cuts but more prolonged power breaks that could result from ageing infrastructure failures.

In addition clients are looking for more than a ‘green wash’ when it comes to renewable power. Datacentres, lead by industry leaders such as Facebook and Google are looking for guaranteed renewable generated power either hydro and wind or a mixture of the two. Apple is reported to be investigating fuel cell technologies. At the same time we are seeing UK datacentres enquiring about energy storage options with their UPS systems and as back-up power.

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