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The Future of Backup Energy Storage for Data Centers

The massive growth in data centers and their importance in the global economy means that power failures have significant repercussions for operators without adequate backup power. Server downtime can result in lost business and compensation, while the failure of cooling systems and HVAC can lead to the destruction of equipment and an increased fire risk. 


The demand for data centers with zero downtime requires backup energy storage systems that can meet high power demands for extensive periods of time. As data center needs evolve, especially towards greater sustainability, operators are searching for alternative backup energy storage solutions that move away from traditional diesel-powered gensets. 


Futuristic data center

The Future of Backup Energy Storage for Data Centers


Renewable Energy Sources


Common additions to mains power supplies include the capacity for on-site generation, primarily through solar or wind. Building redundancy and backup energy storage into a power system gives greater energy security with on-site generation. This increases a data center’s capacity to stay online even while completely cut off from mains power. 


Excess power generation can be stored in several ways, including mechanical storage (such as compressed air or flywheels), which are particularly useful when used as an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system.


Improved Battery Capacity


Among the biggest changes for the future of backup energy storage will be the development of higher capacity, cheaper, and safer batteries. Lithium-ion configurations, including advances in solid-state battery technology, will dominate this. Battery power is a scalable backup energy storage system that immediately picks up loads whenever needed. However, the downside of batteries has been their relatively small energy density, especially when compared with diesel generators. 


Current and common battery backup energy storage is measured by how many minutes it could carry the load for an entire data center premises. This is fine for a UPS and transitional power but can’t be relied on for extended periods of time. Improved battery capacity, combined with on-site generation, could see a premises capable of energy self-sufficiency for hours, and eventually a full 24-hour cycle. 


Sustainable Alternative Fuels


While diesel is the most common backup energy storage for data centers due to its high energy density it also has downsides, namely its carbon output, price volatility, and the dangers in on-site storage. Generators can also run on alternative, more sustainable fuels. These include biomass from forestry byproducts (pellets from condensed sawdust and offcuts) and biodiesel, biogas, and bioethanol from specific plants. Maintaining backup energy storage using sustainable fuels can help data center operators meet environmental targets.


Hydrogen Fuel Cells


Hydrogen fuel cells are a complementary backup energy storage technology ideal for use with sustainable or renewable energy sources. Within these cells, hydrogen is combined with oxygen, which creates electricity and heat, the only byproduct being water. Depending on how the hydrogen is obtained (such as 'green' hydrogen made with solar or wind), the process can be 100% carbon-free. 


Hydrogen is particularly popular as a store of energy, as it is relatively easy to create it at a generation site and transfer it to its use site. In the context of data center backup energy storage, hydrogen fuel cells can be used to power backup systems and can be created and replenished through on-site energy generation.


Natural Gas


Natural gas has the potential to be a ‘cleaner’ energy source than diesel and also has potential as a backup energy storage method for data centers. Liquefied natural gas (LNG) can be transported the same as diesel, held in storage, and used to fuel the generators powering the data center’s backup system. In direct comparisons, it has been found that LNG produces 20%-30% less CO2 compared to diesel. However, its use in hydrogen production is seeing it being touted as a potential sustainable fuel source of the future.

‘Blue’ hydrogen is produced in a process known as steam reforming, which is used to obtain more than 90% of hydrogen. However, unlike 'gray' hydrogen, which sees the CO2 byproducts released into the atmosphere, carbon-capture technology minimizes any negative environmental effects. 


Advanced Backup Energy Storage and Management


Improved software, predictive AI, and hardware can considerably improve the effectiveness of backup energy systems. 0% downtime is an admirable customer promise, but creating and maintaining such a system relies heavily on automated technologies that detect faults or outages and switch loads immediately to a UPS before switching to generators or other power sources. While these systems operate automatically and immediately, they also require consistent testing and maintenance to ensure they work as expected.


Futuristic back up batteries for data center

Conclusion


Effective and reliable backup power is an essential revenue security feature for all data centers since server downtime can result in significant costs and reputational damage, while failing cooling systems can result in destroyed equipment and data corruption. With such high power demands, much of the focus is placed on the carbon impact of data centers. The future of backup energy storage for data centers will need to maintain reliability and efficiency while reducing costs and environmental impacts.


The solutions will likely include increasing the use of battery storage. As technologies improve even further, these can expand from being solely used in UPS systems to handling critical loads for longer. Coupled with on-site generation from renewable sources, batteries can be recharged easily from self-sufficient production. Hydrogen fuel cells, using either green or blue hydrogen, will also produce cleaner energy, similar to the integration of biodiesel or biomass fuels.


At Enercon,  we have worked with various enterprise clients, including data centers, to design and install their backup energy systems. To learn more about how we can improve the power reliability for your premises, contact our team here.

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