global energy price rise that risks making critical industries unviable is
probably most people’s definition of a crisis.
running energy intensive operations such as data centres are only too aware
that they don’t dictate energy prices. But it is worth asking if this hopefully
short-term crisis, combined with long term sustainability challenges, might be
the catalyst for the industry to begin to take demand response (DR) opportunities
much of the data centre sector has declared itself unready to consider demand
response– otherwise called demand side response (DSR). There has often been a refusal
to engage because prevailing attitudes are that it is too much trouble.
attitudes may change now that individuals and associations representing a wide
range of energy intensive industries such as glass and steelmaking are on TV
news programmes warning governments that high energy costs could bankrupt them.
clear that even without energy price volatility there exists a strong case for
using data centre onsite generation and battery storage to create a symbiotic
relationship between data centres and utilities. One where both groups benefit
by reducing their carbon footprints and gain mutual operational and financial
and face the change…
everything in global utility energy supply is changing. The fuel mix, load
curtailment, frequency response, BESS, VRE, all are being adopted amid rapid
phasing out of dependence on fossil fuels.
challenge is that as the energy market transitions by transforming its
infrastructure, the electricity grid must maintain
a nominal voltage and frequency within specific limits.
The challenge for utilities is
that supply and demand are always balanced irrespective of variations in load
conditions, generation status and distribution system faults.
To achieve balance, utilities are
becoming dependent on third-party embedded generation and energy storage
companies as consumer demand and grid capacity fluctuate. An equilibrium is
essential to ensure consumer voltage and frequency stays within mandatory
demand response – DR – means opportunities for sites with embedded generation
and storage capacity.
is DR or DSR?
As stated in the latest
whitepaper from the i3
Solutions Group and EYP MCF GHG Abatement Group, DR
is: “The adjustment in demand relative to grid generating capacity., designed
to address supply and demand imbalance, high wholesale electricity prices and
assist with grid reliability.”
The paper provides detailed
definitions of emerging DR
services categories including Load Curtailment; Load Shifting; Short Term
Operating Reserve (STOR) and Load Reduction; Frequency Response; Energy
Arbitrage; and Time Variant Pricing.
should data centres bother with DR?
data centres DR is a complex undertaking. Suitability will be dictated by
parameters that range from geography to grid maturity and existing energy mixes.
For example, much of the embedded power generation capacity in data centres is
diesel generator based. From an emissions perspective, the willingness of grid
operators to use this generating capacity will vary as different territories
have different definitions of relative fuel cleanliness. This is in turn based upon
their access to and historic and current reliance on different fossil fuels. Wind,
Solar and tidal are cleanest, gas is cleaner than coal etc.
abatement terms for island operating of generators, the impact on GHG depends on the prevailing grid emission
factor (GEF) at the time.
If for example, we assume a 50MW
facility in China has natural gas generators as its emergency power source. The
gas generator emission factor is approximately 486 g CO2e/kWh,
compared to the national average combined margin grid emission factor of 852 g
CO2e/kWh. For the purposes of this example, we will assume 852 g CO2e/kWh is
the prevailing GEF when the generators are operating. With the standby generators
running in island mode for 10 hours, this results in 18,300kg CO2e saving.
There is also marginal emissions
reduction to consider. Marginal emissions occur when the utility brings a
different type of generating plant on the grid such as wind or photovoltaics.
What happens when demand outstrips capacity even by 1MW and the only current
alternative is to start up a coal fired power station?
In the industry we all know that
there exists much over-provisioned power capacity, storage and distribution
infrastructure within the world’s existing data centres. There is more to come
as new data centre capacity comes online.
response is an evolving market that will attract new participants.
Data centres represent a significant and increasing load on
the grid. Given the sustainability imperatives and the obvious desire to
improve margins, especially margins that are negatively impacted by rising
energy costs, it seems logical that the data centre industry will increasingly
participate in DR programs.
reality is that when grid operators wake up to the data centre industry’s
existing power capacity that could be integrated for feeding power into the
system, it could change everything.
that can only happen if the data centre industry itself is also open to the
For a deeper dive into the points raised, download a copy of Demand Response Opportunities for Data Centre Embedded Generation and Energy Storage Systems.
By Kerr Johnstone CEng MIET Director at i3 Solutions Group.