Smart grid solutions for data centers (can you say "self-healing?")

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By: SGN Staff

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By Troy Miller

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Data centers have emerged as one of the biggest consumers of electric power. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has estimated they now represent 1.5 percent of electricity consumption, a figure that has continued to grow as businesses and consumers demand more and more cloud-based systems, apps, and other Internet services.

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But it’s not just overall electricity consumption that’s growing. Data centers themselves are getting bigger too—some now exceed 100 MW of load—as operators try to meet growing demand in the most efficient ways possible. As data centers grow in size and power use, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the traditional electrical systems used to support data centers in the past will no longer suffice.

 

One major area that requires rethinking is using a 480-volt power system to distribute electricity within data centers. Once data centers use 20-30 MW or more, it’s extremely difficult to support the data center with low-voltage power distribution systems. At 480 volts, a 30-MW data center’s electrical system needs to carry nearly 40,000 amps. That’s a tremendous amount of copper conductors to distribute electricity within a data center.

 

Medium-voltage systems are a clear winner when it comes to power distribution within data centers that consume electricity at such levels. The electrical infrastructure requires less material, takes less time to install and uses a smaller footprint, which ultimately opens more space for servers needed to support core data center functions, particularly revenue-generating functions. Medium-voltage solutions also allow for the application of some of the latest smart-grid solutions for power distribution.

 

Medium-voltage infrastructure opens door to other smart grid solutions

With a medium-voltage electrical infrastructure in place, data centers have the option of implementing self-healing smart grid technology within the facility. Just as on a utility system, a self-healing system can reroute electricity in the event there is a problem with any of the electrical equipment within the data center. By rerouting power, the data center can continue to serve loads with utility-supplied power, and can thus minimize its use of costly and inefficient diesel generators as a back-up power source.