Data centers are vital to corporations worldwide, as key insights need to be managed, analyzed, and shared in order for businesses to run in this digitally enabled world. Yet, somehow, modern data centers are still vulnerable to experiencing unexpected, costly power outages.

According to the Uptime Institute, nearly one-third of data centers experienced a service interruption in 2018. Power failure was a leading cause, followed by network problems and IT system failure. As every company becomes more digitized, data is even more critical to business operations, so the detriment to operations during an outage has magnified. In fact, studies have shown the cost of data center outages has grown to $8,851 per minute in the U.S. At the same time, there’s greater demand for cleaner energy resources globally than ever before, and data center energy consumption is on the rise. The industry needs a power solution that can simultaneously maximize resilience, sustainability, and efficiency.

 Enter Microgrids

When data center outages occur, business operations are put at risk, jeopardizing profits and, for some organizations, such as hospitals, life safety. That is why data centers work tirelessly to secure their power reliability. Still, facilities typically depend on utility power in terms of cost, availability, and overall quality. Microgrids offer resilience, sustainability, and predictable energy cost models while increasing the diversity of power generation assets and guaranteeing always-on services.

Microgrids are not a single technology but rather a combination of proven technologies. They are a distribution network that manages distributed energy resources (DERs), such as renewables and interconnected energy loads, within a defined electrical boundary. A microgrid is a system that provides local generation and can operate as a single controllable entity working in parallel with the utility grid or in island mode, where it disconnects from the grid and operates under its own power. In other words, microgrids keep electricity flowing to critical loads regardless of available utility services, eliminating downtime and enabling business continuity.

Microgrid infrastructure has shifted control of the electricity system to the end user by providing an advanced level of energy flexibility and control, which was historically only available to large energy producers and distributors. They can help data center operators carefully balance their supply and demand in both on-grid and island modes and safely manage the switch back and forth, all while maintaining power stability and quality to protect critical infrastructure and equipment.

 Why Now?

Data has become an essential component of today’s global digital economy, powering diverse industrial activity from retail and manufacturing to infrastructure. However, the rise of power demand, more frequent severe weather conditions, and outdated energy infrastructure have underlined the instability of today’s power grid and created a period of uncertainty for data center operators.

While data centers have traditionally relied on UPS systems and diesel generators to maintain uptime, there are still drawbacks to that approach. Diesel is a reliable fuel source that can be easily stored on-site, but there are limits to how much fuel can be stored; therefore, the total runtime a data center can expect is often limited to a few days unless additional fuel is being sourced. Also, environmental emissions regulations not only restrict how long a diesel generator can run during the year, but it also becomes more challenging to get them permitted for new installations. And, even if generators are tested regularly, it is not a 100% guarantee they will reliably start up in the event of a utility grid blackout.

This has reinforced a need for higher resiliency over longer, sustained periods. Considering the risk profile of the high-tech data industry, advanced microgrids incorporate the latest hardware and software innovations to meet the growing resiliency requirements. They can include a wide variety of DERs, such as renewables (e.g., wind and solar), energy storage systems, backup generators, combined heat and power (CHP) technology, and fuel cells. The most advanced microgrid solutions also provide analytic intelligence that integrates external data, such as weather prediction, availability of solar and wind, and energy market pricing (including pricing for grid electricity and other fuel sources).

Microgrids offer data centers smart architecture by connecting to intelligent controls, enhanced resilience by using multiple energy resources, and cost-savings opportunities by maximizing the use of renewables.

Not only do data centers require a level of power resilience that a microgrid can provide, but they also need to respond to growing demands for faster data with a lower environmental impact. By using redundant, local assets and taking advantage of smarter energy solutions, data centers can reduce their reliance on grid generation to ensure 24/7 operation, increase operational efficiencies, and lead the way to a cleaner energy future.