Microsoft will share power with the grid in Dublin, Ireland through the use of an Eaton ‘grid interactive’ UPS system that will tap the batteries in data centers to provide short-term power back to EirGrid, the state-owned utility that provides electricity transmission in Ireland.
Battery power in data centers goes unused except for UPS backup in the event of a grid outage and only then until backup generators kick in.
Having certified Microsoft’s use of the Eaton system, these battery systems will help grid operators like EirGrid provide uninterrupted service when demand exceeds the supply generated elsewhere by wind, solar and other sources.
According to Baringa, an energy advisory firm that Microsoft commissioned to analyze the impact of the technology, power grid operators around the world typically rely on running coal and natural gas fired power plants to maintain what is called “spinning reserve,” or excess capacity, that can respond quickly to fluctuations in power demand.
The ability to use the datacenter’s batteries to provide this extra capacity reduces the need to maintain spinning reserve at power plants, which lowers power sector carbon emissions. The Baringa study suggest that If grid-interactive UPS systems were widely used in Ireland and Northern Ireland, about two million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions could be avoided in 2025.
In the near term, the end result of Microsoft’s use of the Eaton system is improved grid stability, which in turn makes it easier for EirGrid to integrate wind power onto the grid. Ireland has some 400 wind farms that supply approximately 35% of the country’s power.
It is not clear how many data centers or how much power is involved, but the move will be welcome in power-constrained Dublin. Microsoft began researching the technology in 2017 and completed a PoC at an owned data center in Chicago in 2020, followed by testing at another owned facility in Quincy, Washington. Eaton began a pilot in Dublin in 2019 in partnership with EirGrid.
This particular Microsoft project is all about using power from a hyperscaler-size data center. Data center service providers are increasingly focusing on ways to mitigate climate impact, and edge data centers of all sizes will be a part of that equation. While micro and containerized data centers are unlikely to provide much in the way of power back to the grid, regional edge data centers in some cases could provide a similar backup to power grids. Cooperation between utility companies and multiple vendors would be required before such practices could become widespread, but such efforts would definitely be another step in the right direction as far as ESG practices are concerned.
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