Microsoft datacenter batteries set to enhance the growth of renewables on the power grid

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Electricity is an essential utility that helps us navigate through our day-to-day activities with ease, and at the same time helps reduce the rate of pollution. For instance, Ireland has approximately 400 wind farms that harness more than 35% of the island’s electricity, which is of course affected by the variation of the intensity of the wind.

“As the supply of renewable energy increases, a growing problem for electric power grid operators is created. That’s because they need to only put on the exact amount of energy that users are pulling out,” says John Roach. As such, Microsoft is intending to use the Banks of lithium-ion batteries at the data center in Dublin to counter this issue. Essentially, they will serve as backup power for the datacenter in the event of a power outage or emergency, thus, allowing uninterrupted service provision.

This will in return help lower the overdependency of power grid operators on running coal and natural gas fired power plants to help maintain balance and ensure that it’s business as usual. A better alternative that will help them maintain the “spinning reserve” as the batteries feature a new technology that enables real-time interaction with the electric power grid.

These batteries are part of the uninterruptible power supply(UPS) for the datacenter. Therefore, if this new approach takes effect “about two million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions could be avoided in 2025”, according to Baringa, an energy advisory firm that Microsoft commissioned to analyze the potential impact of the technology. Ultimately helping Ireland save “tens of millions of dollars” that they would have otherwise spent on fuel required to keep the spinning reserve afloat.

To ensure that datacenters continue to provide “five nines” of reliability, the operators depend on the batteries in the UPS to step in whenever there is a power outage whilst waiting for the backup generators to take charge. “The main purpose of the UPS system is to provide power conditioning for the servers. The UPS system is always on, providing protection to the servers”.

“Grid frequency is becoming more volatile as the supply of variable renewable energy on the grid increases,” noted Christian Belady, distinguished engineer and vice president of Microsoft’s datacenter advanced development group.

We have this battery asset in the datacenter that is just sitting there, Belady said. Why don’t we offer it to the grid and come up with a dynamic way of managing it as a dual-purpose asset and thus drive more efficiency and asset utilization? That’s what drove this win-win situation.

They continue to strive to ensure that they are providing a similar, if not more efficient arrangement to that of UPS while “at the same time, providing ancillary services back to the grid with secure communication between the datacenter and the utility”,

As such, Microsoft saw it fit to invest in Ireland based on the fact that its variable renewables already account for more than 35% of the island’s electricity, which is expected to exponentially grow to 80% by 2030.