Renewable Energy Resilience

Nanogrids, Microgrids and Virtual Power Plants

Expert on new energy business models such as nanogrids, microgrids and virtual power plants, covering cutting edge energy and environmental issues for over 25 years.

Navigant Interview with Susanna Kass, EVP Innovation and Sustainability for Baselayer on Modular, Software-defined Data Centers

1.    Baselayer has invented the software-defined modular data center, leveraging data analytics to make data centers more efficient. In this evolution toward a smarter data center market, how do you see cleaner generation and storage assets playing a role in future data center deployments?

A software defined modular data center enables data transparency to delivery efficiency within the data center, but it also allows for operators to make better decisions about their infrastructure.  We’ve seen a shift in how our data centers are deployed, one unique deployment model has data center capacity placed at sites of cleaner power generation.  By doing so, metrics from the data center (uptime, system reliability, availability, etc.) are combined with global energy/power metrics including GHG emission reduction targets at each location by device to present a complete picture of sustainability.

 We see the usage of data analytics in combination with energy storage systems translating into immediate economic gains.  For example, load orchestration, which harmonizes usage with the grid and minimizes energy costs, combined with day ahead pricing, demand response, time of use rate will deliver savings results right to the bottom line.

2. Can the industry move beyond traditional UPS systems populated with diesel generators and lead-acid batteries into networks that meet the definition of an advanced microgrid?

We believe the answer is yes.  We are working with partners to deliver “Grid-Connected Modular Data Centers” leveraging the suite of BASELAYER modular products.  This new deployment model eliminates the need for traditional UPS systems, diesel generations, and lead acid batteries all of which are not favorable to the environment.  To further this point, fuel cell solutions are can be integrated at the rack level inside the module and can be used for data centers, populated by Microsoft, ebay and FCT technology providers such as Bloom, Solid Power and many others.  Currently, these large fuel cells generators are “centralized” on site and the power is then distributed within the data center.

This innovation of an integrated architecture and grid connectedness is built on intellectual property brought to the market by BASELAYER. This design aims to drastically reduced CAPEX and operational costs to deliver highly reliable power to sustainable Data Center, independently from Grid/Utility power. The definition of a microgrid.  This new architecture demonstrates superior in efficiency and the carbon emissions are greatly reduced. Alternative energy sources can be brought into play with natural gas as the primary source, but biogas and hydrogen are viable options. This power generation unit is deployed in the same modularity like IT assets, Grid Connected Modular data center by BASELAYER.

3.    On the surface, it seems that data centers that invest in redundancy and on-site assets looked like microgrids, as defined by the US federal government, capable of creating islands of power should the larger utility grid goes down. In your view, how does a typical data center and a microgrid differ? How are they the same?

A typical data center and a microgrid serve different purposes.  The former is a platform, designed to provide reliability, availability, and uptime for compute, network, and data storage running critical applications such as ecommerce, media content or Enterprise apps.  Power load is often overprovisioned to isolate its impact of grid and load draw of the data center is a block mode baseload. The latter serves as a source of power for a community which includes C&I, R and possibly EV assets.  The power demand is unpredictable and peaky, it serves its purpose as a power source when the grid is not readily available.  They are similar as both have the capacity power to enable business continuance in the event the utility grid goes down.

4.    Among the key advances for distributed power are the declining costs of solar, batteries and related technologies. Some argue solar is not a good fit for data centers given the immense power needs and often limited space. The variability of supply is also a concern. What is your view on the topic?

Solar power in its natural form is superb to energize a sustainable data center to meet its emission reduction targets.  Solar power when integrated with Energy Storage, can serve as a reliable source of power for Data Centers to support a 24x7x365 set of cloud computing requirements.  A software defined data center data can produce analytics to further help orchestrate load demand of the data center to optimize solar energy output.  Energy storage systems can then be added to flatten the solar “duck curve” supplied to the grid. The clean energy is then discharged to the data center and additional clean energy capacity to the grid.

5.    Perhaps the biggest advanced enabling the creation of advanced microgrids as well as creative aggregations such as “virtual power plants” is software. Why is software so important to the data center industry?

Software is a series of programmatic instructions written to serve a purpose, it can be customized by developers into applications to provide a spectrum of useful functions and services; examples including capturing of environmental sensors of IoT hardware devices in a time sequence.  Software can be used to assimilate energy units, monitors the load demand, and software instructions can be written to orchestrate the load with the load capacity supply. Advanced algorithms can be created through machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) to further model the process of load supply and demand to provide a wholistic view of the systems in load orchestration and emission reduction of the environment and the infrastructure and to deliver new value to the communities it serves. Software provides reliable without human error real time monitoring and control functions as well as predictive maintenance and fault diagnostics management.

6.    One could argue that the data center industry is fundamental to future economic growth. At the same time, its enormous appetite for power, if not intelligently managed, could also impose a large environmental footprint that could ultimately create a backlash. How can the data center industry move forward in a way that will enlist the support of a broad array of stakeholders, including those who worry about environmental and equity issues?

The Data Center is the single predominant driver of load power growth in the global economy.  This trend continues upward given the expectations of ecommerce, social media, mobility, IoT; ML and AI to name a few.  It is imperative for the data center users, owners, and the operators be economically driven to meet its bottom line business goals, eliminates energy waste; be socially responsible in the use of its clean power to meet its GHG targets, reduces emission and to protect the environment. The cleanest Data Center is one that does not need be built. 


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