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Microsoft has confirmed that the lithium-ion battery backup power supplies installed at its datacentre in Dublin, Ireland, will be enabled to feed into the country’s electricity grid later this year.
The software giant has banks of lithium-ion batteries installed on-site, acting as uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), from which it can draw power in the event of an emergency. The batteries are now tested, certified and approved as safe to connect to Ireland’s national grid.
The setup means that at times when there is not enough power to meet the demand being placed on the grid, Microsoft’s stores of power can be drawn upon to plug the gap and reduce the risk of blackouts.
The need for this functionality is becoming increasingly important as Ireland works towards becoming a nation that is increasingly powered by carbon-free energy, such as wind and solar power.
However, the availability of both wind and solar power is dependent on weather patterns and there may be times when there are too few hours of sun or insufficient wind to generate enough power to meet the demands placed on the grid, which is where Microsoft’s setup could help.
In a blog post, Microsoft said the initiative is a way for the company to “unlock the value of the datacentre” while also helping the energy sector to reduce the amount of carbon emissions it generates.
This is because power grid operators typically rely on running coal and natural gas-fired power plants to generate excess capacity. However, being able to tap into lithium-ion-based reserves will negate the need to rely on fossil fuels during periods of peak energy demand and, in turn, will cut the energy sector’s carbon emissions.
“We have this battery asset in the datacentre that is just sitting there,” said Christian Belady, distinguished engineer and vice-president of Microsoft’s datacentre advanced development group, in the blog post.
“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 utilisation? That’s [the thinking that] drove this win-win situation.”
Microsoft commissioned energy advisory firm Baringa to clarify the environmental benefits of opening up its datacentre backup power supplies to the grid in this way, and said its findings show the use of grid-interactive UPS units can drastically reduce the energy sector’s carbon emissions.
“If grid-interactive UPS systems replace the grid services currently provided by fossil-fuel power plants in Ireland and Northern Ireland, about two million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions could be avoided in 2025,” said the Microsoft blog post.
To put this figure into context, Mark Turner, a partner in Baringa’s energy practice, said two million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions is about one-fifth of the total emissions expected to be generated across Ireland from the power sector in 2025.
The Microsoft blog post said grid-interactive UPS technology is a concept the company had under development for some time before lining it up to deploy at its Dublin datacentre.
This particular datacentre location was chosen because of Ireland’s commitment to ramping up the amount of renewable power flowing through its grid, but – as previously documented by Computer Weekly – the country is also experiencing energy supply challenges because of the number of datacentres in operation there.
This has led to some of the country’s local councils taking action to curtail the number of new datacentres being built in Ireland, while state-owned power transmission company EirGrid confirmed in early 2022 that it would not issue any new grid connections to datacentres in the Dublin region until at least 2028 because of grid capacity concerns.
Microsoft concluded its blog post by stating its intention to explore opportunities to roll out its grid-interactive UPS technology to other datacentres it operates around the world, as part of its commitment to becoming a carbon-negative entity by 2030.
“The long-term vision is to turn the datacentre assets into something that can provide social benefit outside of our own operations,” said Nur Bernhardt, a senior programme manager for energy at Microsoft.