Sharing resources to power the connected future

Backup power supplies can be used for more than just emergencies. Here's why they're crucial for businesses joining forces in the connected ecosystem.
6 September 2018

Datacentres have to keep power running to ensure businesses are not disrupted. Source: Eaton

Power supply management and provisioning isn’t something that most companies actively think about. However, businesses feel the impact when the power goes out – and we’re not just talking about the discomfort of staff.

Recently, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia was unable to perform transactions for a full day due to a power outage at one of its data centers.

As economies move to embrace Industry 4.0, businesses increasingly rely on network and communications. Any loss of power to the grid could spell disaster; having a backup power source isn’t just critical for businesses, it can help temporarily regulate the grid in the event of an emergency as well.

In the industry, most data centers would deploy what is known as an uninterruptible power supply, or UPS for short. While traditionally thought of as a backup supply, UPS can actually be used to help regulate power on the grid.

“Traditionally, businesses would look at their mission-critical applications, then design purpose-built power infrastructure to support and sustain the equipment that they were going to use,” said Janne Paananen in an exclusive interview with TechHQ.

Paananen is the Technology Manager of Critical Power Solutions at Eaton Electrical (Europe, Middle East, and Africa Region).

“In the future, we can’t think in silos. We must think about where else can benefit from this investment and infrastructure,” he added.

Paananen suggested that companies start looking at power not as a resource that they need to use, but rather as part of a larger network.

While UPS is traditionally designed as a backup power supply, the technology has advanced today that allows these backup supplies to act as power frequency regulators. Typically, power supply frequencies fluctuate around 50Hz.

Paananen explained that UPS is a flexible way to manage power, as it has local energy storage in the form of batteries. Companies can decide how much power to take from grid and batteries, or even quickly shift energy back to the grid to help regulate the frequency.

What this means is, companies can look at UPS as a service to help maintain a reliable power grid.

Ronnie Belmans, Professor in electrical engineering at the KU Leuven University in Belgium, explained in an interview with Youris, “Large battery systems can be used to stabilize the frequency and balance the peaks in smart grids. But they can also be used to make specific user grids independent.”

In the context of Industry 4.0, as more and more devices are connected, having a network of backup power is crucial.

The concept of using UPS as individual power regulators is similar to the idea of using electronic vehicles to stabilize the power grid – something German company The Mobility House has been working on.

In a report by pv magazine, CEO Thomas Raffeiner detailed the benefits of using a networked approach to the grid, “This is more reliable than any nuclear power station. If one of these stations fails, the power grid is experiencing trouble. If 10 cars out of 10,000 are not connected properly, there isn’t any major problem with that.”

Earlier this year, a power outage at Amazon Web Services (AWS), for example, caused hundreds of services to go offline. Just yesterday, a lightning strike in San Antonio forced some of Microsoft’s Azure servers out of order, disrupting several businesses.

According to Logic Monitor, 83 percent of enterprise workloads will be in the cloud by 2020. Over 70 percent of the world’s cloud users are hosted on Azure and AWS, as highlighted in a McAfee report.

Losing power in datacentres might cost businesses money; imagine the consequences of losing power in a hospital, where machines could be performing surgery.

Or perhaps if power is lost in a city run by smart sensors regulating traffic, that would wreak havoc, especially if you factor in the future where cars are not only connected but also fully autonomous.

The future is connected by technology. Power sources would also need to take the same approach. It is no longer sufficient to work in silos because businesses are not isolated — they are interconnected.

Having said that, Paananen advised that companies should always consider the primary application for using UPS before looking at providing UPS as a service.

“UPS is used to protect the critical load and that should be always prioritized. You cannot compromise on that or the main business,” he concluded.