‘Variability of energy generation is becoming an increasing concern’

5 Jul 2019

Image: Ciarán Forde

Ciarán Forde works closely with technical issues that affect Eaton, while still remaining equally involved in the management and business side of things.

Ciarán Forde is the segment leader for Eaton’s data centre and IT operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

With corporate headquarters in Dublin and operational headquarters in Ohio, Eaton is a US multinational power management company that has approximately 99,000 employees and customers in more than 175 countries.

Forde told Siliconrepublic.com about some of the innovative technology Eaton’s business centres on and why reliable power technologies are increasingly important as stakeholders become more climate-conscious.

Can you outline the breadth and scope of sustainable power technology innovation across your organisation, and what improvements it will bring to the company and other organisations?

This goes to the core of Eaton’s vision. We want to improve quality of life and the environment through the use of power management technologies and services. We do this by helping our customers use power more efficiently, reliably, safely and sustainably.

Important and innovative technologies include:

  • Uninterruptible power supply (UPS) as a reserve (UPSaaR), which uses power quality and backup power systems as a reserve to aid the stability of renewable-rich power grids
  • Microgrid technology that helps deliver clean, reliable and resilient power
  • Energy storage that optimises renewable energy usage and helps meet sustainability targets
  • E-mobility systems that help original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) incorporate hybrid and electric vehicles
  • Intelligent power systems that collect data, learn, and provide actionable insights to optimise power use and continuity
  • Lightweight parts and components made of advanced materials to reduce fuel usage
What are the main points of your company’s data centre and IT strategy?

I don’t think IT strategy can be viewed in isolation in a data centre. In fact, the power and the IT networks in a data centre, together, should be seen as parallel networks. As well as energy flow, the data flow from both can yield the highest levels of performance and efficiency when harnessed.

To facilitate this transformation, we have divided our strategy into three main areas across solutions, software and services:

  • With regard to the solutions, this is the end-to-end power network in the data centre, from main switchgear to ultra-efficient UPS, to intelligent ePDUs at rack level
  • Our software strategy includes both the integrated device management operating software and the overall site power management software. For those requiring remote management and ‘networked’ power devices, we extend into cyber-secured gigabit network cards to allow high-speed, cyber-secured communications
  • Finally, once a data centre designer elects a given technology, the next hurdle is execution and build, and with current build timescales this is more important than ever. That’s the services part of the strategy

It’s crucial to work with commissioning services to understand what the data centre owners or contractors need, and how it’s going to be used. We take the same approach whether we’re talking about our own data centres or those of our customers.

In terms of managing IT budgets, what are your key thoughts on how segment leaders should achieve their goals?

Decision-makers in the data centre segment need to strive for reliability, efficiency, scalability and technologies that can lower total cost of ownership. Data centre electrical infrastructure elements, such as UPSs, are crucial to all of these areas. In terms of budget, consideration could be given to allow these infrastructures to participate in the frequency containment reserve (FCR) and firm frequency response (FFR) energy markets.

By doing so, there is an additional revenue stream that can offset infrastructure costs and increase grid reliability. This is made possible by the opening of the energy markets and the new features found in advanced UPSs.

How complex is the infrastructure? Are you taking steps to simplify it?

Eaton is taking strides to manage the electrical infrastructure as a network in its own right. Our power network management software provides all the system intelligence needed to simplify the design and operation of the power network.

In addition, Eaton has opened its global centre for intelligent power in Dublin, Ireland. This is a team of data scientists and AI professionals who are examining how AI and advanced data analytics can apply to the data centre environment. As this technology is further developed, we expect more positive changes in the sector.

What are some of the main responsibilities of your own role, and how much of it is spent on deep technical issues compared to the management and business side?

I have a wide scope to deep-dive on both commercial and technology trends, and assist in the shaping of our data centre solutions roadmap. This means I’ll be equally involved in both sides of things.

What are the big trends and challenges in your sector, and how do you plan to use sustainable power technologies to address them?

Adapting to increasingly climate-conscious stakeholders, from end users to shareholders, is changing the way the IT sector operates, just as it is changing countless other sectors. The great part is that we help provide a solution to companies looking to meet more ambitious sustainability goals.

As we move to more renewable energy sources, the variability of energy generation is becoming an increasing concern. Levels of sun, wind power and how much water is stored in a dam vary hugely across times of day and times of year – and this can destabilise the grid. And yet, our power needs are growing. A lack of on-demand power isn’t an option for businesses or consumers.

So, where do data centres come in? A UPSaaR, connected to the grid, can immediately respond to request and regulate its intake by using some of its stored energy. This rapid frequency response allows the grid operators to take higher and higher levels of renewable energy on to the grid and, as such, ‘green the grid’ – decarbonising energy.

On top of this, I want to help IT businesses with data centres focus on the new and innovative technologies to read, monitor and optimise power more efficiently, reliably, safely and sustainably.

What other projects do you have lined up for the year, and what will they contribute to the business?

Eaton is involved in the design and commissioning stages of some of the largest data centre builds in the EMEA and the USA at the moment.

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years