Microsoft to support renewables on the grid using Dublin data centre batteries

8 Jul 2022

Microsoft's uninterruptible power supply system. Image: Microsoft

Microsoft said backup batteries from its data centres can help grid operators provide uninterrupted service when demand exceeds the supply of renewable energy.

Microsoft is looking to see if backup batteries from its data centres could be used to support the growth of renewables on electricity grids.

The company plans to use its data centre in Dublin as a business case for this initiative. It chose Ireland because wind energy already accounts for more than 35pc of the country’s electricity, and there are plans for 80pc of electricity to come from renewables by 2030.

One of the biggest issues with renewables is the fluctuating levels of energy they generate. Unlike coal or oil, energy sources such as solar and wind are dependent on the weather. In order to keep a steady power flow, grid operators have to turn to other sources such as fossil fuels when demand exceeds the supply generated by wind, solar and other renewables.

At its data centres, Microsoft said lithium-ion batteries form part of an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system that provides backup power in case of an emergency.

The company said these batteries have been tested and approved to be connected to electricity power grids, which could help grid operators provide an uninterrupted service when energy demand exceeds the supply from renewables.

The UPS in its Dublin data centre includes new technology that will enable real-time interaction with the Irish grid. The project is due to get underway later this year,

Microsoft began exploring the potential to utilise its UPS systems in 2017. The company’s VP of data centre advanced development, Christian Belady, said that grid frequency is becoming “more volatile” as the supply of variable renewable energy increases.

“We have this battery asset in the data centre 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 utilisation? That’s what drove this win-win situation.”

Microsoft commissioned energy advisory firm Baringa to analyse the potential impact of the technology in Ireland. This firm said that 2m metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions could be avoided in 2025 if grid-interactive UPS systems replace the grid services currently provided by fossil fuels.

Microsoft said its UPS initiative is part of its commitment to be carbon negative by 2030. Last October, the company shared plans to make its data centres more sustainable by investing in R&D and to reduce water use by 95pc in its data centres by 2024.

At the time, Microsoft corporate VP for cloud operations and innovations Noelle Walsh said “data centres must be part of the solution for broad decarbonisation”.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic