Microsoft wants to replicate project to share datacenter batteries

The Dublin data centre’s UPS
Sheila Zabeu -

February 28, 2023

Microsoft wants to replicate worldwide a project already tested in the company’s datacenter in Ireland for sharing energy generated by batteries. The announcement was made by Christoph Mazur, senior manager of energy programmes at Microsoft, during the Energy Storage Summit in London in February.

Unlike diesel generators with lead-acid batteries as an emergency backup power source, the project announced in July 2022 uses lithium-ion battery banks and grid-interactive UPS technology at Microsoft’s Dublin datacenter. The batteries have been certified, tested and approved for connection to electricity supply networks to help operators when demand exceeds power generated elsewhere by wind, solar and other sources.

Microsoft says the ability to use datacenter batteries to provide complementary electricity supply services reduces the need to maintain reserves in power plants and therefore reduces its carbon footprint. The batteries are part of the uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems at Microsoft’s Dublin datacenter, using new technology that allows real-time interaction with the power grid.

In 2022, Microsoft highlighted that once interactive UPS technology had been demonstrated as viable for operating with grid services, the next step would be to identify a market. The company had found an opportunity in Ireland, where variable renewables already account for more than 35% of electricity, a figure that is expected to reach 80% by 2030. This level of variable power generation requires grid stabilization services, typically provided by fossil fuel-based power plants. “Microsoft is exploring opportunities to provide grid stabilization services with interactive UPS technology in its datacenters around the world to further accelerate progress towards grid decarbonisation,” said Nur Bernhardt, senior programme manager for energy at Microsoft, July 2022.

Interactive UPS technology is part of Microsoft’s commitment to be carbon negative by 2030, which also includes datacenter trials with liquid immersion cooling for servers, hydrogen fuel cells for backup power generation, as well as operational changes to increase efficiency and improve design, such as high-density cold plate solutions.

Tested and approved in Microsoft’s datacenter in Dublin, the solution is already able to be applied in any location, says Mazur. The executive told the Energy Storage News website that, during talks with utilities around the world, he presents the project as a case study of what is possible to do with data centres in grid balancing markets, which ensures the balance between generation and consumption.

UPS interactive technology

In June, Microsoft announced it was working with power systems management specialist Eaton on interactive UPS technology for energy storage solutions used as an alternative source in datacenters to also make power available to uninterruptible power supply networks.

Ireland was chosen to test the project as it has over 400 wind farms that generate over 35% of the country’s electricity. It was the ideal place to evaluate a solution for storing the energy generated by variable sources, such as wind power, and then supplying it to the networks for uninterrupted supply when demand exceeds supply.

Microsoft and Eaton say they have put in place a UPS concept ready to work with smart grids to be applied as a distributed energy resource. The aim is to help reduce the typical supply variability between renewable energy sources. Financially speaking, interactive UPS technology will also offer datacenter operators a way to monetize currently underutilized assets such as power backup systems.

In short, data centres will be able to use their energy storage resources (UPS) for their infrastructure during emergencies or periods of peak demand, but also power the grids with energy generated by them, thus reducing levels of variability in renewable energy systems.