Data Center Frontier
During last fall’s wildfires in California, the largest electric utility provider in the state was forced to shut off power for millions of customers. In early October, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), curtailed power to more than 30 counties in Central and Northern California. California is prone to more wildfires, natural disasters, and inevitably, more power shutdowns, making microgrids a critical part of the infrastructure to support future operations.
This is why PG&E is planning to build 20 new microgrids near utility substations that could be affected by future power shutoffs. Communities, cities, schools and universities -and yes, data centers – are looking to microgrids to deploy more resilient power solutions above and beyond generators and traditional backup solutions.
There’s More to Microgrids Than You Think
Microgrids can bring together multiple sources of energy, offering a holistic approach rather then reliance upon a single utility provider. Microgrid solutions are entering mainstream use-cases and are delivering some serious benefits to resiliency, uptime, and power delivery. And the use-cases just keep growing. Outside of the California wildfires, there are other use-case as well.
One of the nation’s largest microgrids helps power Alcatraz Island and its 1.5 million annual visitors, helping save more than 25,000 gallons of diesel a year, while reducing the island’s fuel consumption by more than 45% since 2012. How did the Texas A&M RELLIS Campus, boasting a growing list of multimillion-dollar state and national research facilities, testbeds, and proving grounds, deliver high availability power supply for their mission? Microgrids.
In a traditional sense, microgrids act as a self-sufficient energy system. And they are capable of serving discrete geographic footprints. These locations and geographies include college campuses, hospital complexes, business centers, or entire neighborhoods.
Here’s what’s changed: Microgrid architecture has advanced from merely delivering power to doing so intelligently. Advanced microgrids are smart and leverage data-driven solutions for software and their control plane.
Rob Thornton, president and CEO of the 105-year-old International District Energy Association, often says that microgrids are “more than diesel generators with an extension cord.” In other words, a microgrid is not just a backup generation mechanism but should be a robust, 24/7/365 asset. Also, an advanced microgrid may provide grid and energy management services.