Non-Chemical Batteries Emerge for ICT Facilities and Infrastructure

What is a battery? A device to store energy and convert it to electricity on demand? This is an important question as ICT facilities and infrastructure elements increasingly rely on sophisticated battery-based systems such as UPS. Potentially greener alternatives are emerging to chemical batteries, with flywheels appearing to have the most momentum for ITC facilities going into 2013.

Let's start by reviewing the role energy storage devices play in ICT. A 2011 APC white paper lists three applications:

1. Power stability – When the power supply coming into the data center is unstable (e.g., power surges and sags), stored energy can be used as needed to balance out disturbances and assure a clean power supply to the load.
2. Power bridging – When switching from one source of power to another (e.g., utility power to generator power), stored energy can be used (from seconds to hours) to assure consistent power.
3. Energy management – This is the cost-optimizing strategy of charging stored energy when energy cost is low, and using stored energy when energy cost is high.

Chemical batteries are pervasive in ICT, as they are in in our homes, cars, and e-devices, but non-chemical options are emerging. These are are positioned as 'greener' due to reduced use and disposal of toxins, lower CO2e footprint, and/or more energy efficient operation.

Flywheels: Manufacturers Vycon and Active Power have both announced data center installations. Vycon announced in June 2011, "…cloud, managed services and colocation provider, EasyStreet® Online Services, Inc., has chosen to protect its state-of-the-art data center with clean backup power from VYCON. EasyStreet, an EPA Green Power Partner, is committed to green technologies and its new SAS 70, Type II audited data center has a zero carbon footprint helped by approx 1MW of VYCON's environmentally friendly VDC-XE clean energy storage systems." In February 2012, Vycon added Austin Energy's new "190,000-square-foot Control Center [which] operates the utility's data center and operates the utility's grid including the switching of utility grid quadrants. VYCON's environmentally friendly VDC-XE flywheel systems – totaling 4.8 megawatts – will protect the Control Center from storms and /or other events that may compromise electrical power."

Active Power announced the largest data center flywheel installation to date in December 2012. "The nearly 11 megawatts of total rated UPS capacity will be shipped later this month to the end user's data center facility in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States…These systems are slated for deployment at a data center owned by one of the world's leading internet search firms." Some media outlets have speculated that Yahoo, active in Green ICT, is the customer.

Video courtesy Vycon

Ultracapacitors: Maxwell Technologies products are used in telecom infrastructure. We are not aware of any current use of ultracapacitors in a data center.

The APC white paper characterizes compressed air and superconducting magnetism as "technologies not economical or not mature enough to be practical". While true for data center use in 2010, I expect to see existing and new companies bring compressed air products to market for ICT in the next two years. Superconducting magnetism for ICT appears to be further out.

(This type of product should not be confused with products like Bloom Box fuel cells. The latter are energy generation devices, rather than energy storage devices; both can play a role in greener ICT power systems.)

UPS supplier Eaton's white paper "Emerging UPS Standby Power Sources - Four Promising Alternatives to the Lead Acid Battery" "explore[s] the strengths, weaknesses and future prospects of four…technologies: Flywheels, ultracapacitors, fuel cells and lithium ion batteries."

Pike Research reports, "Uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems, which use a built-in energy storage source such as a battery, flywheel, or other device to supply clean and sufficient power during grid power outages, have demonstrated their value in preventing undesirable downtime, data loss, or even catastrophic failures…In particular, as green IT becomes an important goal for many IT vendors and users, UPS systems that can fit into and augment existing IT infrastructures to support the vendors’ overall green IT objectives will be in increasing demand…these trends, along with significant growth in emerging economies, will lead to strong growth for the UPS sector in the next few years. The global market for UPS systems will expand from $8.2 billion in 2011 to $9.4 billion in 2012, a year-on-year growth rate of 14%…Going forward, the market will grow to $13.2 billion by 2015."

California is working on energy storage requirements for utilities as an alternative to new generation for peak capacity. This might well result in spin-off technology for ICT facilities and infrastructure nodes. EcoSeed notes that "…storage devices such as compressed air, flywheels and fuel cells are all in the pilot stage. PG&E, for example, has launched a pilot project to store electricity in the form of compressed air."

Thank you

Thanks for this education, Matt! Maybe we could add a #4 sometime soon: Self-sufficiency. Is there anything more coveted than being self-sufficient?? Probably depends on who you ask ;)

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