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Eaton, Microsoft to outfit datacenters with 'grid-interactive' UPS tech

'EnergyAware' systems to help electricity grids' transition to renewables

Microsoft and power management specialist Eaton are working together on "grid-interactive UPS technology" using Eaton's EnergyAware UPS systems to help electricity grids with the transition to renewable energy.

The two companies already had a partnership where Eaton used Microsoft Azure as its preferred cloud platform for products including an energy management circuit breaker smart safety device, and the pair jointly released a white paper last year on the potential role of grid-interactive datacenters in grid decarbonization.

Selling flexibility into the grid

Now the duo have unveiled a strategic framework agreement that has the grand aims of addressing "digital transformation, sustainability and the energy transition," but which will apparently start with the inclusion of Eaton's EnergyAware UPS technology in Microsoft projects.

Eaton and Microsoft claim to have added digital capabilities to the UPS, which will allow it to be used as a distributed energy resource (DER) to support grids with high levels of variable renewable energy generation.

The upshot of all this is that a new generation of those grid-interactive datacenters – which will include Microsoft's own – will be able to support energy grid operators with the provision of "critical flexibility services" as the proportion of energy supplied from renewable sources grows and the baseload generation capacity provided by fossil fuel power generation declines.

Selling flexibility into the grid is an opportunity for datacenters to monetize underutilized assets, according to Eaton and Microsoft.

What this means in practice is that the datacenter can use its energy storage system (ESS) resources to supply some of the power needed by the datacenter's IT infrastructure during periods of peak demand, which limits the total amount of power the datacenter draws from the grid.

Alternatively, grid-interactive datacenters can also feed energy back to the grid in order to smooth out the variability of those renewable energy resources, providing what is known in the energy industry as fast frequency response (FFR) services.

"A grid-interactive datacenter is one where its extensive electrical system functions not only to protect customer IT data and applications but also to provide valuable electrical services back to the transmission system operator and the grid," said Microsoft's director of Datacenter Research, Sean James.

"These auxiliary services will be increasingly critical to help grids cope with high levels of variable renewable energy."

However, it is important in all of this not to lose sight of the fact that the raison d'être of the UPS is to provide backup power for the vital IT infrastructure in the case of a power failure, according to Moises Levy, principal analyst for DataCenter Physical Infrastructure at Omdia.

"Enabling the UPS and ESS to interact with the electric grid is a new approach for the datacenter industry. Nonetheless, it is important to highlight reliability, and the main function of the UPS and ESS is to protect the mission critical equipment, with the required runtime in case of a power failure. So, we must maintain an ESS capacity to satisfy data center requirements if needed," he told us.

"The concept for smart grid ready UPS is simple, but we need to keep in mind that it is key to satisfy stringent technical requirements with bidirectional flow of energy depending on the applications." ®

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