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Microsoft wants to export 'grid-interactive' Dublin datacenter setup

It's all about being 'aware' of effect power consumption has on energy networks

Microsoft looks set to expand a battery energy storage project piloted at its Dublin datacenter to other bit barns operated by the company.

The beast of Redmond told an audience at an energy conference that the battery energy storage system (BESS) deployment it had tested out in Ireland had shown what is possible.

In June, Microsoft announced that it was working with power management specialist Eaton on "grid-interactive UPS technology". This would enable the energy storage systems used for backing up datacenters to supply energy back to the grid if necessary, with the goal of smoothing out variability in the power supply due to the unpredictability of renewable energy sources.

A month later the company disclosed that it intended to implement the system at its Dublin datacenter for trials. With the UPS at the Dublin facility utilizing technology to enable real-time interaction with the electric power grid, the banks of lithium-ion batteries it managed would be able to respond quickly to provide grid services, Microsoft said.

Ireland was seen as an ideal location to test this out as it already had upwards of 400 wind farms, collectively generating more than 35 percent of the nation’s electricity. With a growing supply of renewable energy, there was also a growing need to be able to store it and feed it back later to provide uninterrupted service when demand exceeds the supply, and this is what Microsoft was aiming at.

Speaking at the Energy Storage Summit in London this week, Dr. Christoph Mazur, Microsoft’s Senior Program Manager for Energy & Sustainability, reportedly said it was increasingly aware of the impact its power consumption was having on energy networks, and the way the Dublin facility’s energy use was being smartly managed was applicable everywhere.

In Ireland, the electricity network operator EirGrid runs a market for grid services that prioritizes non-carbon-emitting solutions, and Microsoft is participating via Enel X, an energy services and solutions provider that acts as an aggregator to combine industrial and commercial organizations like Microsoft into "virtual power plants" on the grid.

According to Energy Storage News, Mazur said that Microsoft is already raising the Irish project as a case study of what is possible with energy operators around the world running grid markets, and proposing the company’s participation to deliver a similar scheme.

As The Register noted when the pilot was announced, this is not some philanthropic gesture on behalf of corporations like Microsoft, but a way for datacenter operators to monetize what are seen as underutilized assets. Providing this grid service “is a way for us to unlock the value of the datacenter,” said Microsoft’s Director for Energy Strategy, Nur Bernhardt. ®

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