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How Whole System Thinking can deliver resilient energy for data centres

Wed 9 Mar 2022 | Noel Powell

In the complex and sensitive environment of a data centre, failure is not an option. The infrastructure that manages power, cooling, and waste emissions must be resilient, secure, efficient, and affordable, to maintain round the clock connectivity.

Building infrastructure from the ground up

Developing your energy infrastructure is a journey, one that can be arduous and tough to navigate when you’re setting out. That’s why data centre developers and operators need experienced energy partners that focus on providing a comprehensive view of your power infrastructure, a view that takes into account all elements both for current needs and those required in building for the future.

Whole System Thinking methodology is the key to unlocking your development’s full potential. By investing in, building and operating low-carbon energy solutions for resilient power infrastructure up to 132kV, you can bring in a wider array of energy assets to the overall energy system. This includes current sustainable technology such as roof-top and ground mount solar PV, battery storage, heat recovery and cooling, electric vehicle infrastructure, and design for anticipated developments or regulations likely to arise in the new low-carbon world.

One size doesn’t fit all

Every development has its own unique needs, which is why the industry needs new and innovative ways to deliver, manage and invest in energy infrastructure. Providing the backbone needed for a long-term net zero future, Whole System Thinking ensures that you can get exactly what you need for your specific and unique data centre, and not a “one size fits all” solution.

To enhance this, there is a need to deliver decentralised solutions that will bring generation and management of sustainable energy closer to the point of need, particularly where grid constraint is of immediate concern. Managing all aspects of safety, communication, and delivery through a single centralised point of contact, the objective is to manage assets over the long-term, so it is essential they are optimally designed and delivered.

Of primary focus is what we can do to support sustainability aspirations and the drive to Net Zero

With long-term strategy in mind, and with extensive experience in asset management, operations, and maintenance (O&M), putting processes in place at the outset to identify capital and operational cost efficiencies can achieve significant cost reduction whilst still providing a high standard of service. And actively engaging with all stakeholders together significantly improves capability to deliver whole-system projects on time, on budget, and with the required levels of safety and quality needed, whilst delivering a welcome long-term cost dividend.

Are you really Net Zero Ready?

Of primary focus is what we can do to support sustainability aspirations and the drive to Net Zero, and for many this can be an area of difficulty at a time of increasing importance of sustainability brand reputation. Solutions at site and in areas where constrained grid capacity requires less-desirable measures can support operators to meet and exceed their sustainability goals through appropriate energy procurement. Securing 100% green supply contracts via local private wire arrangements or power purchase agreements (PPA) with renewable energy producers can provide guarantees to operators and their clients that their site is meeting the highest environmental standards.

Whole System Thinking, resilience, and business continuity

The last thing that any sentient energy-dependent organisation wants is to suffer a supply catastrophe with no or an insufficiently viable Plan B. Using Whole System Thinking can cover just that by implementing back-up solutions for energy infrastructure to ensure that in the event of mains power failure, your systems see a near seamless transfer and maintain continuity of supply. These solutions can be developed utilising sustainable technologies including gas power generators which can be powered with green gas or biofuels, in addition to increasingly popular complementary technologies such as Battery Storage.

Whole System Thinking is not only a philosophy but also as a practical and successful way of working

Data-driven resilience is a friend of business survival. Operating a site that’s working to its full potential requires data analytics to detail how to improve operational efficiency across the whole systems’ infrastructure and its assets. SSE Energy Solutions uses a Business Energy Intelligence platform which enables businesses to remotely monitor utility and sub-meters data, either for a single building or provide a view across a portfolio of sites. Such interactive data visualisations provide a detailed view of energy usage trends, allowing analysis of energy performance and identification of areas where energy and operational savings can be made.

In addition. Simple Data Collection and Data Aggregation (DCDA) can itself provide insights into your energy use to inform whole-system energy optimisation. As an Elexon accredited DCDA provider, we have used our experiences to collect half-hourly meter data and use this information through  our Business Energy Insight (BEI) platform to gain these insights and realise the benefits of such data mining . This activity will become more critical for all users as Market-wide Half-Hourly Settlement (MHHS) reforms will, in the near future, mandate half-hourly data collection for many businesses.

What exactly does a Whole System Thinking approach mean for you?

Whole System Thinking is not only a philosophy but also as a practical and successful way of working for all stakeholders involved. Picking up piecemeal can result in the unfortunate outcome of finding problems at a later stage that could have been anticipated and resolved at the outset of the overall construction project and it’s ancillary but essential infrastructure. While short term and diffuse planning can make it easy to find short term cost benefits, it runs the risk of long-term fragmentation and running with systems that are unfit for the future. Choose your ground wisely.

Experts featured:

Noel Powell

Head of Regeneration and Development
SSE Energy Solutions

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