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UPS Power Considerations: The Lithium-ion Tradeoff

Wed 23 Oct 2019 | Patrick Donovan

Li-ion batteries are a great fit for many of today’s data centre requirements. But how do decision makers choose the most effective UPS type and battery configuration? Patrick Donovan, Senior Research Analyst, Schneider Electric Data Center Science Center, explores

Given their many advantages over alternative technologies, lithium-ion batteries are gaining in popularity as a power backup option for data centre Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) systems. A 2018 Bloomberg New Energy Finance report forecasted that Li-ion technology will comprise 40 percent of all data centre backup batteries by 2025, and that in the hyperscale sector, Li-ion will become the predominant battery technology, accounting for 55 percent of UPS batteries.

Compared with traditional valve-regulated lead-acid (VRLA) alternatives, Li-ion batteries offer greater power density, smaller size, less weight and longer operating life. They can also withstand many more charge/recharge cycles, typically more than 1,000 compared with 200-400, before losing their ability to provide effective backup power.

As a result, they occupy less space, incur lower maintenance costs and require less frequent replacement than VRLA batteries offering the user a lower total cost of ownership (TCO) over the lifecycle. This helps to offset their chief disadvantage, an initial cost premium, but even that is steadily diminishing thanks to ongoing technology development and increased manufacturing volumes.

Additionally, recent studies conducted by Schneider Electric’s Data Centre Science Centre, detailed in White Paper #229: ‘Battery Technology for Data Centers’, found that over a 10-year period, Li-ion delivered a TCO that is between 10 percent and 40 percent lower than equivalent UPS systems based on VRLA batteries.

Li-ion is optimal at the edge

Although well suited to hyperscale data centres and those favoured by Internet Giants, colocation and cloud service providers, Li-ion batteries have much to offer distributed IT and localised edge data centres.

Having already becoming a focal discussion point within the technology industry, edge computing is expected to see rapid growth in the short term driven by demands for low-latency applications such as autonomous vehicles, real-time news reporting and video streaming services. Increasing automation in the retail and industrial sectors will also drive demand for small, micro data centres, for which Li-ion batteries are particularly well suited.

The smaller size occupied by a Li-ion battery is of obvious advantage both to centrally located hyperscale and localised edge computing environments. For colocation providers, whose revenues depend on maximising available rental space, any real-estate saving provides an instant improvement to the financial bottom line, especially when multiplied by the many hundreds, if not thousands, of assets located in a large facility.

“Built-in battery management systems including software, sensors, switches and microcontrollers, are an essential component of any Li-ion UPS system”

Similarly, at the edge, especially in the case of micro data centres, which occupy whatever minimal space can be found, small is a perfect fit. Furthermore, edge environments are often of such a size, deployed in so remote a location, that support staff are unlikely to be permanently on-site. As such, the longer operational life of Li-ion batteries, typically 10 to 15 years as compared with the 4 to 6 years of VRLA alternatives, means greater reliability, fewer battery replacements and less frequent maintenance visits.

Software plays a crucial role

Due to their chemical makeup and higher energy density, Lithium-ion batteries are sensitive to being overcharged unless managed properly. As such, built-in battery management systems including software, sensors, switches and microcontrollers, are an essential component of any Li-ion UPS system.

Not only does this greatly improve the safety and reliability of the UPS, it also makes Li-ion systems a natural fit for remote management using Cloud-based Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM) tools.

As the maintenance and operation of edge data centres becomes increasingly service driven and outsourced to specialist partners, products will include Internet of Things (IoT) technology to provide data about their internal status and operation via software tools that enable remote management. Li-ion batteries are an inherently good fit for such operations.

Digital TradeOff™ Tools Enable Data Driven Decision Making

To assist customers and Channel Partners when choosing the best possible option for their UPS requirements, Schneider Electric has created a series of online TradeOff tools, which model the cost implications of deploying new critical infrastructure and edge computing technologies. The Lithium-Ion vs VRLA UPS Battery TCO Calculator assists decision makers in the process of choosing which UPS type and battery configuration will be most effective for their requirements.

By varying inputs such as UPS capacity, service life, desired backup time and replacement period, and selecting the expected operating costs arising from local power, real-estate and cost of capital, one can use the tool to estimate the cumulative cost of deploying Li-ion or VRLA batteries in UPS systems and make the most appropriate choice for one’s needs.

UPS systems based on Li-ion batteries are an excellent match for many of the requirements of today’s data centres whether at the edge of the network or deployed within the largest central and hyperscale facilities. TradeOff Tools such as the Schneider Electric Lithium-ion vs VRLA Battery TCO Calculator aid decision makers in making the most energy efficienct and cost-effective choice for their needs.

The Lithium Ion vs VRLA TradeOff Tool is one of a number of digital software tools from Schneider Electric that allow data centre operators to model the cost implications of deploying different power, cooling, and infrastructure management solutions.

For more information on Schneider Electric’s TradeOff Tools and to find out how they benefit both customers and partners, please click here.


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