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Software-Defined Electricity (SDE) has the potential to radically improve the stability, productivity and efficiency of our power networks, alongside many other benefits unique to this technology. Chris Doerfler, SDE expert and founder of 3DFS Software-Defined Electricity, is here to answer some of our questions on what, how and why you should implement SDE in your data centre.

What is Software-Defined Electricity?

Software-Defined Electricity (SDE) is a hardware power electronics system installed in parallel to the power network at the panel level. Once commissioned and activated, the electricity provided to all of the loads in that panel is synchronised in real-time.

Real-time electrical power synchronisation delivers power unity throughout the downstream circuits, maintains harmonics below 2%, balances the consumption across the phases, nearly eliminates neutral and ground current, as well as providing perfectly matched impedance with ultimate lightning protection at all times, no matter the load power consumption or upstream power fluctuation.

In non-engineer terms, real-time electrical power synchronisation guarantees the most efficient and stable, least harmful and costly electricity at all times.

What hardware is required to achieve this?

The hardware is called a VectorQ Series power controller. Presently, the VectorQ2-60 is available for purchase and protects 60kW of power consumption in 208/240V power networks with real-time synchronisation. On the product roadmap is the VectorQ5 (2019) which will operate in the 480V space and be available in a wide spectrum of power coverage.

A VectorQ Series power controller from 3DFS Cropped

What is the technology behind SDE?

The core technology behind SDE is Task Oriented Optimal Computing (T2C). This flexible computing methodology allows for the error free data acquisition, modeling and control to occur at true real-time relative to the speed electricity flows.

This ultra-fast computing capability is what controls the power electronics portion which is a Flash Energy Storage System, providing precision injections of capacitance or inductance as required in the moment based on instant demand.

How would this be beneficial in a data centre environment?

Nearly everything in a modern data centre has been built with the expectation of uncontrolled, fluctuating power. From the ever presence of surge protection, PDU and UPS devices to the multiple levels of redundancy, up through the oversizing of generators, there is clear concern that power will not be consistently available and that there will be power fluctuation when it is.

When Software-Defined Electricity is installed in a data centre environment, optimal power quality and balance is a constant no matter how power is consumed or delivered.

In a few years, the designs of newly built data centres will shed nearly all of the devices that are used today to condition power, however in the meantime with existing data centres, there are still quite a few benefits that will be immediately recognisedwhen SDE is retrofitted including:

Energy savings

Streamlining the ‘in the moment’ power demand, results in maximum energy efficiency when powering loads. All inductive loads like motors for HVAC and CRACs will experience a 20-25% reduction in energy consumption. IT loads like power supplies UPS, servers, routers etc., will experience a 10-15% reduction in energy consumption.

Additionally, there are numerous interaction effects that occur in a network with uncontrolled power fluctuation that result in a lot of energy waste during power delivery that will be prevented by maintaining synchronisation in real-time.

Dynamic power network stability

Real-time electrical power synchronisation is performed every microsecond based on the analysis of the power demand at the nanosecond level. By performing at this moment in time, the electrical power always matches the demand, able to instantly adjust in response to real-time anomalies and unexpected events like lightning or the loss of an upstream phase. This is an entirely new level of expectations for flexibility and safety in power delivery.

This same level of power network stability is delivered during the transition off grid, whether to flywheel, ups, generator, batteries, etc. The electrical power is synchronised through transition at the same microsecond level for constant, balanced power throughout each stage preventing the harmful voltage transients and impedance mismatch that typically occurs in an uncontrolled power network. This indefinitely extends the amount of time the data centre can remain off grid without any harmful effects.

Never before seen power network visibility

The algorithms performed within SDE constantly build models of every load’s power consumption pattern. As each electronic load performs in its natural environment, the baseline operation power consumption pattern becomes more and more defined. Every circuit on a circuit board has a pattern of power consumption and the fidelity of measurement performed by SDE is detailed enough to build these patterns into the model. Every load in a power network always has an up to the microsecond accurate model being built at this level, constantly.

Every circuit has a pattern of power consumption Cropped
Every circuit has a pattern of power consumption

Having this real-time baseline signature of operation based on such fine detailed power consumption modeling opens up an entirely new layer of visibility into load performance. This powerful data not only reveals the internal workings of each load from the panel level, but provides instant insight into any deviation from the model that is always updated. It is this insight that provides 100% accuracy in security detection and predictive analytics which is required in today’s world of cyber and physical threats.

Why is real-time power analysis so important?

To control electricity at the speed it is flowing requires data, analytics and modeling to occur at even faster speeds and must always be 100% accurate. It is impossible to control electricity without real-time analysis.

How would a data centre operator go about installing SDE into a facility?

VectorQ2 power controllers are installed in parallel to the power network and can be done within 30 minutes without disrupting power.

There is a voltage connection on each phase with ground and neutral being wired if applicable. Each phase also requires a flexible current transformer to be wrapped around upstream of the voltage connection for measurement. Each unit is network connected for secure data transfer, and that is the full installation. Commissioning requires flipping the breaker at the voltage connection.

Roughly how much energy/money could a data centre operator expect to save annually with an SDE system?

I always point out to clients that energy savings and dollar savings are not directly connected. There are penalties, tariffs, demand charges, etc. Energy savings are guaranteed as mentioned previously, however the most important concept to understand about SDE is that it minimises energy consumption and maintains balance across the phases at all times, during any event. This results in the absolute lowest amount of energy consumed to operate and the least possible exposure to penalties, tariffs, demand charges, etc. related to electricity.

The other side of SDE is performance and capacity improvement. Depending on the data centre business model, location, market access, etc, improved performance and capacity from every load operating in the power network can produce additional revenue. Every data centre will benefit from the power network stability improvement with increased uptime. 

The best approach to understanding the financial impact of operating with clean electricity is to build a financial model that includes the performance and capacity, in addition to the ancillary maintenance and replacement costs for all of the loads (power network infrastructure, cooling and IT) in the power network in addition to the multiple layers of energy savings.

Are there any specific areas of a data centre SDE would benefit most?

The benefit of SDE is universal to the entire power network and all loads. There are certain loads that are more important in the day to day operation of data centres and whose improvement will be quickly noticed and highly appreciated.

UPS devices, transformers and the IT loads will instantly balance and operate noise free. The improvement in operation will be clearly noticeable upon commissioning and open up capacity in all three. UPS and transformers will have more power capacity and IT loads will have better data transfer capacity.

Over 24-48 hours, the cooling equipment will cycle many fewer times for shorter increments of time, the power supplies, breakers, wires, and loads themselves will be operating at a cooler temperature than they did previously, wasting less energy in operation.

Transition to backup power equipment will not induce fluctuation in the power supplied to the data centre and maintain the same power quality stability as when on grid while consuming less fuel.

Is this a costly system to install? Are the results worth the cost?

Guaranteed stability and consistency in a data centre power network with an assured reduction in energy consumption and new visibility into operations is worth it at any price. For large quantity orders the payback is within 2 years.

What sort of analytics can be achieved through SDE and how is this beneficial?

As discussed above, under ‘Never before seen power network visibility,’ there is nothing that happens in a power network that cannot be identified, logged, and tracked with 100% accuracy in the moment. This is true for every load. The future of data centres is to be totally and completely predictive in operation and power consumption.

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