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In The Spotlight…  Digital Realty & Enel X’s DS3 Dynamic Frequency Project

Evan Barker, Manager of Facility Engineering at Digital Realty and John Byrne, Managing Director at Enel X, explain how the DS3 Dynamic Frequency Project is helping to reduce carbon emissions and support grid stability in Ireland.

DCR: Let’s jump in to the first question – can I hand over to you both for a brief introduction?

EB: Hi, my name is Evan Barker, and I am a Manager of Facility Engineering at Digital Realty in Ireland, and I am delighted to talk to you today about this project.

Digital Realty are a global data centre provider with over 300 facilities in over 50 metros, across 25 countries on six continents.

Our colocation facilities provide a safe, sustainable, cost effective and scalable home for your IT infrastructure.

Our worldwide customers range from cloud and information technology services, communication and social networking, to financial services, manufacturing, energy, healthcare and consumer products.

JB: My name is John Byrne and I’m the Managing Director at Enel X in the UK and Ireland.

Enel X is the sustainable innovation division of the Enel Group, a global energy company with a rich history spanning over 60 years.

Enel X enables commercial and industrial scale energy users to optimise their energy consumption and contribute to a cleaner, smarter, and more resilient energy grid. 

We help data centres and other large energy users to leverage their scale in ways to help the grid to use more renewable energy.

DCR: The DS3 Dynamic Frequency Project recently won the Data Centre Power Project of the Year and Sustainable Project of the Year at the recent ER & DCR Excellence Awards. Could you tell us a bit about how this initiative came about?

JB: Ireland’s Climate Action Plan has a target of 80% of the country’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030.

However, the intensity of the wind and sun in Ireland fluctuates constantly. This results in variable levels of electricity generation which grid operators don’t like. They can only have the precise amount of energy that users demand on the grid at any one time. No more, no less.

EirGrid, the electricity Transmission System Operator (TSO) in Ireland and Northern Ireland, designed the DS3 Frequency Response Programme with the specific aim of creating the right conditions to safely and securely add more renewable energy to the Irish power system without having to rely on traditional power stations for backup.

DS3 works by balancing the frequency of the grid as it fluctuates in response to variations in the quantity of renewable energy generation. If the frequency of the grid can be maintained at 50Hz, more carbon-free electrons from renewable generation can be added to the power transmission system, feeding businesses and homes around the country. This programme is key to Ireland hitting its 80% renewable energy targets by 2030.

EB: We developed this relationship with Enel X back in 2023 here in Ireland, when we started discussing grid support initiatives.

We were aware that our colleagues in Sydney successfully implemented a grid support programme with Enel X back in 2018.

Sustainability is a key focus for us – we are leaders in the field, and we have a dedicated global team constantly developing and delivering sustainability programmes and initiatives. The DS3 programme was one of the key projects for us in Ireland in 2023. This project shows that we want to, and are, working with the grid operators to find solutions to the grid limitations when it comes to adapting renewables which will benefit all.  

DCR: Could you go into a bit more detail about the technical aspects of the DS3 initiative?

JB: Enel X’s solution tracks millisecond-by-millisecond grid frequency variations, and during moments of grid instability, increases or decreases the battery output of the systems installed by Digital Realty at the required level, helping to restore balance to the grid. Think of it like a dimmer switch that can be adjusted to meet the needs of the grid – so, the more electricity you need, the dimmer switch goes up, and vice versa.

We worked with the team at Digital Realty and installed hardware to both meter the UPS and send power requests to the UPS systems during times of grid disturbance. These devices have been designed and built to meet the requirements set out by the TSO. Following the installation, we conducted grid compliance testing to ensure it works as expected – so, we sent a power request to the UPS system; the battery responded appropriately.

EB: As John mentioned, there was a rigorous testing programme completed which validated the scope of design in advance of us going live, as customer reliability is of paramount importance to us and our customers. 

This innovative project allowed us to create a dual purpose for our existing UPS assets.

In normal conditions, our UPS sit on standby in the event of a utility failure. While being 100% available to our customers, we have seen that these assets, through controlled technology, can also support the adaption of renewables to the grid when we considered grid frequency support.

DCR: What are the overall benefits of the programme, particularly with consideration of CO₂ emissions?

EB: Providing this grid service is a way for Digital Realty to unlock additional value from their data centres.

In doing so, we directly contribute to a greener, more sustainable, and resilient electrical grid, while also providing the operational resilience upon which a data centre depends.

The ability to use our batteries to provide these services lowers power sector carbon emissions. What’s more, by integrating our UPS technology with grid services, end consumers across Ireland stand to save tens of millions of Euros on fuel and other costs required to maintain the backup provided by traditional coal and natural gas fired power plants.

Typically, the addition of 1 MW of power to the dynamic frequency programme has the potential to save the grid approximately 4,000 tonnes of CO₂ per annum. Initially, Digital Realty has integrated 6 MW of UPS capacity into the programme. When the remaining available capacity is included, it is expected to help the grid save more than 30,000 tonnes of CO₂ annually, depending on customer load.

According to a report by Baringa, if grid interactive UPS systems replaced the grid services currently provided by fossil fuel power plants in Ireland and Northern Ireland, up to 2 million metric tons of CO₂ emissions could be avoided in 2025. That’s the equivalent of about one-fifth of the total emissions expected across the island of Ireland from the power sector in 2025.

Ultimately, our customers want to know that their data is being processed and stored in the most sustainable environment possible. As a matter of fact, sustainability has become one of the top discussion points for new customers visiting our facilities. That’s why Digital Realty continue to invest in, and embrace, sustainability programmes such as the DS3 programme.

DCR: And finally, looking to the future – what’s on the cards for Digital Realty and EnelX?

JB: As the proliferation of battery storage solutions increases exponentially, an infrastructure network is being created that could provide the much-needed resilience that will allow businesses with ambitious green commitments, like Digital Realty, to achieve their goals without compromising operational resilience. Not compromising operational resilience is key.

Electricity grids of the future depend on the relationship model between the user, technology and local regulations evolving. If this happens, there is massive opportunity for businesses of all types and sizes to benefit from their energy storage assets in new ways that add commercial value, resilience and improved sustainability to their operations.

EB: For us, we’re only just getting started. We will continue to develop these programmes, not just in Ireland, but across our global portfolio.

As other countries transition to a greater reliance on renewable energy, they will encounter a similar situation to the one in Ireland.

This innovative use of battery assets demonstrates how data centres can play a key role in supporting electricity grid stability as homes and businesses around the world make the transition to renewable energies.

We will continue to develop our sustainability strategies through innovate partnerships, programmes and initiatives. 

The transcript of this video interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

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