UPS: Transitioning from reactive to proactive

UPS: Transitioning from reactive to proactive

Emiliano Cevenini, vice president of commercial & industrial vertical for Vertiv EMEA explores how we can utilise UPS batteries to not only generate revenue, but help support the energy grid and push the shift towards renewable energy.

Business continuity has always been critical for many industries such as air transportation, healthcare and banking, and more recently with the explosion of web services, the data centres supporting these businesses have become more vital.

Reliable technology and solutions are therefore paramount to ensure consistent uptime. Aside from the outage of service to customers, which in itself brings about serious consequences, in 2017 almost a quarter(24%) of businesses worldwide reported that the average hourly cost of critical server outages was between $301,000 and $400,000.

Therefore, investments are made heavily into Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS) systems to ensure that business interruption is minimised even further. This back up device acts as ‘insurance’ for the business should something like a mains failure occur. However, National Grids are becoming more reliable. The grid in the UK was awarded in excess of £378m worth of contractsfor the capacity market to ensure consistentpower, while Germany’s power gridranks among the most reliable in the world.

Although reliability of the grid is improving, it doesn’t mean that power failures won’t everoccur. For that reason, UPS systems are still a vital investment for mission critical businesses, but today, we are seeing new opportunities for these organisations. UPS owners can rely on a bank of stored energy within the batteries of the device that until now were, put simply, doing nothing. This is where the opportunity lies: to utilise this energy in a different way, if not for backup power at that moment in time.  

Exploring the UPS opportunity

The batteries within the UPS have the potential to transition from being a backup source only to having a more proactive function. The concept is that the battery has the capability to feed electricity in the other direction, i.e. into the public power grid, in times of low consumption or high own generation. The owner of the UPS not only participates in the balancing energy market and stabilisation of the grid, but also opens up a new stream of revenue.

Our partnership with E.ON in Germany is an example of how this works in practice. At Vertiv, we develop and install the technology that enables batteries to act in this way for our current, and future UPS customers. A portion of the battery then becomes part of E.ON’s virtual power plant, whereby it aggregates the various producers and consumers and markets them, meaning that the customer receives a guaranteed profit without compromising with the primary mission of the UPS, which is to protect the critical load.

A key component of this is the use of lithium-ion batteries. Typically, lead-acid batteries are used in critical energy infrastructures, but lithium-ion batteries are smaller, lighter and have a large number of charge-discharge cycles. As well as having a longer service life, these kinds of batteries also achieve a higher density and operate in a wider temperature range meaning they are ideal for the energy markets.

Supporting renewable resources

But not only does this use of UPS batteries allow for new revenues and a way to support the energy grid, it also allows UPS owners to help contribute to the shift to renewable energy. In Germany, the government aims to get 35% of its power demand from renewables by 2020, and in the first half of 2017, surpassed its target with 37.6% of its power coming from renewable sources.

However, the shift from a fossil fuelled and nuclear powered grid to one that runs partly, if not completely, on renewable energy is not smooth. Given that renewable sources are not necessarily guaranteed 24/7, relying on elements such as wind or sun, this can result in an irregularity of power. Being able to drive energy into the power grid that otherwise isn’t being used becomes of great support here. This concept, and as our work with E.ON in Germany shows, is a prime example of how UPS owners can help to manage the frequency of the grid when these sources are not predictable or available in a cost-effective manner.

The time is now to unlock the added potential of UPS batteries. With lithium-ion here and ready to be utilised, there is no reason as to why using batteries proactively, as opposed to only reactively, can’t become a reality for all UPS owners. Our German customers are already reaping the benefits of an extra stream of revenue thanks to the partnership with E.ON, while also supporting the country’s transition to a renewable grid.