Lithium-Ion in the Data Center

Emilie Stone, Methode — Active Energy Solutions

The data center environment, be it a mammoth facility owned and operated by a single entity or a two-post rack next to the broom closet in the local branch of a bank, is constantly evolving. Of the myriad equipment and configuration choices available to data center managers, one of the more commoditized assets is an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). A unit is selected, often at the direction of a qualified re-seller, a service contract is purchased, and it runs along silently for three-to-five years. The batteries will be replaced along the way, but the user interface and power electronics all operate without incident. As long as the batteries are not cycled often, this is a reasonable arrangement.

However, several factors are coming into play that makes this assumption and acceptance of short cycle life a poor business decision. The grid and related infrastructure in the United States is aging and often over capacity. Americans experienced 285 percent more power outages in 2014 than in 1984, all while increasing our reliance upon digital connectivity to do even the most basic business task.1 In addition, changing weather patterns—like the snow storm on the Texas-Mexico border in December 2015—expose vulnerabilities in the infrastructure. A staggering 85 percent of the outages reported in 2014 were weather-related, many of which are in data center hotbeds like California, New York and Washington.

To address this convergence of both battery and infrastructure reliability, many companies are looking for other solutions. Large corporations are deploying flywheels and even experimenting with fuel cells. However, for a more traditional deployment (and capex strategy), lithium-ion batteries offer a viable alternative to traditional lead-acid solutions.

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