Coal, O&M

Mission Critical Systems Highlight Need for Reliable Power Protection

Issue 4 and Volume 105.

Steve Blankinship,
Associate Editor

A large part of today’s distributed generation market is for the provision of standby and backup power for the internet data centers (or internet “hotels”) that host the routers and communications equipment powering our “connected” world. With internet traffic doubling roughly every three months, and with the fiber optic network doubling every nine months, massive amounts of electrical energy will be needed to satisfy this demand. Guaranteeing sufficient power for the mission critical infrastructure that will support this growth will require the proper design and integration of standby generators, UPS systems, battery monitoring systems, switchgear, power distribution units, cooling equipment, surge suppressors and power monitoring systems.

Internet data centers will be getting bigger and bigger-with greater and greater power demands-to meet consumer demand. Approximately 130 new sites are being added each year worldwide, and web hosting revenues generated from these data centers are estimated to grow at a compounded annual rate of 72 percent through 2003. While today’s data centers typically encompass 50,000-75,000 square feet, with power demand of 50-75 W/square foot and power supply redundancies of n+1, the data center of tomorrow will be designed for 100,000-600,000 square feet, with power demands of at least 100 W/square feet and redundancies up to 2n, according to MSDW Research. Further, pressure is being applied to reduce construction schedules by as much as six months in order to bring these facilities on-line as soon as possible, according to Ray Prince, executive vice president of sales with MGE UPS Systems.

For the 24×7 technology companies underpinning the networked economy, 99.9 percent reliability is increasingly unacceptable, since this could mean up to five minutes of power disruptions per year. Six 9’s is emerging as the bare minimum for system reliability. Losing data transmission capabilities for even a few seconds can affect billions of dollars of transactions for large financial institutions.

To provide a holistic approach to power protection for customers with critical power demands, MGE UPS Systems has formed the Facility Solutions Alliance (FSA). The FSA represents a “best-in-class” collaborative effort among several companies that specialize in prime and backup power systems. The partners include: MGE UPS Systems, which supplies uninterruptible power supplies, power distribution units and power management modules; Albercorp, which manufactures storage battery testing and monitoring equipment; Cummins, which manufactures engine-driven generator sets, transfer switches and paralleling equipment; EFI Electronics, which provides transient voltage surge suppressors and power conditioners; PowerLogic, which supplies complex control systems and metering options; Square D, which provides electrical distribution, industrial control and automation products; and Stulz North America, which supplies precision air conditioning and humidification systems.

“We’ve learned that customers ideally want to deal with one reliable source for all their power, control and monitoring systems,” said David Derambakhsh, MGE’s director for the FSA project. “These customers must focus on their core business and not worry about what type of equipment they need, will it all work together and will there be someone to service and maintain it all.” The FSA will be structured such that customers work through a single point of contact for design, integration, purchasing and service, eliminating the daunting task of coordinating multiple suppliers, consultants, technical specifications, drawings, installations and accounting paperwork. The alliance will eliminate the finger-pointing that is often seen among project participants when problems emerge. For example, engine gensets and UPS systems are occasionally incompatible when installed; whereas a multiple contractor approach might result in conflicting claims of responsibility, the alliance approach will address such incompatibilities internally, external to the customer.

Although the FSA has the required range of products to address most backup power projects, it plans to add additional partners to cover other technological and project management issues, such as turnkey construction, leasing, building monitoring, microturbines, flywheels, and DC rectifiers/power plants. Fuel cells are on the radar scope and will be continuously evaluated, but Prince doesn’t expect their widespread integration into backup power systems for another 5-10 years.