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PG Plus Flashback: 1.5-MW Georgia Tech microgrid project ready for operation in Atlanta data center

(Editor’s Note: This story originally ran in August. Representatives of Southern Co. and Georgia Tech are going to present a free webcast on this project in next week’s POWERGEN+ series. The “Georgia Tech Microgrid” session will be 11:30 a.m.-12:15 ET Wednesday, Sept. 30. Click here for registration info).

A new microgrid will provide emergency, islanding and research learning power for a developing data-tech neighborhood in downtown Atlanta.

The Tech Square Microgrid addition to the ATL1 data center was announced by owner DataBank. The 1.5-MW capacity system was developed by a partnership including utility Georgia Power, parent company Southern Co.’s R&D division, Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) and DataBank.

The microgrid employs three power resources: a dual-fuel gas and diesel generator, energy cells and battery storage. It offers backup power in case of power failure and a standalone source which can help during costly peak load periods.

“The microgrid project will give us a better understanding of the resiliency, sustainability, and cost of microgrids to help develop emerging energy solutions to better serve our customers now and in the future,” said Alan Goldin, project manager at Georgia Power.

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courtesy CODA Tech Square

DataBank’s 94,000-square-foot ATL1 data center houses Georgia Tech’s High Performance Computing Center (HPCC). The Midtown Atlanta Data Center is part of the 645,000-square-foot CODA mixed-use office complex now open at Georgia Techs Technology Square.

The cost of powering the HPCC during peak hours increases significantly. The benefit of the microgrid is that during peak hours, it can adjust energy draws and peak load to save costs. The microgrid is also capable of sensing the HPCC total kilowatt load and then delivering power based on the capacity needed.  

“The microgrid is a ‘smart grid’ in effect as it can sense the capacity and power needed for the HPCC, and adjust automatically, for both optimum power consumption as well as cost-effectiveness,” states Neal Bryant, Facilities Manager, ATL1. “The combination of mechanical equipment like cooling towers and mechanical pumping, along with IT infrastructure allows for varying loads during testing. The microgrid senses those varying loads and exports power accordingly.” 

The HPPC project was spearheaded by the university to create public-private technology collaboration including students and faculty and industry. Researchers and industry participants working in the adjacent office tower will have direct, high-speed fiber access to Georgia Tech’s latest fleet of super computers and unique datasets located inside the HPCC, as well as the on-site expertise of Georgia Tech’s academic community.

“The microgrid is a winning situation for all the partners involved,” said Tim Lieuwen, the Executive Director of Georgia Tech’s Strategic Energy Institute. “It allows us to more efficiently run our supercomputing center, provides backup power for DataBank’s facility and reduces load at peak times for Georgia Power.”  

The Tech Square Microgrid was approved by Georgia state regulators last year. At the time, it was being designed to include microturbines, solar panels and electric vehicle chargers in the future.

All components will be placed on a platform and obscured from view with seven-foot-high fencing and gate access along Williams Street in Atlanta.

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Microgrid opportunities and challenges will be part of the content offered by experts when POWERGEN International and DISTRIBUTECH International happen March 30-April 1 in Orlando, Florida.