Microgrids, DERs, and Data Centers: What’s The Deal?

Data center leaders are constantly on the search for cost and energy savings. One solution garnering increasing curiosity is the idea of microgrids, the ability to temporarily operate independently from a primary electric source. If facilities like hospitals and military bases use them, can they work for data centers?

The discussion centers around distributed energy resources (DERs), which can come in many forms: battery energy storage systems, conventional generators, or renewable energy devices like solar panels or wind turbines. Emerging trends in data center sustainability are putting extra emphasis on exploring DERs, as they can be the key to decarbonization. Optimizing with DERs, though, can be complicated. 

“When it comes to data centers, I think a key focus when it comes to distributed energy resources is really understanding what could this look like for my facility, really understanding what my load profile looks like, and getting high quality data to understand where my energy demands are,” says Kohler’s Manager of Business Development, Ben Crawford.

What sets data centers apart from most other DER use cases is its consistently high load profile. Called variable energy resources (VERs), sources like wind and solar energy must be carefully considered because of a data center’s constant need for power. 

“Data centers don’t see a lot of modulation,” explains Crawford, emphasizing “that balance between dispatchable and non-dispatchable assets and understanding how that fits together with a very consistent load profile” is key to understanding how DERs work for data center use cases. 

Crawford believes backup generators can play an important part in a data center’s DER plan, but it will likely involve a change in approach regarding how the genset is utilized. 

“It's about transitioning from being an insurance policy to being more actively used. So that's where you start having a conversation around tier 4 generators so they can run more often, maybe on a demand response program or shaving peaks on your load profile. And those [generators] can be used because of the aftertreatment system and Kohler has one of the simplest aftertreatment systems for our tier 4 generators in those applications.”

To learn more about DERs and their role in data center operations, check out Crawford’s full interview on the topic with JSA TV:


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