US Power Grid Has Issues with Reliability

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Another concern of the power grid comes from the lack of security. Just recently it was revealed that the energy grid has become vulnerable to attack. Coming from the recent declassification of a 2007 report from the National Academy of Sciences, the lack of a physical security has experts worried. Although the United States Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has been assigned with creating a new security strategy through its nearly created office of Energy Infrastructure Security, the threat still exists. If attacked, experts warn that the power grid could suffer more damage than it did during Superstorm Sandy with the possibility of massive blackouts lasting weeks or even months at a time.

While this knowledge has likely cause operators additional stress, one way to help alleviate the burden is to look at renewable resources— such as hydro, geothermal, solar and wind—for power. By using renewable resources, operators can take extra precaution to protect their campuses from future security risks regarding power sources. If hackers attack the power grid, operators will have a peace of mind knowing they can continue operations thanks to the innovative power supply.

New Power Options

To help alleviate the strain on the power grid, data center operators are finding new ways to gather power. As the risks increase, no longer can they rely solely on the power of their host country and supplemental power is becoming vital. With demand for energy at an all-time high it’s crucial to ensure the power stays on even as the grid stretches to capacity. As a result of the pressure from the weakening grid, data centers have begun to utilize renewable resources harvested from their surroundings.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, data centers across the country can utilize renewable energy technologies, but some technology solutions are better suited for select geographical locations. Although the United States offers suitable locations, some companies have started venturing outside their home countries for stronger solutions. Large enterprises, such as BMW, Facebook and Google have begun to move data center operations abroad to Iceland, Sweden and Finland, respectively. Attracted by the cool climates and relatively low pricing, these artic campuses are allowing operators to harvest renewable resources from their host countries for both power and cooling.

With that, site selection plays the ultimate role in determining whether alternative technology can be accessed. As an added benefit, by gathering energy from the host country via renewables, data centers can control pricing and lower customer’s carbon footprint. Facebook’s facility in Sweden will require 70 percent less power than traditional data centers, while BMW’s move to Icelandic facility will save it around 3,600 metric tons of carbon emissions per year. Furthermore, the campuses will no longer be restricted to only utilizing their host countries power grid. Instead, their ability to gather power with renewable resources will lessen the unease and anxiety suffered by data center operators. Without being bound solely to the host countries power, data centers can remain online even if disaster strikes.

While no one expects the power grid to fail completely, high-power users can and should expect to make lasting changes to how they collect their power. By utilizing alternative technology, data center operators can rest easy knowing their systems will remain online at all times, even during storms as severe as Sandy. Though the aging infrastructure and lack of security will continue to plague the grid, operators can begin to change their responses by taking action and thinking outside the box.

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3 Comments

  1. Good article. Thank you for publishing.

  2. Great read, thank you for posting. Interestingly, the U.S. Department of Energy has commissioned the Cybersecurity Capability Maturity Model (C2M2) for the electrical utilities and providers to self-assess their efforts towards securing the electrical grid - utilities have so far resisted any effort to regulate the industry into a more secure posture. (www.energy.gov/oe/services/cybersecurity) A real concern for data center providers, and thus, as you note, the focus on emergency sources of data center power until the grid gets more secure and more reliable.

  3. Very interesting comment on a critical issue. Our regional utility, Hydro-Quebec, had to deal with this issue in the past with our tough winters. The massive investments in the Quebec electricity distribution network have paid. We haven’t been touched be the infamous 2003 northeastern blackout, even if our south (NY) and west (Ont) neighbours were without power for up to 24h. The Quebec electricity network is now isolated from our neighbours and redundant. I guess the US will have to make the same upgrade on their electricity network as we did.