Who Needs Generators? Data Center Taps Directly into Grid for Power

Phoenix utility and BaseLayer combine to create first-ever technology that taps directly into the electrical grid to power data centers, eliminating the need for generators.

Karen Riccio

September 2, 2015

2 Min Read
Who Needs Generators? Data Center Taps Directly into Grid for Power

Two years ago, the concept was a mere vision and gleam in the eyes of executives from Phoenix-based utility Salt River Project (SRP).

This week, its one-of-a-kind SRP DataStation, which eliminates the need for a generator or other backup power source, took centerstage and began operations at an electric substation in Gilbert, Ariz., according to a press release.

Instead of relying on second-party sources of power, the DataStation will provide an unprecedented source of reliable power to a nearby BaseLayer modular data center connected directly to the electric grid. The facility receives power directly from a “bulk transmission” line designed to transmit massive amounts of electricity over long distances.

DataStations eliminate the need for SRP, the largest provider of water and power to the Phoenix area, to build new power lines to serve new or existing colocation or enterprise data center facilities. Both require time and money and result in higher costs to SRP’s customers, according to a press release.

By moving data centers closer to the transmission source, instead of at the endpoints of the transmission system, SRP can provide reliable power and reduce infrastructure complexity, resulting in cost savings for customers looking to effectively and efficiently run their business.

SRP plans to locate DataStations near existing power stations with redundant, high-voltage power feeds and SRP’s diverse fiber optic cable network that spans 15 Valley cities and 1,800 miles.

These DataStations would then be populated with BaseLayer modular data centers, which will provide a growth model for data center expansion. The company says its technology has resulted in a 19 percent - $200,000 per deployed megawatt – reduction in energy consumption than traditional raised-floor data center environments.

If the prototype performs as planned, SRP DataStations could be available for commercial placement of modular data centers in the near future. SRP has committed to powering the DataStation with 100 percent renewable energy through its Renewable Energy Credit (REC) program.

While some companies have found ways not to rely on generators for power backup, none have been able to tap directly into the grid. For example, eBay’s latest facility in Salt Lake City, Utah is powered by fuel cells that convert natural gas to electricity and uses the local utility grid as backup.

Researchers at Microsoft have a proof of concept running in Wyoming for putting a data center module at the site of a waste treatment plant and using fuel cells to convert biogas into electricity for the data center.

After an initial pilot, the next phase of the project will involve deploying additional data center capacity in locations near existing electrical infrastructure across SRP’s 375-square-mile electric service territory.

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