Are Texas Data Centers Ready for the Next Energy Crunch?

Jun 20, 2022

Are Texas Data Centers Ready for the Next Energy Crunch?

Rising Demand, Searing Heat Waves, and Cryptocurrency Mining Pressure a Strained Grid

The “Uri” winter storm of 2021 brought the Texas power grid to national prominence. The unprecedented snow and days of sub-freezing weather practically paralyzed the state, leaving millions without power. To make matters worse, the lack of power also affected utility operations, with many Texans hunkering down in homes with no power or water. 

The winter storm highlighted a unique aspect of the Texas power grid – by design, it is not connected to others, meaning it can’t draw excess power from other grids. Without delving into what that means from a strategic standpoint for energy resource management in Texas, it does force energy-intensive operations in the state – like data centers –  to have a plan to deal with electric power shortfalls from the Texas grid.

Whether the 2021 Uri storm was a once-in-100-year event or something that can occur again next year is less relevant than the very real pressures the Texas power grid faces. In the past week, Texas has faced daily high temperatures of 100+ degrees earlier than usual in the summer season. The state also faces drought-like conditions like those of 2011, when summer brought over 100 straight days of 100+ degree temperatures. Currently, utilities and municipalities are advising homes and businesses to conserve, and peak demand shaving may be implemented far more than usual this season.

But that’s not all. It’s well known that cryptocurrency mining is a huge draw on electric power. Many crypto mining operations have migrated to Texas for the ease of connecting to power, low regulations, and relatively cheap electricity. In a recent presentation, the state’s primary grid operator said that as much as 17 gigawatts of demand is expected by 2026, a startling 22% increase over the peak demand expected this summer. 

What does it all mean for your data center operations in Dallas? Data centers must have a multi-pronged energy resiliency strategy to cope with the shortfalls of the grid. Keep reading below to learn more about potential strategies that you can employ to keep the servers and your operations running in an uncertain energy environment.

SEE MORE: Energy Resiliency Will Protect Your Organization in the Next Storm

Short Term – Battery Storage

Short-term outages may be handled with battery storage options. Most data centers currently employ lead acid battery solutions for UPS systems. These batteries have the disadvantages of needing replacement every few years and losing storage capacity over time. As lithium-ion battery technology improves with the massive investments in electric vehicle technology, this technology promises greater longevity and reliability in the long term. 

Battery storage options are typically coupled with an integration to the local grid so that excess power can be stored in the batteries. That excess power can be purchased less expensively as the batteries are charged at off-peak times. Batteries can also be charged from generators such as diesel. 

Medium Term – Power Generation

In data center operations, anything longer than hours of outage requires a self-generation solution. Generally, this will require generators relying on fossil fuels but could involve connecting to cleaner sources such as hydroelectric, wind, and solar. Bringing power generation onsite represents a significant capital outlay and operation investment. In addition, environmental standards are becoming more stringent, so data center operators must be careful to balance the availability and cost of these self-generation solutions against the local regulations for environmental compliance

Environ can also help maximize the value of this power generation equipment by connecting you with grid programs–like Demand Response–which use these existing assets to create a regular revenue stream for your organization. 

Longer Term – Microgrids

Microgrids are self-contained electrical networks allowing data centers to operate their own power grid. They can operate while connected to the utility grid or as an island when that power is unavailable. Microgrids have several advantages over power generation and battery storage. They can store power and sell it back to the utility grid to defray their operational costs. 

Microgrids are a co-location strategy that is like a distributed network. As opposed to centralized utility grids, microgrids can employ multiple sources of energy to supply power to a data center. It can take advantage of renewables and fossil fuels, as well as storage like batteries and fuel cells, to supplement power when peak demand shaving from utilities scales back availability and when utility power is no longer available.

While microgrids can seem like a significant investment, new financing and operational models have made this solution feasible for many organizations. Besides the aforementioned ability to sell excess power back to the utility grid in the form of credits, energy as a service models have emerged to enable organizations to subscribe to these services as a monthly service operating expense.

The Costs of Not Planning

A data center cannot afford to be without power and continuous operation. Consider the consequences and potential liabilities of short-term shutdowns. Most operations run on service level agreements that guarantee a certain level of uptime. Not meeting those requirements can mean not getting paid. At worst, data centers supporting mission-critical operations of vital resources like hospitals and medical facilities could have lawsuit liabilities for not having a backup plan. 

From a commercial standpoint, businesses that experienced significant stoppages and subsequent revenue losses will move operations to data centers with proven resiliency strategies. At best, even with minimal revenue losses from energy shortfalls, the reputational impact could be devastating long term. In the cyber world, you can see how the well-publicized data breaches of Sony Pictures and Experian had huge effects on the revenue and reputation of these companies. Aside from weather and demand pressures, cyberattack or cyber-sabotage is yet another risk utility grids face, making energy resiliency strategies a necessity.

Energy resource strategies are not simple nor cookie-cutter solutions. An expert can guide your data center or organization to develop resiliency strategies that make financial, operational, and environmental sense. Environ is a full-service energy consulting and management firm focusing on tailor-made energy solutions for sustainability, energy efficiency, energy resiliency, energy procurement, and carbon reduction. To consult with one of our experts, give us a call or fill out our contact form