Any city or region that gets its power from renewables is subject to the whim of the weather. Unlike fossil-based energy, renewable energy sources ebb and flow. The battery systems these grids use provide power when the renewable sources ebb and recharge when they flow.
Microsoft realized it could partner with local power grids where its data centers are located around the world and offer to store that renewable power in their battery backup systems. Today, sophisticated data centers operate with what are known as “uninterruptible power supply systems.” These systems include a bank of batteries which kick in the instant the power goes out and may operate for only a few minutes until the backup generators are up and running.
Microsoft’s newest data center in Dublin, Ireland, is due to come online in 2023 and it is planned as the first center to partner with a local power grid. The plan would be to have the data center’s large battery installation provide backup for when the grid sees more energy demand than it can supply. But, instead of only responding to outages, it might actually prevent them.
The company isn’t publicly sharing how much energy its Dublin battery installation will prove to the grid. But, from information provided by Microsoft’s Datacenter Advanced Development Group, we know that a typical center uses “tens of megawatts of power.”
To put the battery’s size into perspective, a single megawatt generated by a power plant can provide electricity for several hundred homes.
Microsoft has tested the concept on a small scale in Chicago, IL and Quincy, Washington in the past. But because almost 35% of all of Ireland’s electricity come from wind farms, this was one of the best places to set up a full commercial partnership.
The company currently operates over 200 data centers worldwide and has plans to build between 50 and 100 new centers a year through the rest of this decade. Given Microsoft’s commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, it needs more renewable energy for its data centers. The partnerships they plan with local power grids should be real win-win scenarios.