Generators are a critical source of power for mission critical facilities and data centres. If the power from the utility provider goes out, the data centre goes down. The effect of this can be catastrophic as data is lost, applications cease to operate, and companies lose valuable revenue. A quick estimate to calculate the cost of downtime is Revenue / 8760 (hours per year) estimates the average cost of downtime per hour for companies.
Generators used as backup provide power if a data centre loses its primary power source, operations will continue. This offers peace of mind to clients knowing that their data will be secure and protected in the event of a power failure or blackout.
Types of Generators Used in Data Centres
The two most common commercial generators used are diesel and natural gas generators. Diesel remains the prominent choice for mission-critical installations, with the most popular size range from 1000-3000 kW. The diversification of data centres also requires diversification in the way that backup power generation is provided. Specifying a standard generator set (genset) in a standard enclosure for every mission critical facility is not sufficient. Various locations and scales require different solutions that match needs and constraints.
With generators deployed at every data centre around the globally, transitioning off diesel fuel has become an incredibly challenging task for the date centre industry. Data centres have been criticised heavily for their negative impact on the environment because of their high consumption of resources. This negativity is enhanced by their use of natural gas and diesel generators. A key turning point in the data centre industry’s approach to backup power came in July 2020, when Microsoft said it will eliminate its reliance on diesel fuel by the year 2030 as part of its goal to be carbon negative. With its deadline, Microsoft set in motion a push to replace diesel generators with cleaner technologies.
Biofuel generators are a type of power generation system that uses biofuels as a source of energy to produce electricity. Biofuels are renewable fuels derived from organic materials, such as plant matter, agricultural waste, animal waste, and certain types of algae. They are considered a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels because the carbon dioxide released during their combustion is offset by the carbon dioxide absorbed by the plants during their growth. Biofuel generators play a significant role in promoting sustainable energy practices and reducing the carbon footprint associated with electricity generation. However, it is essential to ensure that biofuels are produced responsibly to avoid negative impacts on food production, land use, and biodiversity. Proper management of feedstock sources and sustainable practices in biofuel production are critical to ensuring the environmental benefits of biofuel generators.
Biofuels play a particularly significant role in decarbonising by providing a low-carbon solution. They can often be used in existing engines with little to no modification. Many biofuels have achieved commercial status, including ethanol production from corn and sugarcane, fatty acid methyl esters (FAME) biodiesel, hydrotreated vegetable and waste oil (HVO) renewable diesel and hydrotreated esters and fatty acids (HEFA) bio jet kerosene from vegetable oils and waste oils.
HVO (hydrotreated vegetable oil)
HVO (hydrotreated vegetable oil) is a synthetic “biodiesel” fuel developed from vegetable oils and fats, including feedstocks like tall oil, soybean oil, waste cooking oil, and animal fats. It has similar chemical properties as diesel oil produced from fossil fuels. The source oils are heated with hydrogen and catalysts at high temperature (typically 300 to 390 C) and pressure. The resulting fuel requires no major modifications to existing infrastructure and can be used as a direct replacement for diesel. It eliminates microbial growth, which generates sludge that can contaminate fuel lines and potentially lead to engine shut down. Major vendors including have approved HVO for use in their generators.
Emerging Trends with Generator Fuel in Data Centres
A growing number of data centres are turning to vegetable oil to reduce their impact on the environment, early tests of show that the use of HVO can reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from generators by as much as 90%. Amazon Web Services (AWS) is transitioning from diesel to HVO to power its backup generators in Europe, starting in Ireland and Sweden. Compass Datacenters have adopted HVO to fuel their generators, the initial rollout will include generators at Compass campuses in Northern Virginia, Arizona, and Texas.
In 2021, the backup generators at Microsoft’s new data centre in Sweden will run on a fuel that incorporates tall oil, a renewable by-product of forestry and paper production. Kao Data Centres transitioned all the backup generators at its Harlow, England campus to HVO. Digital Realty said its Interxion PA8 facility in Paris would use HVO in its generators. STACK Infrastructure has been testing HVO with Caterpillar since early 2021 and has included an HVO-capable Caterpillar model in the design for its new TOR01 data centre in Toronto. Equinix is piloting HVO at multiple sites and qualifying the supply chain to evaluate a transition away from diesel.
With the growing reliance of Data Centres to manage more sensitive and critical data, the higher the emphasis on Data Centre to have reliable sources of power and robust backup systems. Business continuity must be achieved by data centre operatives who now must optimise performance while achieving sustainability and carbon reduction targets. HVO as a fuel source now exists for the traditional diesel fuelled generators allowing Data Centres to reduce their greenhouse gas emission to achieve carbos reduction targets. The adoption of HVO powered generators can be seen as an innovation for the Data Centre Industry and can be developed for more sustainable generation and use of electricity in other mission critical industries.