Winning the Digital Space Race: Can Battery Storage Plug the Data Centre Construction Black Hole?

To keep up with huge data centre construction demand, a range of energy solutions are now required to break the bottlenecks that often lead to delays, missed deadlines and penalties. In this article, Billy Durie, Global Sector Head for Data Centres at Aggreko, explains why adopting battery energy storage systems (BESS) as part of a wider, end-to-end solution is key to keeping builds on track.

Dubbed the digital space race by many in the industry, the exponential demand for more data centres across the globe is quickly dwarfing levels of supply. Savills predicts that in Europe alone, data centre power capacity will total 9,000 MW by 2025 and the number of data centres will need to increase by almost 2.5 times. In other words, more than 3,000 data centres will need to be built in the next year to meet demand. 

The surge in demand for data centres is powered by an increased global need for access to data. In Southern Europe alone, the number of internet users is projected to grow to 208 million by 2027 from approximately 195 million in 2023 . Fuelled by many factors including the move to digitally working from home post-pandemic and the rise in AI, access to data is quickly becoming an integral part of everyday life.

Trying to keep up with this exponential demand is putting strain on data centre construction. There are several factors that can delay data centre builds and project managers will be all too aware of the common pinch points. Two common stumbling blocks are waiting time for a grid connection and local emissions standards. These can both be navigated by implementing BESS onto site. The systems work alongside generators to ensure data centre builds always achieve a steady power supply, especially during peak times.

The Great Grid Dis-Connect

Those involved in the data centre construction industry know the huge amount of power required during a typical build. This demand will remain high and with a growing requirement for more data centres across Europe, the strain on the grid will only increase. Now, many builds are stuck in a seemingly endless queue waiting for a connection, similar to the more than £200bn worth of renewable projects sitting in line to connect to the UK’s National Grid. The situation is especially strenuous in the FLAP-D markets (Frankfurt, London, Amsterdam, Paris and Dublin), with some placing moratoriums on new builds or only considering applications on a case-by-case basis. 

Even in the best cases where data centre builds are connected to the grid promptly, a reliable connection is hard to find which causes delays to project schedules. 

Once the load profile of a site has been established, BESS, as part of a hybrid power package, can be incorporated to reduce reliance on the grid and keep construction running smoothly. Rather than waiting for a grid connection, these hybrid solutions transfer power control back to site managers who can use the systems to avoid connection bottlenecks.

Carbon-Conscious Sites

Many data centre construction sites are bound by local environmental and noise regulations that factor into the choosing of suitable machinery and operating times. This is where a hybrid system, commonly consisting of a Stage-V generator paired with a BESS system, can help. Using a hybrid system, allows for periods of zero-emissions power supply when demand is lower (such as at night) when the battery is solely taking the load. The generators in these systems can also be ran on hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) or integrated with renewables to further maximise reductions in emissions. For example, using stored energy in BESS as a spinning reserve during intermittent power supply helps sites with unstable connections or uneven load profiles. 

For colocation DCs in urban areas, this is especially important as there is often noise or clean air zone restrictions to consider during a build. Arguably the top DC market in Europe , London data centre construction has had to compete with an expanding Clean Air Zone (CAZ), emphasising the value of hybrid solutions that can adhere to current and future environmental legislation.

It's unsurprising that many businesses, especially those involved in data centre construction, are concerned about the upfront investment necessary to incorporate renewable energy sources . However, many greener solutions, such as BESS, offer a low-risk, high-reward route to more sustainable construction. 

For example, when powering temporary office cabins during the build phase, a hybrid solution comprising 3 x 320 kVA generators and a 300 kW battery can provide significant reductions in fuel usage, costs and emissions. In this scenario, an estimated 20,000 litres of fuel and 53,000 kg of CO2 emissions can be saved over a 2-month period.

Security and Control

As well as navigating environmental regulations, a BESS can work in conjunction with Stage V Generators, allowing site managers to monitor power loads to ensure the site is running at safe levels of emission output. This approach also enables periods of zero-emissions when running solely BESS for set periods. Remote monitoring also allows the site manager to analyse, and in turn optimise, their load requirements for maximum carbon savings. 

Again, construction on many colocation projects will benefit from these periods of downtime without the fear of dips in power supply thanks to BESS. This also allows those DCs operating within built environments to compete with caps on emissions that may have previously stopped projects completing to schedule. 

Remote Connections

It’s not just data centres constructed in urban environments that can benefit from bringing BESS onsite. Projects far from the grid in remote locations can also reap the environmental rewards of these bridging solutions to facilitate construction in energy insecure locations.

Some data centres are purposefully built in some of the most remote locations in the world, such as the Nordics, because of the free cooling potential. However, this also presents grid issues, as the power infrastructure required to build a project of such scale is not always present in such remote locations. Additionally, some of these Hyperscale builds can have thousands of construction workers on site, proving costly in the event of outages without a backup power source. BESS provides this backup solution for builds struggling to maintain a stable grid connection while keeping the project in line with often strict environmental regulations.          

Across Europe, BESS capacity is ramping up, with the UK adding more large-scale capacity in 2022 than any other nation and predicted to quintuple its energy storage capacity by 2030. Investments of such scale proves the case for BESS construction in various countries, with or without stable connection to a grid. Ultimately, these bridging solutions allow construction to keep up with the seismic growth in demand for data in some of the world’s most urban and remote locations. 

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