Data Centers Have the Grid’s Answer for the Fourth “D”

November 29, 2021

Much has been made in the energy industry during recent years of the “3 Ds,” the macro trends of digitization, decentralization, and decarbonization that have driven the electric grid’s transformation toward a cleaner, more dependable, and efficient future.  

The 3 Ds are generally considered to be positive trends rooted in good intentions for the grid and society.  

There is, however, a fourth “D” that has been nothing short of a costly troublemaker for the grid since its inception and threatens to undermine every good deed the original 3Ds seek to accomplish. 

“Disruption” has been the grid’s ever nemesis since Thomas Edison fired up electricity’s first electric grid in 1882 at Pearl Street Station in lower Manhattan. Like any arch-villain, disruption has a knack of showing up at the most inconvenient of times, particularly when the grid is already vulnerable. 

Consider the most disruptive grid events of the last decade. Most were weather-related and resulted in blackouts.

Actually, we don’t have to flip too far in the history book for evidence of weather-related disruption pushing the grid to the brink of total failure. The tragedy this past February in Texas when record winter temperatures forced the ERCOT grid to suffer its first blackouts in a decade is a prime example of disruption’s wicked handiwork. 

The California blackouts in August of 2020 that took place during an extreme heatwave in the western US are another example and prove that disruption doesn’t partake in an offseason.

Unfortunately for the grid, disruption is a devil that takes many forms. The COVID pandemic is a prime example. 

The lockdowns during 2020 led to electric loads shifting from commercial buildings to residential, which caused grids across the US to work overtime to ensure electric supply and demand remained in balance.

Like death and taxes, disruption may very well be an inevitable fate for the grid. Yet throughout history, fate has had a way of swinging favor back toward the good guys. 

Demand response, the practice by which organizations are financially rewarded for shifting load from the grid during times of stress, is a case in point. 

We’ve previously written how demand response has been in the US electric grid’s defense arsenal for decades. Today, with the proliferation of distributed energy resources (DERs) adding to that arsenal, demand response has proven to be an even greater thwart to grid disruption than ever before. 

Data Centers, with their penchant for owning on-site DERs such as backup generators and energy storage, are in a prime position to participate in demand response and help the grid fend off disruption when the last (or any) of the 4 Ds rears its ugly head.   

Across the country, an increasing number of data center organizations are realizing how helping the grid pays immeasurable dividends for their local communities. 

During February’s grid collapse in Texas–which tragically resulted in hundreds of citizens losing their lives–data centers proved to be the local heroes. 

Data centers participating in demand response programs provided flexible energy resources at the critical times when the ERCOT grid needed them. These resources played an integral role in keeping the grid from a total collapse, which ERCOT has stated was minutes away and would have kept much of the Lone Star State in the dark and freezing for weeks.  

For their helping the ERCOT grid, these Texas data centers earned a substantial demand response revenue payment. But it’s their stewardship of community sustainability that should be noted and applauded. Fortunately for data centers,  sustainability recognition for demand response participation is starting to garner measurable notice

Demand response and all forms of demand-side energy management allow the grid to continue its transition from a fossil-fuel-dominated past to a renewable energy future. 

Disruption, be it of the foul weather variety or some other adversarial pill will be waiting in lie around every bend of our journey to energy’s future. Within their sophisticated suite of behind-the-meter energy assets, data centers have the antidote to disruption’s poison. 

The modern world relies on data centers’ megabytes. The grid and local communities nationwide are counting on data centers megawatts

To learn more about how data centers can help the grid, reduce their carbon footprint, and improve their local communities’ sustainability, download CPower’s latest ebook: “A New Age of Demand-Side Energy Management.”

 

 

 

KC Mares