Sustainable Backup Power with Uncompromised Safety and Reliability

January 4, 2024

As AI becomes mainstream, rack server density demands are increasing more than ever before – just as growing climate awareness is putting pressure on data centers to become more sustainable. How can operators balance all these challenges without compromising uptime? 

ZincFive’s Aaron Schott joined Carsten Baumann, the Director of Strategic Initiatives of Schneider Electric, and Alex Dickins of Datacenter Dynamics (DCD), to discuss this very question in the DCD event, “Choosing sustainable backup power without compromising on safety & reliability.” They dove into solutions that can help data centers both provide reliable increased server rack density and meet sustainability goals. 

Listen to the entire session to explore how robust battery solutions can allow data centers to navigate market pressures to advance towards net-zero, and read on for our chief insights and takeaways: 

Sustainability Is a Top Priority for Data Center Customers

The data center industry is confronting a sustainability imperative as capacity expands rapidly. Currently, data centers consume around 2% of global energy demand.

By 2040, just 16 years from now, global data center capacity will double. If we double capacity, this becomes a bigger portion, so creating a more sustainable data center is critical.” 

Schneider Electric’s Carsten Baumann

In response, leading companies, including Schneider Electric, are evaluating their entire supply chain and product lifecycles. Baumann disclosed that in 2022, over 99% of Schneider Electric’s 61 million tonnes of emissions stemmed from scope three, or supply chain, emissions. In response, they initiated a Zero Carbon Project with their top thousand suppliers, encouraging them to review and reduce emissions by 50% by 2025 for Schneider Electric to continue sourcing from them. Such initiatives indicate that large clients are seeking ESG-conscious suppliers – including data centers – that can prove lower emissions.  

Standard ISO sustainability metrics are also emerging to drive improvements. “Having an internationally standardized framework to measure against is very valuable, since we can evaluate suppliers based on the same consistent ISO standards,” said  Baumann.  

If we make sustainability metrics easy and standardized, data centers will optimize and compete to be the most sustainable, and quickly move the industry forward.”  

ZincFive’s Aaron Schott

Nickel-Zinc Batteries Can Help Quantify Sustainability from Cradle to Grave 

One area in which data centers can prove greater sustainability to clients lies in their UPS battery sourcing. For instance, Baumann noted that while lead-acid and lithium batteries rely on materials with limited supply chains and intensive, controversial mining practices (including cobalt and lithium), ZincFive batteries rely on abundant metals like nickel and zinc.  

Schott added that ZincFive batteries score well – literally – across their full lifetime environmental impact, from sourcing to manufacturing to deployment. A third-party study analyzed ZincFive batteries’ climate impact metrics, including greenhouse gas production, water usage in manufacturing, volatile organic compounds, and other sustainability factors. He pointed out that, with 10 representing the highest positive environmental impact, ZincFive’s NiZn batteries scored a 9.4 – significantly higher than lead-acid and lithium-ion batteries. 

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More Than Sustainable: Reliable and Space-Efficient 

Of course, sustainability isn’t the only priority for data centers considering UPS solutions. To be competitive, batteries must also address other concerns as well: safety, reliability, and – as data centers try to pack more capacity to support growing client needs – efficient use of space.  

Fortunately, nickel-zinc batteries specialize in those areas too. Nickel-zinc chemistry enables power-dense designs, which enables fewer, smaller cabinets and footprint – bolstering sustainability while maintaining backup time. 

“As data centers scale up with 1.5-2MW+ UPS units, we increased battery power density in our recently expanded BC 2 battery cabinet line,” Schott shared. “This reduces their installation size while continuing to support growing UPS power. With increased cabinet power density, our footprint can now be 50% of lithium-ion batteries’, which is already 40-50% less than lead acid.”  

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These higher-density designs reduce batteries’ data center footprint, materials, and costs all at once. As facilities grow larger, examining aspects to cut size helps greatly. “For a 100MW facility with 50 modular UPS buildings, even stacked for space efficiency – if we can shrink each one by a foot, we save substantial materials,” shared Schott. 

Nickel-zinc batteries are not only incapable of thermal runaway, but can also reliably operate at higher temperatures than lead-acid and lithium batteries – reducing cooling costs. “It’s advantageous to design data centers to safely run hotter without warranty concerns,” said Schott. “This efficiency gained from higher battery operating temperatures enables more free cooling.” 

One consideration for data centers when choosing batteries is that UPS batteries generally only need to operate for a few minutes at a time. Aaron recommended matching higher power density batteries to this shorter runtime need. This helps them meet runtime needs with fewer cabinets, preventing oversized solutions and improving efficiency. 

Holistic Metrics Show the Way to Net Zero 

All three panelists agreed that achieving more sustainable data centers requires a holistic approach.

We need to address the sustainability challenge collectively across disciplines – batteries, UPS, cement, steel, IT equipment, etc. Looking at all these components can get us closer to net zero data centers,” said  Baumann. “Collectively we’re setting data center baselines now. Once established, we can make incremental improvements towards a net zero future.” 

Schneider Electric’s Carsten Baumann