Google ‘excited’ for potential of battery-based technologies at data centres

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Update 22 April 2022: Fluence said post-publication of this story that the BESS used at the Saint-Ghislain data centre is 2.75MW/5.5MWh, based on the company’s Gridstack sixth generation modular energy storage product. “We are excited to partner with Google to deploy this reliable, zero-emission power system to help them replace conventional diesel generation, provide critical backup energy, and increase the sustainability of the St. Ghislain data centre,” Fluence senior VP and president for the EMEA region Paul McCusker said. “Fluence looks forward to accelerating the data centre industry’s efforts to reduce emissions while ensuring high performance and reliability for their facilities and the local power grids,” McCusker said, adding that the collaboration with Centrica highlighted the energy storage company’s “commitment to working with the best route-to-the-market providers across all geographical locations”.

Google has hailed the imminent completion of a project to retrofit one of its data centres in Europe with battery energy storage system (BESS) technology as a step towards rolling out similar solutions across its fleet of global facilities. 

The search engine and tech giant this morning announced a number of milestones achieved on various renewable and clean energy projects at sites in three European countries and Chile in South America. 

All of these help to take the company closer to its goal of 24/7 carbon-free energy (CFE) by 2030 in real-time, as opposed to carbon neutral through matching local energy use with renewable generation elsewhere. 

Three new large-scale renewable energy facilities it has contracted with are now operational: 125MW of wind turbines delivered by AES Chile for Google’s first Latin America-based data centre in Biobio, Chile, a power purchase agreement for 60% of the output of a 211MW wind farm to power a data centre in Hamina, Finland, and a 54.5MW solar PV power plant in Denmark which takes Google’s solar capacity in the country to more than 150MWh. 

Progress has also been made at the company’s data centre in Saint-Ghislain, Belgium, with a battery storage project fully installed, tested and being prepared to go into full service. 

When the Saint-Ghislain retrofit was announced in December 2020, Google described it as a first step in taking data centres “from climate change problems to critical components in carbon-free systems”. 

Google VP of global data centres Joe Kava at the time called batteries “multi-talented team players,” capable of providing grid services and integrating higher shares of renewables to local energy networks. 

Previously, when the data centre facility suffered an outage of power, the main source of backup was diesel generators. Kava noted that in 2020, around 20GW of diesel generators were being used as backup by the global data centre industry. 

Instead, the addition of batteries provides low-carbon backup to the data centre’s operations, but crucially, Google also recognised that battery storage can play multiple roles to help balance the electrical grid. This is especially handy as the batteries’ normal mode of operation at the hyper scale data centre is to sit idly, waiting to be called upon. 

Google said it has partnered with Centrica Business Solutions and energy storage technology provider and integrator Fluence on the battery project and it will soon begin providing grid services to Belgium’s transmission operator Elia. 

“We have now fully installed and tested the battery and are preparing to use it to support the Belgian grid. This will advance our clean energy goals in Belgium, but what we are most excited about is the potential to scale battery-based technologies across our global portfolio of data centres,” the company posted on its Google Cloud corporate blog today. 

In a separate announcement, Centrica Business Solutions — the sustainable commercial and industrial (C&I) energy solutions subsidiary of multinational utility Centrica — said its FlexPond software will be used to control the flexible storage and dispatch of energy from the Saint-Ghislain data centre’s batteries into Elia ancillary services markets. 

“Managed correctly, we can not only support data centres to operate more sustainably, but also deliver grid scale flexibility – balancing the volatility of renewable energy, in support of a 100% zero carbon energy network of tomorrow,” Centrica Business Solutions International director Arno Van Mourik said. 

Centrica Business Solutions said the data centre is equipped with 5.5MWh of battery storage, of which 2.75MWh will be optimised for participation in Belgian grid demand response programmes. The battery storage will be aggregated with other distributed energy assets. 

Saint-Ghislain was actually Google’s first data centre to get an onsite solar PV array, 2.8MW added in 2017. 

The potential for battery storage in Belgium has recently become rapidly apparent, with a handful of large-scale projects by other players in the market, including two of 25MW/100MWh at advanced stages of development or construction already, having reached financial close. 

“Google is pleased to drive technology innovation at the intersection of the data centre and energy industries, particularly when our innovations catalyse benefits beyond our own operations,” Google’s senior lead for data centre energy and infrastructure Marc Oman said in a statement provided to Centrica Business Solutions.

“Our new battery project is a great example of this: not only will it allow Google to operate more cleanly during interruptions to grid reliability, but through our collaboration with Centrica, our battery will help the Belgian electricity grid maintain its target frequency and stay in balance.”

Elsewhere, in Nevada, Google is developing a solar-plus-storage project to power its US$600 million data centre near Las Vegas, together with regional utility NV Energy. The tech giant is also in a collaborative partnership to provide 90% carbon-free energy from a mixed 500MW portfolio of wind, solar, hydroelectric and battery storage with power and renewables company AES Corporation for a data centre in Virginia

Google recently also signed up to join the Long Duration Energy Storage (LDES) Council, an international CEO-led initiative to push for the global deployment of energy storage technologies which have eight hours or longer duration.      

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