TECHNOLOGY BY JIM ROMEO
It could happen again. Everything
seems to have gone digital. Our world’s
dependence on data access, at anytime,
anywhere, is driving demand for a no-risk power grid that won’t ever go down,
not even for a minute.
Data centers have server stacks that
process data for critical industries and
need to ensure they are never without power. Hospitals rely on electronic
records and information 24/7, plus their
critical medical systems always demand
a robust backup-power network. Financial institutions can’t be without power
when global markets operate around the
clock, and the steady feed of digital information can tolerate no interruption.
For healthcare companies, medical
records and data governed by the Health
Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, data keepers are required to
manage their facilities, per the Health
and Human Services Administration, to
“enable continuation of critical business
processes” during emergency mode to
ensure the security of such data.
A growing demand for uninterrupted
power has shaped a new paradigm for
backup power: the internal microgrid.
Open Access Technology International is a Minneapolis-based software
and cloud-computing provider. Its
new facility doesn’t just have backup
power. Instead, it has a microgrid consisting of solar panels, wind turbines, a
power plant and energy-storage devices.
Combined, the equipment forms the
company’s microgrid, which is both primary and secondary power.
While the firm has many customers
in the power industry and is partially
using its building as a showcase for its
software services, Open Access Tech-
nology also wants to show its affinity
for smart and creative ways to man-
age power in a world that has become
dependent on it.
Sean James is a senior research program manager with Microsoft Cloud
Infrastructure and Operations. In his
blog, he wrote that the company is continuously looking at creative new ways
to approach power for its data centers.
Gone are the days where diesel generators were the only expected source
of backup power. Now, at a minimum,
backup power is going green.
In Microsoft’s case, it used clean natural gas generators. The company wanted
to take it one step further and make what
was once backup a more central source
“Rather than thinking of the genera-
tors and batteries inside data centers as
infrastructure we hope we never have to
use, we’ve been researching how we—or
others on the grid—can also use them in
times of peak demand,” James writes.
“As more renewables come onto the grid,
utilities are already exploring backup
power options—what if we offered the
use of these existing resources, instead
of having utilities construct new backup
This may introduce a new symbiosis
between facilities and electric utilities.
Peak-loading is always a challenge to
utilities during, say, heat waves in a warm
climate where demand has spiked and only
so many megawatts are available. Utilities
must meet the load, and they are forced to
purchase available power for their grid or
sometimes use gas turbine generators to
meet demand quickly; this latter option is
costly and not preferred by utilities.
Suppose, instead, that facilities use
their backup power during peak loads
and get a significant discount for doing
so. They’re happy and so is the utility
that has to provide less peak power.
Akin to this way of thinking is a surge
of interest and innovation in utility-scale
energy-storage technology. This includes
sophisticated batteries and storage banks
charged by sustainable sources, such as
wind and solar, and drawn on during
“An important consideration is
how readily the facility can transition
between the grid and its own backup
power,” said Zolaikha Strong, director of
sustainable energy for the Copper Devel-
opment Association. “Total system cost
and plans for using renewables are fac-
tors too. Economics favors greater use of
power storage as costs come down and
the technology advances.”
Backup power and the technology
that supports it has advanced and will
continue to do so. Still, old and new tech-
nology can fail, leaving an enterprise’s
operations at risk as it did for JetBlue.
It also happened at an outpatient
surgery unit in Cleveland, when a dermatologist was removing skin lesions
from a patient. The bitter Cleveland winter caused an intermittent power outage
that lasted an unusually long time. The
surgeon was forced to complete the procedure by cell phone light.
Whether it’s grounding a Jet Blue
fleet, or impeding the progress of surgery,
backup power and technology doesn’t
always work—but it should. Today, more
than ever before, the world demands
backup-power solutions for safety and
for economy. Electrical contractors may
become the next big critical link in the
power equation in preventing any loss of
power or data access.
The 24/7 Power Era
Making secondary power primary
EVERYTHING CAME TO A SUDDEN HALT for JetBlue on Jan. 14, 2016. Its website crashed. Passengers became irate. Long lines formed. Some 200 flights were
delayed. This nightmare began when JetBlue’s data center lost power and did not
have a responsive backup network. The company’s data was not available in the
unforgiving business of airline travel.
ROMEO is a freelance writer based in Chesapeake, Va. He focuses on business and
technology topics. Find him at