Commonwealth 245 West Michigan Avenue,
Jackson, MI 49201

May 17, 2024

A deep dive into the complexities of powering data centers and opportunities for integrating renewable energy sources.

Author: Lake Lund, Business Development Manager at Commonwealth Associates

Discover how Commonwealth Associates provides expert engineering and consultative services that enable a more reliable and resilient power system.

Have you noticed that the last time you needed to access anything on the internet, it required creating an account and handing over your email and other contact information?

In today’s continuously evolving society, the need for data has never been more obvious. Enhanced use of artificial intelligence has resulted in a new arms race – a race to obtain your data.

Data centers—while pivotal in our increasingly digital world—pose significant challenges, especially in electricity demands. This challenge is amplified because data centers are often situated in remote locations. This energy demand strains local power grids and often requires substantial infrastructure development to meet the new load’s requirements.

Picture a sprawling metropolitan city materializing overnight in what was once a rural landscape—the surge in power demand would strain almost any grid, requiring significant enhancements and added power generation and supply. This analogy mirrors the impact of constructing a data center. Today, these centers are being designed to consume one to two gigawatts of electricity—a staggering figure when considering that one gigawatt can power approximately 750,000 homes! The scale of this demand is differential, and it requires multiple, varied considerations.

Commonwealth’s approach to addressing the energy challenges facing new data center stakeholders, involves a comprehensive suite of electrical system studies and engineering and consulting services aimed to drive the sustainable development of these essential facilities.

First and foremost, electrical planning and system studies experts help owners select the optimal location for a data center, considering factors such as power availability, interconnection requirements, and long-term reliability. Our team uses advanced modeling techniques to forecast future power needs and strategically plan for integrating renewable energy sources, while retiring obsolete power generation sources.

Beyond location studies, our veteran transmission and distribution team specializes in designing custom solutions to meet each project’s unique demands. Selecting optimal routes for transmission and distribution lines and substation sites requires expertise. Typically, the process involves evaluating numerous routing and siting options to ensure optimal decisions for both the data center and its surrounding environment. Minimizing environmental impacts while maximizing efficiency is the number one goal when locating these new assets. Optimizing a project’s route and location increases its feasibility and streamlines the permitting process.

Integrating these substantial energy users also requires adding or upgrading substations. Substations play a crucial role in facilitating power distribution for new data centers. They serve as pivotal points where electricity is transformed, regulated, and distributed efficiently to meet facility energy needs.

At Commonwealth, we specialize in designing and improving the infrastructure needed for data centers. We've worked on new substations from the ground up and have upgraded existing substations to handle increased demand. This means adding important equipment like circuit breakers and transformers to ensure reliable smooth operations. We also focus on protecting these core systems with advanced safety measures, so your data center can keep running smoothly without any interruptions.

A Path to Sustainability and Resilience

Integrating renewable energy sources into data center operations is increasingly essential, particularly as older coal-burning facilities are phased out. While renewable power generation may have once been viewed as a luxury, it is now imperative for long-term sustainability and resilience planning. Solar and wind generation present viable options for procuring power, offering clean and renewable energy sources that reduce carbon emissions and environmental impact.

Combining renewable energy sources with Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESSs) further enhances the efficiency and reliability of the electrical system within data centers. A BESS provides critical energy storage capabilities, so excess energy generated by renewable sources can be stored during periods of lower demand. This stored energy can then be deployed during peak demand periods or in the event of grid disruptions—ensuring uninterrupted operation and enhancing overall resilience of the power grid.

By embracing renewable energy technologies and integrating BESS into their infrastructure, data center owners can not only reduce their carbon footprints, but also bolster energy efficiency and resilience. This proactive approach will help future-proof data center operations to comply with evolving energy market dynamics and regulatory requirements.

By leveraging our expertise in engineering and sustainable energy design, Commonwealth can provide developers and owners with innovative solutions that empower the environmentally responsible establishment of data centers, paving the way for future growth, resiliency, and energy efficiency.

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