Data Center-SaaS Specialist Poised to Launch Mission-Critical Microgrid

A data center hosting company and provider of software-as-a-service (SaaS) to power and energy sector companies and market players, Open Access Technology International (OATI), expects to commission an in-house designed and built hybrid microgrid at its new 110,000 square-foot corporate office and data center facility in Bloomington, Minn., in about a month.

Making use of lithium-ion battery energy storage, solar PV, natural gas and wind power generation, OATI’s “mission-critical” microgrid will be capable of meeting the entire facility’s operating load, which includes a state-of-the-art data center and office space. OATI is also installing a diesel gen-set as an emergency back-up, Chief Strategy Officer David Heim told Renewable Energy World.

Of Data Centers and Microgrids

OATI’s new facility in Bloomington will routinely draw power from Xcel Energy’s local grid, as well as an on-site 180-kW solar PV array, 24-kW micro wind turbine and 600-kW natural gas microturbine. It will automatically disconnect from the grid and operate independently in “island” mode in the event of outages.

Just how much capacity is drawn from these sources at any given point in time depends on a variety of factors, including air and internal temperatures, time of day, load profiles, utility rate schedules and grid conditions, and other weather conditions and forecasts. All of these factors are used in the algorithms OATI developers wrote into the microgrid system’s energy management software platform, according to Heim.

OATI started out in 1995 as a data center company specializing in serving organizations with an active role in the North American power and energy sectors.

“We write our own software and host applications for energy industry customers and clients — utilities, banks and other power and energy commodity traders, [transmission operators], government and regulatory entities,” Heim said. All told, OATI has written and hosts about 95 individual software products to date, providing a SaaS platform for some 1,600 customers.

Ensuring that the new data center meets Tier 4 availability standards is no mean feat. OATI will have worked with partners, including Ensync and local architectural and engineering firms, for about two and half years when all is said and done.

A State-of-the-Art Microgrid

OATI has designed and overseen the building of about six data centers to date, Heim said, noting that “these are mission-critical facilities, so we build them to meet the highest Tier 4 up-time availability standards, our new data center in Bloomington included,”

As is the case with its existing data center and corporate office building in northeast Minneapolis, the Bloomington facility draws on multiple utility power feeds and is equipped with multiple-redundancy electrical and mechanical systems. That includes dual UPS systems, redundant switches, pumps and other system components.

OATI took a bit of a different approach and chose to design and build a hybrid microgrid for its Bloomington facility in a bid to reduce energy costs and enhance energy security and resilience for the company, its customers and the local utility, Heim said.

Meeting Maximum Loads and Tier 4 Data Center Standards

The OATI microgrid is designed with enough power capacity and duration to meet the maximum load envisaged, between 1.5-2 MW.

“We designed the system to take into account our best projections of maximum load – the full build-out, all floors occupied and drawing maximum load at the hottest time of day on the hottest day of the year,” Heim said. Furthermore, the microgrid platform will adjust dynamically to meet loads at any given point in time.

Serving as the primary source of on-site electricity, the 600-kW microturbine will also provide heating and cooling as part of the microgrid’s combined heat and power (CHP) aspect of the microgrid. Radiant heat from the microturbine will be captured and fed into an absorption chiller to ensure that data center servers and equipment stays cool.

“We’re not dependent on natural gas,” Heim said. “We can run a significant portion of our load using solar, wind and energy storage, but not at night, and not on cloudy days.”

He added that the facility will be continuously connected to the utility and will import power from the grid as-needed under normal operating circumstances.

“In an emergency, if we lose our grid connection, or if the utility requests we reduce imports, we can accommodate that,” he said.

Heim declined to specify the amount of savings OATI expects as a result of the microgrid platform’s demand response and/or self-generation capabilities, but noted that “it’s a definite cost reduction.”

OATI has been taking note of the emergence of microgrids in North America and worldwide in the two-plus years it has been working to build its new facility in Bloomington facility.

“[The microgrid] makes economic sense for us, but we also see this facility as a demonstration for others in terms of what an advanced microgrid can look like, its interplay with the utility grid and how it can benefit utilities by adding a lot in the way of overall reliability and resilience to recover from a disaster,” Heim concluded.

Lead image credit: OATI

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