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Critical facilities such as hospitals, police and fire stations, and even telecom sites and data centers, play vital roles in disaster response and recovery.
This sector provides protection, communication, and emergency services essential to public safety and welfare. To meet the changing needs of society, this industry is evolving and so is its electrical infrastructure.
I sat down with Schneider Electric Vice President of Solutions Architects Joseph Reele and Cyxtera Technologies Vice President of Engineering & Construction Mark Hamilton to talk about opportunities and changes in how these centers are powered. We tackled the following topics on the ASCO Power webinar.
- COVID-19 and Its Impact
- Critical Facility Design Strategies
- Sustainable Technologies
COVID-19 and its impact
When the whole world shifted to digital due to the pandemic, the data center industry saw a dramatic increase in demand. The facilities and services they offered were vital to making the new normal happen and mitigating the effects of the lockdown by offering an alternative way to be productive.
This greater reliance on data centers also meant more pressure to ensure uptime for areas such as education, business, and so on. Luckily, critical facilities in data centers have always strived to improve service and prolong uptime in preparation for unprecedented events. Service level agreements are also made to ensure power continuity for clients, whether it be through an uninterruptible power supply or other backup power solutions such as generators and transfer switches.
COVID-19 lockdowns also pushed the industry to rethink processes, procedures, and documentation. Facilities developed protocols for access control, personnel, and contact tracing to help prevent the spread of the virus.
Critical facility design strategies
The International Energy Agency estimates that renewable energy sources will grow up to 60% by 2026. This growth is changing these establishments as more companies leverage various energy sources to improve power resiliency. According to Reele, the increasing availability of alternative sources helps improve the power resiliency of facilities that depend on the same energy pipe. This allows facilities to strengthen power continuity by tapping into different sources such as solar and wind.
More businesses are designing facilities with less redundancy compared to old designs. Reele explained that this is brought by the significant improvement in the redundancy of IT kits.
Quick execution becomes more important as the demand for data centers increases. Other fields in this situation may start planning for an industry-wide standardization, but not critical facilities. Hamilton explained that a design for one region may not work for another due to snowflakes or facilities that require a one-off design to match its environment and business needs. There will be design standards, but it will be different for every company as they develop a standard that matches their risk profile, budget, and speed requirements.
The sustainability movement continues to gain ground due to consumer pressure, national laws, climate change, and more. But it hasn’t always been the focus of critical facilities. Reele shared, “We’ve grown up as an industry.” Facilities are now putting in more effort to improve their efficiency in a way that matches the company’s risk. The advent of Power Usage Effectiveness encouraged the industry to minimize its carbon footprint.
More critical facilities from different industries are also incorporating microgrids into their system. Microgrids provide additional resilience and are expected to grow seven-fold by 2028. The guests see it becoming more prevalent as the volatility and cost of utility power continue to spike.
The Building Management System (BMS) is a computer-based control system that has been used for decades to centralize the operation of a facility. Data centers today now use the BMS together with Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) due to its robust features for server and route management.
The continuing progress in systems and technology could lead to AI and become a driver for increased efficiency. However, AI is only achievable when the operational technology and information technology systems share a single platform. Doing this also has other benefits in other aspects such as power protection and security. This has been done in other domains like the automotive industry where they put the command and control system in one platform for a streamlined process.
We have explored another industry’s opportunities and challenges in another ASCO webinar. The two experts we invited to this episode shared first-hand experience and industry knowledge. This can help outsiders and professionals in this industry to understand the changes happening in critical facilities from an electrical standpoint. It’s necessary to keep these conversations going to continue bettering the facilities that provide services and respond to emergencies.