Uninterruptible Power Supply technologies – current trends and future projections

UPSs use many technologies to fulfil their role, and are subject to a wide range of industry trends. Here, Alan Luscombe, director at Kohler Uninterruptible Power Ltd., a Kohler company, reviews these factors.

BATTERIES

Currently, the hottest topic is batteries – specifically, the lithium-ion vs. VRLA lead-acid debate. Li-ion offers several advantages, including lower TCO, longer life, smaller size and weight, and tolerance of higher operating temperatures. However, although li-ion market share has been growing steadily over the last two or three years, especially as prices have been dropping, VRLA is not expected to disappear any time soon. The biggest barrier appears to be li-ion’s higher initial cost; this has a decisive influence on systems integrators focused more on upfront competitive pricing than their customers’ ongoing operational savings.

MODULAR TECHNOLOGY

We have seen a steady growth in demand for modular UPS technology over the last two years, especially in higher-power applications. Products up to 200 kVA with 10 – 25 kVA modules are widely available, whilst products with 50kVA modules much less so.  With 100kVA modules, the PowerWAVE 9500 DPA is in a unique position for now.

Growth is expected for larger UPSs like this 500-kVA capacity example

POWER AVAILABILITY

As autumn approaches, with winter not far behind, thoughts turn naturally to utility power quality. Currently, we have no tangible evidence of any problems – there appears to be ‘just enough’ capacity in reality. More nuclear energy capacity will ease the pressure, but this is very slow in developing.

BUSINESS FORECAST

Business forecasting is difficult, as there are so many unknowns, primarily Brexit. An IHS Research forecast for the UK predicted a negative economic impact from Brexit, but actually the economy has continued to grow. The largest effect has come from the falling pound.

Another trend that will continue after Brexit is the government’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions, with a continued ‘stick and carrot’ approach. Compliance criteria will become ever more stringent, while the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s Enhanced Capital Allowance (ECA) scheme rewards the use of eligible energy-saving equipment with tax breaks. These realities, plus the threat of higher energy costs, are driving the market for higher-efficiency UPSs, with efficiency norms moving from 95% to 96% now, and above 97% being forecast.

Not surprisingly, the market will continue to look for reduced Opex from these higher efficiencies, and reduced Capex too. There is an additional, more data centre-oriented factor though; an increasing demand for UPSs capable of dynamically adjusting their capacity, and especially reducing it to improve efficiency, if the load is unexpectedly low. This facility is also useful in converged infrastructure, virtualised data centres, where servers are dynamically allocated – or de-allocated – to match changing software workloads.

INTELLIGENT UPS SYSTEMS

Over the last five years, users’ awareness of today’s Internet of Things (IoT) environment has grown, raising further expectations of enhanced intelligence from their UPS. Overall, they expect to treat it as an intelligent network node rather than a standalone item. Specifically, they want immediate warning of impending problems, allowing rectification before failure. Allowing third-party maintenance organisations to run this predictive maintenance service through 24/7 remote monitoring is particularly important.

UPS intelligence can also aid longer term power system management and optimisation, through load monitoring, regular reports on UPS status, and analysis of trends over time.

HYPERSCALE DATA CENTRES

But how are computing resources and their UPSs being deployed? 45% of all applications are located in data centres, with increasing demand for hyperscale facilities where 400 – 500 kVA UPS systems are regarded as basic building blocks. Such systems are either coupled together for even greater capacity, or distributed around a large facility. Ireland is providing a key market for these large installations, with €2b invested over five years, and a further €2b from 2020. Organisations involved include Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Vodaphone and Google.

Smaller, modular data centres are also important, with a growth of 15% pa seen over the last five years. These allow convenient, incremental expansion in, say, 100 kVA steps. Complete, pre-fabricated data centres built into Portakabins or other units can be used to add capacity rapidly as needed.

The last major part of the UPS market – 25% – is occupied by smaller server rooms operated by branch offices or SMEs. Although this share is significant, growth has slowed. This is probably because smaller organisations are increasingly outsourcing their computing facility to the cloud; dedicated facilities and staff can provide a better service than non-specialist internal staff, while the cost and commitment of buying in, configuring and running on-site IT systems is also removed.

Irrespective of how IT resources are deployed, continued growth seems inevitable; driven by factors including the IoT, online business and entertainment services, smartphones and social media.

This article has been published in Mission Critical Power magazine 

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