back to article Google tests battery backups, aims to ditch emergency datacenter diesel

The pilot of a new emergency battery power system at a Google datacenter in Belgium may be the first of many steps toward eliminating diesel generators from similar facilities around the world. Google talked up the success of the datacenter battery power backup trial, which took place at its bit barn in St Ghislain, west …

  1. vekkq

    Can someone do the math for me please?

    I don't see how batteries are more carbon efficient. I presume you have to replace batteries more often than a diesel generator.

    1. Alumoi Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Can someone do the math for me please?

      How do you dare bring logic and rationality in a discussion about saving the planet!

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Can someone do the math for me please?

      The efficiency, or lack of it, is mainly in the production. Still, they're easier to maintain and swap out than generators.

    3. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: Can someone do the math for me please?

      Why do you presume that?

      I don't know what the expected lifetime of a generator is, but I do know that they need regular testing and maintenance.

      Batteries of this sort will require very little maintenance - but they will also be mostly on perma test.

      And the batteries will have serious lifetime... it doesn't actually matter if they drop to 80% capacity, they'll still be good for backup purposes.

    4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Can someone do the math for me please?

      There's no visible CO2 production when running from a battery.

      But batteries are already used in UPSes so all this does is make a longer-lasting UPS. The point of a diesel generator is to back up the UPS when the power-cut lasts longer than the UPS will provide for. In the event of a really lasting power outage the diesel tank can be topped up. How do you pour a few gallons of electricity into a battery?

      1. katrinab Silver badge
        Meh

        Re: Can someone do the math for me please?

        I guess realistically they need power long enough to fail-over to another data centre.

        Or, if the network connection is also down, enough power to shut everything down safely.

      2. Borg.King

        Re: Can someone do the math for me please?

        How do you pour a few gallons of electricity into a battery?

        You bring in a portable generator. Power companies have been utilizing just such truck mounted portable generators to cover times when a major part of the distribution grid requires maintenance or replacement. The largest of these are powered by jet engines, which presumably could even be run on biofuels these days.

        1. Dan from Chicago

          Re: Can someone do the math for me please?

          Portable generators have a way of becoming unavailable during any extended power outage. Places without any backup rent everything that's available right away and places that think they'll be OK because they have 24 or 36 hours of battery backup are too late.

          Purifying lithium to make batteries is currently an environmental nightmare. Given the environmental impact of running a generator a few hours a year vs. mining and processing tens to hundreds of tons of lithium ore (and some cobalt, nickel, graphite, and lead) to make gigantic batteries is bad, not good, for the environment.

          1. katrinab Silver badge
            Meh

            Re: Can someone do the math for me please?

            They won't necessarily be using lithium. They don't have to move them around, so they care more about energy density per $ than energy density per m^3 or per kg.

            1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

              Re: Can someone do the math for me please?

              But lead/acid is so last century.

              1. John Robson Silver badge

                Re: Can someone do the math for me please?

                There are *other* technologies available. I don't say that since diesel generates smoke we shouldn't use engines because a steam engine is even worse.

          2. the Kris

            Re: Can someone do the math for me please?

            Most likely they will be using LiFePO4, which doesn't contain Cobalt or Nickel.

            Diesel generators also need to be maintained, this means oil, coolant, filters, ...

            The batteries will also be used to stabilise the grid, this means allowing increased use of renewable energy generation on the grid.

            1. Cliffwilliams44 Bronze badge

              Re: Can someone do the math for me please?

              Batteries need to be inspected, the contacts cleaned and batteries LEAK!

              No one ever thinks about the disposal of these batteries which is a very expensive and dangerous process. If you think there will not be black market battery disposal industry, especially in the 3rd world, that will improperly dispose of these batteries and then they leak toxins into the ground and water supply then you live in fairly land!

              All this and not to mention the mining of the materials that the greenies will ban in western countries but are more than happy to allow these dangerous and environmentally damaging mining operations to be performed in poor countries populated by black and brown people, some of which are run with slave labor.

              Hypocrisy at it's highest! All in the pursuit of preventing a mythical climate crisis.

      3. LybsterRoy Bronze badge

        Re: Can someone do the math for me please?

        -- How do you pour a few gallons of electricity into a battery? --

        Very long cable to where they're not having a power cut?

        1. katrinab Silver badge
          Windows

          Re: Can someone do the math for me please?

          That is called the National Grid, and power cuts are usually caused by that cable being broken somewhere along the way.

    5. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: Can someone do the math for me please?

      They wouldn't have to have daily charge/discharge cycles - even if they are used to charge up on renewable power and therefore discharge when that power is not available (i.e. night) they wouldn't do full charge/discharge cycles - otherwise they wouldn't be of much use for "backup" if a power outage occurs at the bottom of the discharge cycle.

      They aren't necessarily a type of battery that has an issue with lots of charge/discharge cycles either. There are different types of batteries which store less energy per volume/weight that are used for utility scale storage because they are cheaper and last much longer. That's presumably what they are using, since portability isn't a concern they don't care how big or heavy it is.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    6. v13

      Re: Can someone do the math for me please?

      Generators rely on fuel and thus can never be carbon free. Batteries can be charged from the grid, which can have energy from renewables, or even using solar energy directly.

    7. LybsterRoy Bronze badge

      Re: Can someone do the math for me please?

      Zero carbon is a bit like the NHS - free at the point of use but lets ignore the shedload of cash that keeps it going - its FREE I tell you FREE!

      So for zero carbon lets just concentrate of the bit of the lifespan that we want and any carbon (and other ecological damage) mysteriously vanishes.

    8. the Kris

      Re: Can someone do the math for me please?

      Doing the math:

      Most likely they will be using LiFePO4 batteries which have lowest cost per capacity and have the longest lifetime. Under optimal use (e.g. 20%<->80%) we see 10000 cycle lifetime.

      So if they were charged and discharged every day between 20% and 80%, they would last 45 years.

      (45 years * 365 days * 60% cycle => 9855 cycles)

    9. tip pc Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Can someone do the math for me please?

      In my best obiwan voice

      “These are not the carbons you are looking for”

      Obviously getting my cape!!

  2. StrangerHereMyself Bronze badge

    Nuke

    How about a small nuclear reactor (SMR - small modular reactor) as envisioned by the folks at Rolls-Royce? It's carbon-free you know and can power the data-center for an indefinite period of time. A battery will only last you two days at the most.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Nuke

      "as envisioned", ie. not available now. So, unproven and expensive. Do you see any insurance company signing off on this?

      Either way, the backup stuff is probably less important than the power agreements where Google really is putting its money where its mouth is.

      1. TeeCee Gold badge

        Re: Nuke

        Actually pretty much available now, all that's to be sorted out is the packaging and planning.

        HINT: The actual small reactor bit is the thing they already make for nuclear submarines.

        1. StrangerHereMyself Bronze badge

          Re: Nuke

          Nuclear subs use very highly enriched Uranium fuel. I sincerely hope they don't use that in their SMR.

          1. the spectacularly refined chap Silver badge

            Re: Nuke

            British and American designs do, using stuff that makes weapons grade material look puny. That's how our subs can go their whole lives without refuelling.

            That isn't universal though, e.g. the French subs use regular commercial grade uranium enriched to 5% which it why they need refuelling every 10 years or so.

            But regardless of the fuel nuclear won't be on the cards for something like this for the foreseeable future. Nuclear power plants are essentially uninsurable so there always needs to be government support and a public utility for it to be a goer.

            1. Cuddles Silver badge

              Re: Nuke

              "Nuclear power plants are essentially uninsurable so there always needs to be government support and a public utility for it to be a goer."

              Not really, it just means they need to be self-insured. That already happens in plenty of places, especially where the company needing insurance is bigger than any insurance company and so there's simply no point in getting a third party involved. Google is one of the biggest companies in the world, with hundreds of billions of cash in hand, and even more in total assets. They're significantly bigger than many governments. Nuclear power may well be off the cards for various political and legal reasons, but when it comes to the financial side Google would be better placed to handle it than almost any public utility.

            2. Cliffwilliams44 Bronze badge

              Re: Nuke

              Which is completely stupid! This is the loud mouthed complainers forcing insurance companies to do business and a false premise!

              In the 70+ years of nuclear power we have had 3 major incidents, 3 Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima.

              Any other business with this record of accidents would have a grade A rating for insurance!

              There have been far more accidents in coal, oil, & gas production, power generation, storage and transportation.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Nuke

                Nuclear power generation isn't "any other business". Other businesses can get insurance. Nukes can't. Also, check out the small print on any insurance policy you have.

                It's not a question of the number of accidents either. It's a question of risk. The consequences and costs of a nuclear accident - clean-up, compensation, environmental damage, etc - are far, far worse than those for the activities you've listed. No commercial insurer could afford to pay for the damage caused by the Chernobyl disaster, or compensating the thousands who lost their jobs and homes or the decades (centuries?) or the costs for keeping the site "safe".

                If nuclear power companies want to be treated like any other business, they need to figure out how to get insurance and deal with the radioactive waste they produce.

                BTW you overlooked the Sellafield disaster in the late 50s.

                1. Martin an gof Silver badge

                  Re: Nuke

                  BTW you overlooked the Sellafield disaster in the late 50s

                  The facility which caught fire at Windscale was an entirely different kind of reactor - it was purely to generate weapons-grade Plutonium and although it was a major disaster, the consequences could have been a lot worse, were it not for an enterprising engineer who insisted on fitting filters to the chimneys, which captured a lot of the fire's products.

                  There have been several documentaries over the years and it's interesting that the filters were in the news six months ago. Most of the documentaries seem to be offline at the moment (see the links in this archived news article) but I did find some audio.

                  M.

                2. John Robson Silver badge

                  Re: Nuke

                  "The consequences and costs of a nuclear accident - clean-up, compensation, environmental damage, etc"

                  Well, if you actually cleaned up after any of the other activities maybe we could have that conversation.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Nuke

          HINT: You conveniently overlooked geological surveys, safety certification, testing, licensing and the icky problems of a viable plan for decommissioning. All of which will take years or even decades. Not to mention NIMBYism. Who'd want a mini nuclear power station in their neighbourhood?

          To the best of my knowledge, none of the UK's sub-based reactors have been decommissioned because nobody's figured out how to do that. It might be a good idea to know how to do that before relying on whatever vapourware bullshit Rolls Royce is hyping.

          https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/2041/2041.pdf

          1. Binraider Silver badge

            Re: Nuke

            I do believe the current UK plan is to sit the old reactors in the dockyard to rot, indefinitely. Minor problem with that plan; the number of submarines we have built is (almost) at the point where there aren't enough bays in the dock yards to leave EOL boats moored indefinitely.

            Russia; with US funding has cut many expired reactors out of it's older boats and moved them to longer-term storage, which is presumably some wasteland in the middle of nowhere.

            The excellent Silent Deep is worth a read if you are interested in the UK submarine industry. Capt. Jive Turkey also well worth a follow; particularly the Sub Brief videos if you have the remotest interest in the history of the boats and their engineering.

            But we really do need to take a note out of Norway's lead and commit to sacrificing a few football fields worth of land; permanently; to set up the desperately needed permanent nuke disposal facility that we need for both civil and military purposes.

          2. Cliffwilliams44 Bronze badge

            Re: Nuke

            "Not to mention NIMBYism. "

            Exactly! This is the biggest impediment to expanding nuclear power! It is entirely irrational! The nuclear power industry has a excellent record of safe construction, operation and decommission! Including long term storage of waste! All the objections to nuclear power are based on irrational fear mongering!

            If you truly cared about the planets climate and believed CO2 is the problem (it isn't) then you would support the expansion of nuclear power generation. But they don't! Which exposes their lies!

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Nuke

              "The nuclear power industry has a excellent record of safe construction, operation and decommission! Including long term storage of waste! All the objections to nuclear power are based on irrational fear mongering!"

              So, the disasters at Fukushima, Windscale, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl were just irrational fearmongering and there was nothing to worry about? I see.

              There is no long-term storage of nuclear waste. Nuclear waste has only existed and been stored for 70-80 years at most. That's not long-term. Some of that waste has half-lives measured in millennia.

          3. John Robson Silver badge

            Re: Nuke

            "Who'd want a mini nuclear power station in their neighbourhood?"

            Me.

            Although actually I'd rather the micro ones went in substations - the very small size is actually quite useful here, both mechanically and safety wise.

            At motorway service stations I'd put an SMR... a bit more space, and easy reuse of the heat in the service building. Also less nimbyism because they are generally a little way outside residential areas.

            Supplement the grid with a pretty well distributed power supply.

      2. LybsterRoy Bronze badge

        Re: Nuke

        -- "as envisioned", ie. not available now --

        Of course it is - just park a submarine next door.

    2. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

      Re: Nuke

      Regardless of technical merit, or lack thereof, "small nuclear reactor" doesn't look quite as good on the Earth Day press release.

  3. TheRealRoland
    Meh

    YourHome - powered by Google

    see title... Because why not branch out into public (or private?...) utilities?

  4. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker Silver badge
    Trollface

    Truly zero carbon?

    At first, I thought about the maintenance crews in their diesel pickups driving out to maintain the solar and wind power fields...

    Then I realized we humans pollute the air with carbon dioxide with every exhale, not to mention the other periodic wastes No. 1 and No. 2. (It's likely we as individuals are neutral in a sense, since all that carbon comes from what we eat/consume to begin with, but that's a "stored" form, not atmospheric like our exhaust.)

    Knowing Google, there is only one logical conclusion: To truly do away with carbon, we must let AI write the code and fire all the humans!

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge
      Flame

      Re: Truly zero carbon?

      we must let AI write the code and fire all the humans!

      If they fire all the humans, they'll burn, releasing CO2...

  5. IGotOut Silver badge

    Greenwashing?

    How often do there D/C's fall over?

    Do they not have UPS rooms like all the big DC's have?

    I guess for extended outages (30mins plus) , they just have to shut the place down

    1. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

      Re: Greenwashing?

      They only need enough time to shift loads and boost replication of data. If they had 10 hours of battery power, they could ignore common short outages and only take action for extraordinary outages.

      Anyone who uses cloud hosting knows that uptime quotes only apply to multiregional systems.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Greenwashing?

      The pound signs associated with downtime are very large, so much so that the 5-nines reliability offered by the National Grid is inadequate for Google's needs.

      It's the same story with NG itself. The backups to restart the system are (relatively) low cost and rarely used but very important items to get the country out of jail when things go wrong.

      There's a recent call for information by NG for alternatives to diesels for much the same reasons Google is looking.

  6. Twanky Silver badge

    In Chile, a new wind farm that Google built in cooperation with power company AES Chile will take Google's first Latin American datacenter over the 80 percent carbon-free energy mark, it said. The solar portion of the project consists of 23 turbines and forms a part of a larger solar/wind portfolio that can generate up to 125 MW of energy.

    I doubt the solar portion uses 23 turbines.

    1. Cliffwilliams44 Bronze badge

      What will happen when they start failing? Is Google responsible for maintenance? What we are seeing here in the US is the companies that manufacture and install these wind turbines go out of business. The power companies don't have the personnel to repair them. The companies that supply the parts either go out of business or cannot deliver parts. Then these wind turbines fail and do not get fixed. Then they deteriorate and become a menace!

      All in the effort to prevent a mythical crisis!

    2. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Not solar

      Hi, yeah, brain blip by one of us. It's fixed. Don't forget to email corrections@theregister.com if you spot anything wrong.

      C.

  7. stevebp

    OK - quite a bit of speculation on here. Let me ask a few pertinent questions as I work in this field and have assessed many Data Centres across the World.

    1. For this method to work, we need to understand Google's business model. It can lose any single DC, (one in Belgium has no air conditioning at all - it may be this one in the article), and it's search facility is affected only minimally as every query goes out to multiple DCs anyway, with the fastest response appearing on your screen. If the batteries lose juice in an extended outage, then they probably don't care, which brings me to the next point:

    2. Why do this, when it has UPS that can cleanly shut down its equipment in any outage greater than, usually, 7 minutes? No sane enterprise DC will risk this architectural model

    3. Batteries are incredibly expensive and constitute one of the largest replacement items in an operational DC. Usually VRLA (lead acid) batteries will last around 8-10 years MAXIMUM, are around 90% renewable, but cost £'000,000s to replace when they all need swapping out - oh, and that's as long as you keep them within optimum operating parameters of 20-22 degrees C all the time. They also take up a lot of commercial space in a DC, will require good monitoring (ideally cell level) and can give off toxic fumes

    4. If Google are considering Li-Ion, then the economics worsen and the sustainability equation moves out to the right (much less sustainable) and don't mention 'thermal runaway' risk

    5. Generators have a lifetime of around 25 years minimum - some may even last, with excellent maintenance, up to 30-35 years and come up to a stable input voltage very quickly, which is why they are still preferred over fuel cells

    6. The energy is not as 'clean' as Google would have you believe - when it purchases all the wind power for its DCs, this means everyone else is using non-renewables and that means getting their energy from the grid - whatever the carbon make up is of that. Therefore charging up its batteries is not 'free' nor 'clean'. If Google wants to make a difference to carbon-intensive energy use, it should invest its billions in 'greening' the grid for everyone (as an aside, you should look up the 'sustainability' of wind turbines - you may be shocked to learn they end up in landfill after only a short lifetime of use)

    My honest opinion, having read the minimal information in the article, is that this is a 'concept' test that may suit Google but hardly anyone else - very similar to the Microsoft underwater DC it developed, which was also headline-grabbing but a really bad idea for many practicable, logistical and climate change reasons

    1. Justthefacts Silver badge

      They are using Fluence Gridstack

      They are using these Fluence batteries

      https://info.fluenceenergy.com/hubfs/Collateral/Gen6/Gridstack%20Tech%20Spec.pdf

      The technical details are very unclear, which isn’t a good sign. But maybe someone from Siemens can enlighten us.

      1. the Kris

        Re: They are using Fluence Gridstack

        They are identified as:

        Battery Supplier / Module

        CATL / LFP-280LC

        These are LiFePO4 batteries from CATL, their 280Ah cells in a liquid cooled frame, as I already suspected would be used.

        Lower cost per usable kWh than lead-acid.

        Cycle life of 8000 when charging fully and discharging to below 5%.

        If they cycle between 20% and 80% cycle life will increase dramatically.

    2. tip pc Silver badge

      6. The energy is not as 'clean' as Google would have you believe - when it purchases all the wind power for its DCs, this means everyone else is using non-renewables and that means getting their energy from the grid - whatever the carbon make up is of that. Therefore charging up its batteries is not 'free' nor 'clean'. If Google wants to make a difference to carbon-intensive energy use, it should invest its billions in 'greening' the grid for everyone (as an aside, you should look up the 'sustainability' of wind turbines - you may be shocked to learn they end up in landfill after only a short lifetime of use)

      I’m guessing they funded far more energy than they needed so while they use x for their dc’s the so called green energy is still contributing +y so more power than what they need is being fed in because of their ppa’s.

      But yes I get your point, it’s smoke and mirrors and some are guzzling the cool aid while shouting down anyone that questions the story.

      You are obviously anti green for pointing out some contrived, dishonest and misleading views presented that this is reducing atmospheric carbon emissions.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      A similar point was made about "carbon savings" associated with energy imported over interconnectors. In reality, unless there was an excess of un-usable renewables or nuke; all you have done is increase the amount of coal or gas being used in order to fill the demand over the interconnector.

      Factor in some transmission losses - potentially as far away as Poland from the UK, and the claims of green-ness are dubious.

      In a Europe with a net excess of green supply (which we are most certainly not at yet on a continuous basis - though on a spot basis examples are easily found) then batteries over diesels start making sense. Prime example are the negative wholesale prices encountered during times of high wind in Scotland; unable to export due to either transmission capacity limits or lack of demand.

      Green hydrogen, in a fuel cell or turbine (depending on how quickly you need to release energy) are a sensible option; again, with the caveat that the green hydrogen needs to be powered by green sources. Localised pumped storage is also an incredibly sensible idea; because not nearly as lossy as batteries... Both types of tech still needs development to put into serial production, but they are coming. RR MTU, RheEnergise, others working on such ideas. Serial production a few years away.

      Other industries have issued formal calls for information in this space, including my own org.

      It's possible to be pro-green and vehemently anti-greenwash. It is, in fact, the only pragmatic way forward for an energy strategy to makes sense over timescales of 10+ years. The stop oil now brigade; "while correct" their objectives and methods simply cannot be followed on any practical basis.

      Hindsight is a wonderful thing. All things considered we really should have started this path we are now on in the 1980's. As I have pointed out elsewhere, the CEGB did have such a plan; to increase qty of nukes significantly and backfill the more variable demand with wind and gas. That plan went in the bin in preference to privatisation and a free for all on gas - that thing we're now short on production of.

  8. aregross
    Trollface

    Flounder walks into a Harbor Freight...

    .. and says, "Can I have 10 Thousand AA batteries please? My DCs fallen down!"

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Google invented the wheel which is already invented by Tesla (Megapacks).

  10. Swiss Anton

    A sledgehammer to crack a nut.

    Belgium has a stable electrical supply, hence the backup generators will usually only be fired up for a few hours every year for testing, so the CO2 implications are negligible. Batteries would be more useful elsewhere, for instance in storing excess renewable power for use on the national grid.

  11. Snowy Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Carbon free

    If you exclude the energy it took to make and ship the batteries.

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