With data centres in Russia, Finland, the Netherlands and the US, Yandex operates one of world’s most popular internet search engines and the most popular in Russia. The data centre operator is bucking the industry trend – not only in its conviction that demand-side response builds resilience but also by openly sharing its experience in a bid to exchange knowledge and educate the data centre sector.
Until now, data centre operators have been slow to adopt DSR and one of the barriers often cited is the perceived ‘risk’. In a business where uptime is critical, data centres have been nervous about taking the plunge, but could the tide be turning?
Often referred to as ‘Russia’s Google’, resilience is critical for Yandex – use of its power assets need to be free of risk and also make ‘good business sense’. Yandex identified an opportunity to generate significant financial savings by engaging with DSR. Although this was a primary motivating factor, alongside this financial incentive was the ability to support a sustainable approach to energy use, while ensuring the data centre further increased its availability.
Ari Kurvi, data centre manager for Yandex Oy’s facility, based in Mäntsälä, Finland, commented: “Helen (Helsinki Energy) invited us to cooperate with them to sell our capacity to market. We are now selling 8MW/h of power for reserve. As we participate through a third-party, we have no operational requirements and there is no additional work for Yandex; we do not need an individual within the company to follow market data – every month the energy company just gives us money.”
Kurvi explains that the data centre maintains full control of its backup generation, so any fears over ‘loss of control’ are allayed: “The scheme is frequency based – so when the frequency goes below a certain threshold value, we start our backup generation. We are not supplying power generation to the grid, but simply take our load off grid by moving to island mode and ‘release’ an amount of power,” he explains.
Kurvi points out that this actually increases the data centre’s resilience: “We receive an early warning that there may be impending problems with the stability of the grid and can move to backup power and take ourselves off the grid. However, during this period, the grid is still available. This gives us the option of switching back to the grid if we find there are any technical issues with our backup power.
“We are ahead of any disaster that may happen on the grid and can react much quicker to the frequency drop than other data centres that are not participating in DSR schemes.
“In addition, we are able to respond while we still have ‘double availability’, which improves our resilience – other data centres may switch to backup power when the grid goes down and find that their generation fails to come on,” he continues.
Testing the backup assets
Kurvi adds that, as Yandex frequently puts its backup power assets to the test, it knows that “everything will work”. This also ensures the data centre has full availability. “The only way you can ensure your system works is to test it end-to-end. We have seen no increase in risk by participating in DSR – instead, we have reduced our risk by testing our systems more frequently and more thoroughly.”
There are a variety of different schemes and Kurvi explains that the revenues are market driven, but this year the return has been set at €2.5 per MW/h. The facility already had the capacity to participate in DSR, so the required investment was just €10,000. The payback was less than one month.
“We are also one of the biggest users of renewable energy – mostly wind power generation. The increasing use of renewables is contributing to the instability of the grid, so I feel we have some responsibility to help stabilise the grid through DSR,” comments Kurvi.
The Mäntsälä facility is also tackling the issue of sustainability through other approaches and is recovering around 30% of its energy back as heat, which is recycled and distributed to the local city heating network. From July 2018, this will be increased to around 60%.
“If everything goes well, I predict we will have the capacity to further increase this up to 78%, with some further investment. From a sustainability perspective the potential is huge. Our local municipality has over 22,000 inhabitants. Typically, in Finland, district heating is reducing C02 emissions by 40% by capturing and reusing heat. Local municipalities are not the only beneficiaries – Finland, as a whole, is able to meet its EU carbon reduction targets through heat recovery schemes,” Kurvi explains.
The arrangement has been a win-win situation for all – Yandex generates revenues from the recycled heat; utilities can increase their profits by accessing a cheap source of energy; while the price for end users has been reduced by 10%.
Kurvi believes that governments could encourage further engagement among hospitals, schools and other public sector organisations.
In the future, a whole ecosystem could be built around the data centre, offering access to cheap and reliable excess heat.
“Global sustainability needs to grow,” Kurvi concludes. “You need to look beyond your own fence.”