Optimising UPS energy efficiency under all conditions

Modern data centres consume huge amounts of energy. One recent report estimates that they will consume one-fifth of the world’s electricity by 2025[i]. UPS power supplies, as major equipment items, contribute significantly to this demand; accordingly, any strategy that improves UPS energy efficiency will have a major impact on both sustainability and cost-saving within data centre operations.

Fortunately, various techniques are available to optimise UPS efficiency under all conditions, as demonstrated in modern, modular UPS systems like Kohler Uninterruptible Power’s ABB DPA 250 S4.

Below, Ian Jackson, Managing Director at Kohler Uninterruptible Power – Ireland, looks at these techniques. He starts by discussing the fundamental data centre design approach that optimises energy efficiency under normal operating conditions. Next, he explores a smart module switching function that maintains high UPS efficiency levels even when loads drop below 25%. Finally, he covers eco-mode and explains that, while it achieves extremely high efficiencies, it is not suitable for all data centre solutions.

The move to modular UPS systems – and its impact on efficiency

When double-conversion online uninterruptible power supplies first appeared in the seventies, they used transformer-based UPS designs. However, advances in power semiconductor technology have facilitated a general industry move towards transformerless UPS power solutions. This has brought several advantages, including some related to UPS efficiency.

Firstly, the topology is inherently more efficient. Even at optimal, near full load conditions, transformer-based UPS designs remain well below 95 percent – and as the load reduces towards 25 per cent, efficiency approaches just over 85 per cent. By contrast, the ABB DPA 250 S4 UPS system can achieve efficiencies up to 97 per cent with loads from 25 to 75 per cent of nominal UPS capacity.

However, the benefits extend further; the considerable size and weight reductions achieved by transformerless UPS systems designs mean that complete UPS power solutions can be implemented as small, rack-mounting modules rather than as large, monolithic UPS units. The advantages of this can be explained by considering an ABB DPA 250 S4 example.

This comprises the uninterruptible power supply supporting, say, a 200kW load; it would use four of its 50kW modules – or five, to provide N+1 redundancy. Then, if the load increases, incrementing the UPS’s capacity by plugging in another 50kW module (vertical scaling) is cost-effective, easy, and can be done without even interrupting power to the load. Further capacity can be provided by horizontal scaling, i.e. adding more UPS battery racks in parallel.

Note that both benefits – redundant UPS capacity and scalability – are achieved with minimal excess capacity, space and cost, due to the modules’ granularity.

By contrast, a monolithic UPS system typically has to be significantly oversized for future-proofing. Additionally, N+1 redundancy must be implemented using two complete UPS power systems, so neither can ever be more than 50 per cent loaded even in the best case. These factors force the monolithic UPS system to work with low loads, where UPS efficiency drops away sharply.

Maintaining high UPS efficiency under all conditions

We have seen how modular UPS topology improves UPS efficiency, but it’s important to maintain these high-efficiency levels under low loads. One way to facilitate this is to use a smart module switching technique called Xtra VFI.

Xtra VFI is an intelligent feature that minimises loss and improves efficiency on double-conversion modular UPS systems like the ABB DPA 250 S4. With this mode enabled, the uninterruptible power supply automatically adjusts the number of active modules to match changing load requirements. Surplus modules are switched to standby but remain ready to transfer to active mode if the load increases or the mains fails. The active modules share the load equally.

The UPS efficiency improvements are particularly significant when the load is less than 25 per cent of full UPS capacity. Power availability is protected, as the system allows for desired redundancy levels in its module-switching calculations. Xtra VFI operation is summarised in Fig.1 below.

Fig.1: UPS Xtra VFI operating mode

Eco-mode

In eco-mode, power flows directly from the utility mains supply to the load during normal operation, so bypassing the rectifier and inverter inefficiencies. If a mains problem is detected, the critical load is switched to the inverter output.

While eco-mode UPS efficiency can reach 99 per cent or more, it exposes the load to any incoming mains problems during normal operation. Accordingly, users should weigh the benefits of increased UPS efficiency against the risk created by operating in eco-mode.

Conclusion

To meet ever-increasing pressure to curb power consumption, UPS power supply users must avail themselves of every technique to improve energy efficiency. Their best option is to choose a UPS solution that not only benefits from modern, modular transformerless UPS topology but also offers a smart module switching capability like Xtra VFI to maintain high-efficiency levels under all load conditions.

Whether or not to use eco-mode depends on each site’s particular circumstances.

In any case, consultation with an experienced UPS supplier like Kohler Uninterruptible Power is always worthwhile, as they can advise on the options and suggest optimum UPS solutions.

For more information on how Kohler can help you increase the UPS efficiency of your data centre operations, contact us here.

Reference

[1] https://www.powerengineeringint.com/2019/03/14/getting-a-grip-on-data-centre-costs-and-efficiency/

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