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Lithium-ion technology: The future of the data center

As demand for data centers rises steeply in the digital era, the need for sustainable data center design that improves energy efficiency and reduces carbon emissions grows. The high-performance UPS holds the key to the data center’s sustainable development. The UPS with Lithium-ion batteries is gaining popularity in the industry as they emerge to be more energy-efficient, reliable, long-lasting, and cost-effective than traditional lead-acid batteries.

Nuremberg-based noris network AG is a provider of tailor-made information technology and telecommunications solutions for companies and organizations in the financing, manufacturing, software development, and public service fields. The innovation-driven company focuses on designing and building highly secure and modern data centers to achieve sustainable success.

To ensure the reliability and cost-effectiveness of a new Nuremberg-based data center, noris network AG worked with its long-term partner Wöhrle and Huawei Digital Power to deploy Huawei SmartLi UPS solution. The solution shows advantages in reducing the physical footprint and increasing energy efficiency.

Lithium-ion Batteries to Transform UPSs

Lithium-ion batteries now are increasingly leveraged to improve the overall performance of the UPS in data centers. The UPS system provided by Wöhrle is equipped with WISUS-Li (Huawei SmartLi), which features high energy density and a small footprint. Compared with traditional lead-acid batteries, WISUS-Li (Huawei SmartLi) can save 70% of the footprint, which means more space for IT cabinets.

WISUS-Li (Huawei SmartLi) uses lithium iron phosphate battery cells (LiFePO4), which are more secure and stable, and work with a multi-level intelligent BMS management system to identify faults and maintain them in advance, implementing intelligent management, greatly simplifying O&M and improving availability. Traditional lead-acid batteries are dumb devices. Installation and maintenance are more complex and O&M costs are higher.

The lithium-ion battery can safely work over a wider range of temperatures, typically from 0 to 40 degrees Celsius. In addition, the charging time is a quarter shorter than that of a lead-acid battery, rendering more charging cycles (up to 5000 instead of 300-500 for lead-acid batteries).

"Lithium batteries have a longer service life and are more cycle-resistant than the traditional lead technology. Therefore, they are suitable to provide balancing energy for peak load shaving," Markus Steiner, CTO of Wöhrle power supply systems GmbH summarized the advantages of the Li-Ion technology.

Profitability over the Service Life

For a commercial provider of ICT services like noris network AG, profitability is among the top goals.

This is where Wöhrle's solution can score in the long term. Although the costs were around 20% higher than a comparable system with lead-acid batteries in mid-2020, the WISUS-Li (Huawei SmartLi) solution has a significantly positive TCO (total cost of ownership) from a long-term perspective. The lithium-ion-based system can achieve up to 35% lower overall costs over the entire service life, largely due to the significantly longer service life of the energy storage device as well as savings in cooling and the omission of the ventilation system. “The TCO consideration is positive due to the more attractive prices, especially since individual cell monitoring is already integrated into lithium storage systems. With the lead variant, it would have to be additionally installed and serviced, which results in higher operating costs,” says Markus Steiner.

Redundant design - the solution for the data center

The new noris network AG data center was designed according to an energy cell concept. Consumers with a combined power requirement of one megawatt are installed per cell. Protection is provided by a dedicated Wöhrle WISUS-MS UPS system, which is based on a UPS system from the manufacturer Huawei, together with the WISUS-Li (Huawei SmartLi), the modular Li-battery storage solution for the UPS system. Redundancy runs through the entire system as a design concept. The UPS systems have a modular design, and the overall performance is supplied by two system cabinets. In total, the WISUS-MS could connect eight parallel units to form a system with a total output of 6.4 MW. Thanks to the n+1 configuration, a total of two power modules could fail without jeopardizing the guaranteed total power for the energy cell. The energy storage devices are distributed over six cabinets with a good 41 kWh per cabinet, which gives the UPS system a bridging time of 10 minutes per energy cell at full load.

Conclusion and experiences

In the meantime, the data center NBG6-BA2 in Nuremberg has gone into operation. Installation, construction, and testing of Li-Ion-supported UPS systems ran without any problems. "The advantages of the higher power density, as well as the lower weight and space requirement, speak clearly for lithium technology. And for us, profitability over the service life is crucial. Li-Ion has clearly won there," said Florian Sippel, COO of noris network AG. 

The high efficiency of the WISUS-MS of up to 97 percent in the normal mode, as well as the simple maintenance and expansion of the system during operation (hot-swap capability), contribute to this. The uncomplicated remote maintenance through the network connection of the UPS system via SNMP and Modbus-TCP is also positive.

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