Backup generators play a critical role in data centers. They’ve long been a staple of any reliable data center, but innovations in generator fuel options are opening up new options to explore.
Growing Demand for Data Center Workers
Data center workers are in high demand because data centers are in high demand. New data centers are being built at a rapid pace, with the data center construction market expected to grow from $20.21 billion in 2022 to $28.56 in 2028. Certain segments of the market, such as modular data centers, are growing especially fast.
Among the many factors contributing to this growth in the demand for data centers are trends like generative AI and cloud computing. As the world embraces digital transformation, more data centers will be needed to support those increasing computing
In addition to providing a significant level of work to data center manufacturers and construction workers, these new facilities will create a wealth of data center job opportunities as they require a variety of professionals to run them. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), “Overall employment in computer and information technology occupations is projected to grow 15 percent from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations.”
The Importance of Data Center Generators
In an ideal world, data center backup generators would never be needed. In reality, the primary power grid supplying electricity to a data center can fail for a number of reasons. For instance, severe weather or natural disasters may result in a blackout. In these cases, having generators in place that can take over and support the data center’s electrical load is invaluable.
Why are generators so crucial in a data center? When the main utility power fails, backup power is key to:
- Maintaining uptime: Backup generators ensure that servers and networking equipment remain operational without disruption, even when the main source of power fails. Because data centers are central to an organization's IT infrastructure, any amount of downtime can have severe consequences for business operations. A seamless transition to backup power ensures that essential websites, data, and applications remain available. This reliability also helps data centers meet service level agreements (SLAs) and maintain customer trust.
- Protecting data: Data centers store and process vast amounts of valuable information, including sensitive customer data and business-critical applications. A sudden power failure can result in data corruption or loss, leading to downtime and financial losses. Backup generators maintain a stable power supply, allowing data centers to continue serving their primary function—storing and retrieving data—without interruption.
- Running support infrastructure: IT equipment isn’t the only thing that requires electricity in the data center. Backup power is also a must for maintaining auxiliary infrastructure such as security systems and cooling equipment, which are key to the overall health, safety, and function of the data center.
Fuel Options for Data Center Generators
Every data center owner or operator would agree that backup generators are essential, but they may choose different types of backup generators for the job. They may also choose different sources of fuel. Typically, data center backup generators are powered by diesel or natural gas. These are both popular options, with natural gas being the more environmentally friendly of the two. However, these two mainstays are no longer the only options to consider.
As data centers focus on meeting green energy goals, some facilities are exploring alternative fuel sources, such as:
- Hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO): This fuel is produced from feedstocks such as vegetable oils, animal fats, and other organic materials.
- Eco-diesel: This fuel incorporates tall oil, a renewable byproduct of forestry and paper production.
- Hydrogen fuel cells: Hydrogen fuel cells create electricity through a chemical reaction that occurs when combining hydrogen and oxygen atoms.
It’s also worth noting that some data centers are looking outside the norm even more by replacing generators with large lithium-ion batteries meant to provide continuous backup power. Batteries are typically used in a data center to make the transition to backup power seamless as generators power on, but select data centers today are using battery power in place of traditional generators to sustain the data center’s electrical load.
Fuel Options for Data Center Generators
Why make the switch? Here are a few reasons some data centers are embracing fuel alternatives for their generators.
One of the primary reasons to consider switching to a more eco-friendly fuel option is that it can help reduce a data center’s Scope 2 emissions and improve sustainability. Data centers today are increasingly concerned with these goals as they seek to lessen the environmental impact of their operations (which altogether account for about 2 percent of total electricity use in the U.S.). Going green can also unlock tax benefits and enhance a company’s public image.
HVO can be produced from a variety of renewable feedstocks, making it a domestically producible fuel source and a versatile option in the event that some raw materials become scarce. Some eco-diesel formulations include renewable diesel, which is produced from renewable feedstocks such as vegetable oils, animal fats or waste oils. This reduces dependence on fossil fuel imports and enhances fuel security for data centers. It also mitigates the risks associated with fluctuating diesel prices.
Some alternative fuels can offer quality advantages. For example, HVO has excellent lubricity properties, which can lead to reduced engine wear and a longer engine life compared to traditional diesel fuel. This results in lower maintenance costs and increased generator reliability. HVO also has a high energy density, similar to or even greater than diesel. This means that data centers can achieve efficient power generation without compromising performance.
In the past, fuel options were limited, but today, alternatives are more widely available and practical to implement. When it comes to choosing alternative fuel sources, HVO and eco-diesel options are the easiest to switch to. This is because they can be substituted for diesel without any change to existing infrastructure
Learn More About Backup Power and Its Place in the Data Center
Backup power is mission-critical for any data center. Today, data center generators can run on fuel sources other than diesel and gas, but the goal remains the same: Keep the data center operational.
Want to learn all about the other parts that go into a data center setup? Check out our interactive infographic, “Anatomy of a Modular Data Center”!