Is the time right for lithium ion (li-ion) batteries to replace valve-regulated lead-acid (VRLA) batteries in data center uninterruptible power source (UPS) solutions? Ten years ago, it would have been hard to justify the switch, considering the cost and inconsistent li-ion battery performance.
The tables have turned. According to 2021 research at MIT, the cost of li-ion batteries has dropped by 97 percent since they were first commercially introduced in 1991. Li-ion battery performance has significantly improved as well, in large part because manufacturers of consumer electronics, smartphones and electric vehicles have pushed heavily for li-ion innovation and improvement.¹
The strides made with li-ion are paying off. It’s predicted that by 2025, li-ion use will increase to 35 percent of the data center market, up from just 10.6 percent in 2020.² As data centers everywhere seek to cut operating costs, become more efficient and maximize space without sacrificing service or performance, they’re seeing the myriad benefits of the newest generation of li-ion batteries. Li-ion batteries are proving to be more powerful, reliable, long-lived and cost-efficient than VRLAs.
Schneider Electric has a Lithium Ion vs. VRLA Battery TCO Calculator you can use to estimate the relative costs.
Working in concert with rectifiers and inverters, batteries are the heart of a data center’s UPS, which operates as a back-up to keep security systems, computers and other electronic equipment running as needed in the event of a main power source failure. A battery failure could put the data center at risk of a power interruption that can bring down operations and potentially lose millions for the business and its customers.
Battery systems are made of many interdependent parts – cells, cables and more – all of which can erode and degrade battery performance. Data center operators have to monitor battery health, store and handle them safely, accurately predict failure and replace them before failure occurs.
This critical monitoring and maintenance has to be factored into the total cost of operations analysis when data centers decide what type of battery to use. And although well-maintained VRLA batteries have done the job for nearly as long as the data center industry has existed, that’s changing.
Top manufacturers of li-ion batteries are now making them specifically for data centers that were previously using VRLA batteries, helping them make the switch and reap a number of benefits to business – benefits which in turn get passed on to data center customers via enhanced service, competitive pricing, greater reliability and other factors:
As with the use of any battery, safety has to be a top priority for data centers. Transitioning to li-ion batteries from VRLA brings with it important safety considerations:
Data center providers like CoreSite live at the crossroads of new inventions and enhanced technologies, and while this allows them to stay competitive, they also have to be relentlessly rigorous in how they approach any new technology to make sure it doesn’t negatively impact service or performance.
SVP, Data Center Operations
Anthony Hatzenbuehler, SVP of Data Center Operations, is responsible for onsite data center operations activities, client services and the Operations Support Center (OSC).Read more from this author