Grid stability and the risk it poses to the retail sector and its datacentres

In this guest post, Simon Brady, services channel business development manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa at datacentre equipment manufacturer Vertiv, outlines the challenges retailers face when trying to cope with the threat of grid instability

We all know that the retail sector has undergone a period of transformation in the last two years, digitising services quickly to meet changing customer buying behaviour and demand for online experiences.

But whilst this switch is good news for customers, who can get goods quickly and conveniently, and for retailers’ bottom lines, the digital pivot has come with significant challenges – not least in managing an increasingly complex IT landscape.

Today, not only does the retail industry partner closely with datacentres, it must also manage digital platforms, supply chains and the IT systems of thousands of warehouses and stores in country or across Europe or the world. Adding to the complexity is the high quantity of data about customers and their activities – crucial in providing those all-important personalised experiences – that all has to be accessible, managed and stored.

It is perhaps no wonder then that the infrastructure which underpins the industry is under pressure, resulting in operations being closer to grid stability limits. And of course, it’s not just retail operations that are putting pressure on the grid – existing challenges, including a changing power generation landscape with an increase in renewable sources and remote generation, and aging AC power transmission infrastructure, are prevalent too.

We know the effects of grid instability are significant, not least power outages that can disrupt business continuity. As a result, solutions that safeguard mission-critical networks have become critical to the success of retailers around the world.

The technology solution: A smart-grid ready UPS

We know that to cope with the ever-increasing demands of consumers, retail organisations will need to install more IT equipment and will need to ensure the grid is stable to enable it. What’s more, having learnt from recent experience, the technology solutions they deploy will need to be flexible and scalable enough for an unpredictable future.

To meet these challenges, retailers around the world are turning to Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS) to keep power supplies stable. UPS systems help to maintain a continuous supply of power by providing emergency power for a short time (five to 10 minutes) in cases when there are unexpected disruptions, such as mains power failure. They provide enough power for the IT load until the grid is back online or until additional grid generators kick in and cover the backup power needs of an IT infrastructure, from small computer rooms at the network edge to enterprise and hyperscale datacentres.

As well as stabilising energy supply for critical loads, many UPS systems now offer new features to help support energy management initiatives. Indeed, a recent survey by research group  Omdia revealed it expects smart grid-ready UPS deployment to be prevalent in datacentres within the next four years as operators look to develop demand-side response energy management strategies.

The good news is that UPS technology has significantly evolved over the last decade, with systems now able to attain high efficiency with smaller footprints and improved battery energy storage and monitoring systems. The latest incorporation of technology to interact with the electric grid means datacentres can be smarter about the amount and timing of energy consumption.

It is clear for the competitive retail sector, reliability is critical. Any snags in the purchasing process will deter customers and they will quickly look elsewhere for what they want. Today’s biggest challenge for the sector is to ensure reliability. But, as retailers increasingly turn to UPS to ensure business continuity, grid suppliers will also look at the same technology providers to help balance the fluctuations resulting from the increased reliance on renewable energy sources.

Ultimately, to solve the grid challenges takes a whole-industry approach; businesses, technology providers and grid suppliers should all work together to meet the numerous challenges ahead.

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