Batteries and Data Centers
The I-Connect007 team met with electrical engineer Mike Mosman, who has spent the majority of his career designing some of the country’s largest data centers. Mike recently sold his engineering company CCG Facilities Integration; he is now the vice president of electrical engineering in mission-critical facilities for Morrison Hershfield, and is still designing leading-edge data centers for large Internet companies. In this discussion, Mike explains how evolving battery technology and a strong demand are playing a key role in this area and others.
Barry Matties: Mike, thanks for joining us today. Let’s start with how you started your career and began designing data centers.
Mike Mosman: I graduated in power electrical engineering from Washington State University in 1974. In 1975, I entered the electrical engineering field, and started out in a one-man electrical engineering shop. In a short time, I connected with a construction company working on a nuclear powerhouse in Washington. So, I was a quality control engineer for a while for the Washington Public Power Supply System, and later at Plant Vogtle in Georgia. I was there at the end of the nuclear age.
After that, I went to work for a company that designed and built data centers, and this was actually before there were such things as email. And so, since 1986, I have done nothing but design data centers. I probably am now one of only a handful, maybe five data center engineers left in the United States from that time. I’ve seen data centers progress from tiny 500-kilowatt to one-megawatt data centers stuck in the back of a bank building, to what we are now calling hyperscale data centers that use more power than the city I live in.
So, we are at a cusp right now of a sizeable shift in the way that data centers are being built, which customers are going to be buying into them, how they’re being financed, and where they’re going to be located. And right now is a very, very exciting time to be in the data center industry. I am very near retirement. As a matter of fact, I’m past retirement, but I’m still working for this company.
We currently have about 80 people within Morrison Hershfield that concentrate on data centers. And that is in three of our offices, Toronto, Atlanta, and the one that they just purchased, which is my office in Baltimore.
Barry Matties: In your many years of designing data centers, batteries have played a key role. Tell us a little bit about the battery technology.
Mosman: The technology has improved over the 35 years that I’ve been working with batteries. The first time that I ran into a battery—an uninterruptible power supply system—was for one of the nukes I was working on. And I looked at that thing, and I thought, “Wow. Look at all these huge jars full of funny-looking lead plates. This is really interesting.” That was lead-acid technology. And I worked with that for 20 years, trying to figure out how to get those things to last more than seven or eight years. And they were huge. They were expensive. When we build data centers, 55% of the cost of the projects is electrical. Of that, half of it is in electrical equipment. And of the electrical equipment in data centers, approximately 8 or 10% percent of it might be in the cost of the batteries.
And so, figuring out how we could jam more power into less space, make it more energy-dense, has been the job of battery manufacturers for many years. But now, the technology has shifted away from lead-acid open cells. We had for a time what were called the VRLAs, valve regulated lead-acid batteries, which are sealed batteries. They’re smaller, with a little bit more power density. You can put them into cabinets, and that was a step-up in battery technology for many years. It made them more economical. But there were still some alternative technologies out there.
Nickel-cadmium batteries, for instance, were three times as expensive as lead-acid batteries, but they lasted longer, and they could take more discharges, especially the type that you find in a data center, hooked up to an uninterruptible power supply system. But then came the lithium-ion technology. It was developed mostly for automotive, electric cars, buses, and things like that, and in small sizes for appliances because they were very good for weight. They were very good for power density. Unfortunately, they did seem to have a propensity to be expensive and flammable, things that really prevented them from being widespread used in huge UPS applications. But that’s changed.
Now, the lithium-ion batteries have dropped in price where not only are they competitive with lead-acid batteries, but they’re also competitive with other forms of power backup such as massive engine generators. All of these data centers that I built, they’re connected up to huge engine generator plants. When you start talking about Environmental Protection Agency restrictions and terrible licensing requirements, plus the fact that you have to build special spaces for them that can handle the airflow and fuel distribution, it can be quite problematic. And the maintenance for them is just incredible.
So, a new trend in using lithium-ion batteries as a replacement for engine generators is changing completely what data centers look like now. And lithium-ion batteries are, by the way, not just one type of lithium-ion battery. There are about eight or 10 different metallurgies that go into them. And right now, what seems to be the most promising to me are the iron phosphate type. There are also some silicon carbide-type batteries. But these different metallurgies all have their pros and cons. Some of them are not subject to bursting into flames if you puncture them. Some of them are better for a larger power density or a higher number of discharges. Some of them are suited for high-power demand over short periods instead of low-power demand over long periods of time.
Right now, I’m thinking that most of these lithium-ion batteries for UPS applications or utility grid stabilization applications (which use huge banks of batteries) are going to be the iron phosphate type. They have a good safety. We’re not worried about what they weigh because they’re not in a car or some form of transportation. We’re a little bit concerned about how much space they take up. But the iron phosphate seems to be a good combination of characteristics. It’s fun. It’s been fun, over the three decades, watching what’s happening with batteries.
Feinberg: I’ve had solar on my house for 20 years. The first ones were lead-acid. And they lasted about three and a half, four years, maybe. The second set lasted about six years, seven years. And now, the third set I’ve had is 10 years old, and they’re running just fine. They’re all lead-acids. But I’m thinking I’m going to have to replace them soon. And you’re thinking I’ll be able to replace them with lithium-ions?
Mosman: I’m pretty sure you will be replacing them with lithium-ion batteries because the price of lithium-ions has gone down factor of three. You can get those about one-third of what they used to be because of their penetration into the market more than anything else. But lead-acid batteries, since those early decades in large UPS applications, have improved quite a bit. I remember in the late ‘90s I was designing data centers for United Parcel Service. They heavily tested their batteries weekly, and they only lasted a few years. By the way, every time you ship a package with a brown truck, you’re using a data center I designed. And every time you use your Visa card, you’re using a data center I’ve designed. Did you guys ever use AOL? I’ve designed all of AOL’s data centers.
Feinberg: AOL and Prodigy.
Mosman: Oh, Prodigy. That data center could fit in my bedroom back then.
Matties: Times have changed. You’re saying it’s a really exciting time right now in data centers. Why is it so exciting right now?
Mosman: Well, data centers used to be a brick-and-mortar extension. I did a lot of banks, financial companies, designing things for Morgan Stanley, Bear Stearns, Goldman Sachs, those types. And First American Bank and Bank of America, I’ve worked with those banks. These are all data centers that had large mainframes. Most of their work was batch work, and the computers were used by maybe 100 people.
And then along came AOL. Suddenly, we’re not talking about $20 million mainframes backed up with a whole bunch of DASD. We’re talking about racks of servers, racks and racks and racks of servers. And it was one of those sea changes that happened within two or three years.
I designed the first ground-up data center for AOL. When we finished that job, one could say that I was responsible for designing half of the internet because half of the internet flowed through America Online. But that’s not the way it is anymore because good ideas soon have many adherents. We saw just an explosion of data centers, up until the internet crash, which happened around the turn of the century. One of the things about the internet is that the demand continues to go up and up and up. But data center construction, seems to go in cycles or in steps. And that goes along with the innovation that goes into them. And right now, we’re taking another one of those steps.
We were talking about the batteries back in the old days. People who were making batteries then, Exide and C&D, were trying to get as much power out of their batteries as possible. And so, they would build them without all of the required separating pads between plates, which meant that if you actually used them, if you were to actually do a full discharge in those things, you could pretty much destroy them. We had to be very, very careful not to let the conversion of the Pb++++ that turns into PbSO4 during discharge get so deep into the lead paste on the plates that it actually starts to distort the lead grid out of which they built the battery plates. Once you do that, the battery will disintegrate. And so, people who were really actually using their batteries back in the old UPS days would get a year and a half or two years out of the batteries before they literally fell apart.
But then, they started figuring out, well, we’re going to build the batteries with different configurations in their plate design. They started building these little sealed batteries, the VRLAs, which are still lead-acid batteries, but they’re gas recombinant type and they don’t have venting. And you don’t have to water them. But they had a warranty that was only 10 years whereas the old lead-acids were supposedly a 20-year battery. The problem is that when you actually start to use batteries, it’s very, very hard to get any battery to go past seven or eight years, no matter what they say about 10-year or 20-year batteries. There are some pure lead batteries or round batteries that supposedly would last for 30 years. And you could probably get 20 years out of that type of battery. But nobody could afford them.
Now, the way we use batteries, up until a couple years ago, was mainly for short-duration outages because we were building data centers with huge banks of engine generators. With all of this rolling iron on these projects, we had to have enough battery to carry the critical load through the starting time of all the engines. But that really took only half a minute to a minute. Ultimately, we learned we didn’t have to put 15- or 20-minute discharges on those batteries. When we started buying 5-minute batteries of the sealed lead-acid type, the VRLAs, we found we were actually able to get a useable life out of them comparable to the old, 15-minute, vented lead-acid batteries. We would have loved to have had batteries like the nickel-cadmium batteries or these lithium-ion batteries back then. And they did exist, but you could not afford them.
But suddenly, now, we can because we’ve developed technologies that can build them to scale. And with the manufacturing capabilities that we have now to pump these batteries out, factories like the huge Tesla plant outside of Sparks, Nevada, just down the road from one of the data centers that I designed for Apple. They can build these batteries now so cheap that it almost doesn’t make sense to buy engine generators for your data center. That’s the big change that’s happening right now in data centers. We are seeing what we call hyperscale applications.
There’s a lot of buzzwords in my industry. And “hyperscale” just happens to be the one that they’ve come up with to differentiate “now” from those “old days.” Not too long ago people would build a data center, and it would have maybe 25 to 50 megawatts of critical power. They would have their computer data halls divided up with cages, and they would go out and look for people to come and put their servers in your caged areas. Maybe 60% of them were mom-and-pop porn shops. But then came the Big Five; Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple. And now, these guys are not building 25- or 50-megawatt buildings. They want 200- to 500-megawatt campuses.
So, this is what we’re calling hyperscale. I just got done today listening to a bunch of meetings with DatacenterDynamics. This is one of the groups that I belong to. And if you really want to learn something about data centers, you can join up with DatacenterDynamics. There is also one group called datacenterhawk.com and they keep track on the metrics of data center construction worldwide. They looked at the top 18 markets in North America. One year ago, third quarter of last year, there was 3.9 gigawatts of contracted power being delivered to data centers. And this was the top 18 markets: 3.9 gigawatts. Today, it’s 4.5 gigawatts. In one year, it went up 600 megawatts. By the way, from the first quarter of this year to the second quarter of this year, which was the time just before and the time just after the start of the pandemic, it went from 4.1 gigawatts to 4.4 gigawatts.
Matties: Would you call that a significant jump? Or is that moderate?
Mosman: Yes, that’s a significant jump. Now, the top data center market in growth in America right now is Northern Virginia. 70% of the world’s internet traffic goes through Northern Virginia. That’s 70% of the world’s daily traffic goes through Northern Virginia. By the way, the top five growth markets are responsible for 90% of the growth in North America. And they are Northern Virginia, 38%, Northern California, which is San Jose, Silicon Valley, at 27%. Atlanta is 12%, Phoenix, 9%. And Hillsboro (Portland) is at 5%. Hillsboro is where Hewlett-Packard and Intel started out.
Johnson: Mike, for this kind of growth, you talk about so many megawatts per quarter going out there at such a high rate. Is this just a gust? Or is this what you see as the new sustainable rate for data center buildup?
Mosman: Well, I think that it’s going to slow up a little bit when the pandemic ends. The pandemic has probably been responsible for half of that growth. There’s been a real correlation with the pandemic, 100 to 150 megawatts of growth in contracted data center wattage. (Now, this refers to the wattage that’s being drawn by data centers for critical power. That’s how we measure the industry, more or less, when you are a company operating a data center.) Now let’s say you’re a large internet company, and you’re building data centers. Right now, my company is doing an awful lot of commissioning of data centers all over the US. Typically, they will put, let’s say, about five megawatts into a data hall. And usually the building will have 10 to 20 data halls. But that’ll be in a campus that has maybe five to 10 buildings. And we’ve been commissioning them, a data hall at a time, almost continuously.
Aerial view of a typical hyperscale data center located next to a power substation.
Basically, as fast as they can get them commissioned, they’re going to fill them up with racks. And we haven’t had a problem finding UPS. As a matter of fact, UPSs and batteries have become almost a commodity. They used to be a specialized item. But all of these battery technologies are now turning into a commodity. Whenever you see that happen, the price floor falls out. There are a lot of people coming into the market to make these batteries. There used to be two or three major battery manufacturers, and you just didn’t go anyplace else. Now, there’s maybe eight or 10 regular manufacturers of these batteries. When you have that many people making the same thing, that’s what’s driven down the price of batteries. And it’s also driven up the availability.
Matties: Mike, are you seeing any interest in automotive industry data centers with the rapidly growing connection of vehicles to the internet?
Mosman: No. That’s completely off the radar. Now, Tesla may change that because Tesla is not an automotive company. Tesla is more of an internet company. They’re making cars that, if they don’t have internet connection, they practically don’t work.
Matties: The ways most cars are connected to the internet and all the connectivity for software downloads and updates back to the mothership, if you will. And it just seems, to me, that that’s going to be an emerging market in data centers.
Mosman: But that’s just cloud, isn’t it? Tesla and their types, Ford with Sync and all of that other stuff, that all just goes to a cloud. And I can tell you, probably, it might be in the cloud through AWS, Amazon Web Services. Or they might be hiring some cloud space in Chicago or Dallas or Atlanta or elsewhere.
Matties: When you look out to the future with the demand that you’re talking about and the growth in batteries being able to displace traditional diesel generators and the growing demand in e-cars and micromobility, do you see an issue with battery supply lines?
Mosman: Well, it can be, but it would be a short cycle. These things are cyclical. And when I see a jump in contracted wattage going into data centers of 300 megawatts in one quarter...let’s go back three decades… about a whole decade’s worth of growth in critical power. We’re talking about a possible shock on the supply chain.
Feinberg: So, you’re putting in these huge battery centers. Are they actually battery backup centers, power backup? Or do they provide the constant power for the use of those data centers on a moment-by-moment basis?
Mosman: There are two reasons why you’re going to do this. The first reason is going to be for grid stabilization. It might be a small community that’s worried about getting brownouts. They might be able to put in a little battery plant next to their substation that feeds their town. We’re talking about a community, maybe 5,000 to 10,000 people, and it’s probably served out of one substation that might have a 15- or 20-megawatt transformer there. It wouldn’t be too hard to bring in a couple dozen canisters of batteries. By canisters, I mean Conex containers. They plop these down, connect them all up, put them into inverters. They have step-up transformers that step them up to a transmission voltage. And then, they connect it into the substation.
Then, they have controls that watch the utility voltage, and they can set them up so that, if the power does go out, they can then switch over and draw all of the power required out of their batteries, for maybe up to two to four hours. When it gets more than that, the cost of the batteries gets quite exorbitant. Eight years ago, even five years ago, you couldn’t afford that. No small community I know of would have had the municipal budget to afford anything like that. And the utility that served you would not have seen enough revenue from the small town in order to be able to pay for something like that.
But that’s changed. Now you can. But that’s not where the market is for batteries. The market is in gigawatt-sized battery facilities that are being used to stabilize the grid because of the tremendous amount of solar power that everybody’s putting on their roof and all of the wind farms that are being built.
If you go up the gorge on the Columbia River, then you can see a great example of these windmills. Recently I was driving to Washington State University, my alma mater, to check in with the electric engineering department. I noticed all the windmills that had popped up in the wheat fields and remarked, “Holy crap, that’s changed the whole landscape here.” And it’s been a real strain on the grid to figure out how to deal with that. When you’re taking power out of the Columbia Basin, we’re dealing with 90-, 100-, 125-megawatt water turbines. It takes time for them to spool up and down with load. But when you have a large wind farm supplying 8, 10, 12% of your power and, all of a sudden, the wind changes direction or dies down, well, you’re going to see some grid stabilization problems.
Frequency is going to deviate. Voltage is going to deviate. And so, electrical companies are becoming more and more desirous of somebody who’s going to put in a large battery plant that they would be able to, A) draw power from if they suddenly need it or, B) be able to deliver power to when, all of a sudden, they have an excess of power because some other loads have dropped off. And so, they want to put in these batteries, and then run them at 50% charge so that they can either be charged up or discharged down, depending on if the utility has not enough or too much generating capacity online at the time. So, what we’re doing there is putting in a shock absorber to the electrical grid.
Now, I just funded the Mosman Distinguished Professorship Chair at Washington State University so that they can hire a professor to work for five years with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories and WSU to do research into grid stabilization. This was one of the things that they’re really going to be interested in; how utilities can work with these huge battery plants, where they are going to be, and who’s going to buy them.
So, grid stabilization is the real reason, the number one reason, why you would see a huge plant of batteries somewhere. And then, the second reason is because of the customer downstream. I mean, there is an upstream benefit, but there is also a downstream benefit. The downstream benefit is that a data center can now look to this battery for one, two, three, or four hours of runtime without the utility. Now, we’re hooking these things up to 120 kV, 230 kV, 345 kV transmission lines. We’re not hooking them up to a 480-volt service because we’re talking about 300-, 400-, 500-megawatt substations. So, we have to look at the voltages that these work at, and that’s not at a small village somewhere. I’ve worked on some data center campuses that, frankly, use more power than Baltimore, certainly more power than the town I grew up in. When you have that type of customer, they’re going to buy an awful lot of power. I mean, we’re talking about tens of millions of dollars a month in electrical charges.
And they want it to be refined power, which means they want it to be within what we call the ITI (CBEMA) Curve. You can look this up. It’s in IEEE standard 446, I think. CBEMA is the Computer Business Equipment Manufacturers Association, and ITI is the Information Technology Industry. They came up with a curve of time versus voltage deviation. You have to stay within this curve in order to satisfy the power requirements of most data centers and most computer servers.
Performance of these large battery plants normally doesn’t fall within that classification. They don’t satisfy that standard, but they can be made to do so. But you have to put in some extra engineering into that. That’s really where I come in because I can work with these large battery suppliers and say, “In order to make that into an actual UPS, you have to do this and that and the other thing. And then, if we can get that done, the data centers will be able to use this power as a backup in case that grid goes down.” Well, grids that are 120 kV and up are usually pretty reliable. We’re talking transmission grid. We’re talking national grid, right? They might go down for several hours, and that would be quite unusual, but not unheard of. If we are careful about where we site these things, we would be able to draw power out of two portions of the national grid that wouldn’t be ordinarily affected by the same event, whatever it might be; hurricane, flood, another derecho, another Sandy, or something like that.
So, those are the two main reasons to have a large plant. You’re going to be able to work with a utility to help stabilize the grid, and they’re going to pay you for the ability to get their hands on that power sink, which are flexible up and down. And at the other end, you’re going to have a customer who’s willing to pay you to have this power come to them refined enough to stay within the ITI (CBEMA) Curve classification.
Matties: When power drops out, is there any interruption in the service with the battery technology? Or is it an instant on?
Mosman: Normally, we’re going to have a quarter-of-a-second outage because most large battery plants that are being built solely for the purpose of utility grid stabilization, and they don’t have what we call critical customers downstream. What utility calls critical and what I call critical are two completely different things. If the utility loses power and gets it right back on in 15 minutes, they might not call that an outage.
But computer servers can only have power go away for one quarter of a cycle, not one quarter of a second. It takes one quarter of a second for you to open up a breaker, a physical mechanical breaker, especially one at a high voltage, in order to separate a battery plant and its load from the failing utility. You don’t want to have the battery feed into an upstream fault. All the inverters would just shut off and it wouldn’t serve any purpose, whatsoever.
You can, however, turn off an inverter almost instantly. But then, before you turn it back on, you have to open up a faulted utility input. Then you can turn the inverters back on and they won’t back-feed into a fault. Well, these breakers take a lifetime to open, from the viewpoint of a computer server. And so, in order for the battery plant to be a UPS, it must produce only have a one-quarter-of-a-cycle outage. It should be able to separate from the utility in, at most, not any longer than a quarter of a cycle. That’s maybe four milliseconds. Most breakers take 50, 60, 70 milliseconds to operate and another couple of tens of milliseconds in order for relays to work.
Johnson: So, you’re using the battery bank constantly and really using it as a way to make sure that you’ve got clean, steady power into the server bank. It’s working like an internet firewall.
Mosman: Well, it’s a UPS— an uninterruptible power supply. And uninterruptible is defined as a power supply that doesn’t allow any outages longer than a quarter of a cycle.
Feinberg: Right. In fact, what I’ve done here is I run uninterruptible power supplies coming off my solar backup. So, if that were to go down, I don’t want that quarter second or tenth of a second. I don’t want anything. I don’t want to even know it. So, these take over if that dies, they take over if the city dies so I never feel it. I’ve had it happen and I never even get a blip.
So, you’re using this battery power sometimes as the power, the moment-by-moment power, and sometimes backup. What’s the main thing you use to recharge these batteries? Is it diesel generators? Is it solar banks? Is it wind? Or is it a combination of all of them?
Mosman: Well, it depends on how you set it up, but more than likely, if we have engine generators it will be them. Let’s say we had an outage, and the outage were to last for several minutes or hours. The battery has to be recharged during that time. And so, it’s going to come from engine generators. If we don’t have any engine generators and we only have batteries to back our power up, then we have to wait for the utility to come back before it can recharge.
Feinberg: Right, right. That’s my point.
Mosman: But they turn out to be pretty expensive when you containerize engine generators. So now, what’s popular is building bespoke data centers. There’s a whole REIT industry built around that, real estate investment trusts. And there’s a lot of investment companies now that are starting to look at these types of buildings. They want to pour a whole lot of money into them. The trend is to get rid of engines, they don’t want diesel engine generators. I have specified, literally, thousands of large engine generators, two-megawatt to four-megawatt. But these things, they’re noisy. They’re dirty. They’re expensive, and take up a lot of space. We don’t want them anymore.
So, what’s happening right now is, we’re seeing if we can build a data center and back it up with batteries for one or two, or maybe three or four hours. And if we have an outage that’s longer than what our battery runtime is, we’re going to depend on geodiversity. So, the Big Five companies, and everybody else that wants to be a Big Five company, are building not one, but two or more data centers in different parts of the country. The advances in the transmission of information through fiber and networking have made it feasible to actually have geodiversity in data centers. So, they find it cheaper to build two data centers with no redundancy and maybe no engine generators because, if one goes down, it will just transfer all the traffic.
Matties: They just shift the load.
Mosman: You couldn’t do that in banks, brick-and-mortar companies. They only had one place. They had to contain it. It had to be secure. We now have Amazon. If you look at Amazon, how many data centers do they have? Fifty? Sixty? And they’re all connected.
Matties: And they do tout that when they’re selling the service, with that decentralized, multipoint program or center program, it’s probably the most robust and secure that you can have.
Mosman: Except that it still goes down. There was just in the news a story about how the Amazon guys lost some of their connectivity for things like Roku. All of a sudden, one day, Roku didn’t work for several hours until they could figure out what was going on. And what happened was, in a facility that they were leasing (from one of these real estate companies that make data centers for other people to use) have two types of servers. They have the headend servers. And then, they have the backend servers. The backend servers is where all the work is done. But all the switching goes on at the headend servers.
And so, the amount of traffic that you need to go through this data hall dictates how many of the headend servers that you’re going to have. And the way that they wire them up, each of these headend servers are connected to all of the other headend servers, so they can manage the traffic and disperse it equally to all of the backend servers that did all the work. Well, they noted a sudden step-up in load, thanks to COVID, and started adding more and more headend servers. But they forgot that the software that they were using had a limit as to how many connections they could make with other servers. Now, all of a sudden, their servers started hitting their maximum number of connection points, and they went off-line.
Johnson: At this point, Mike, I just want to get your take. Our readers, our manufacturers, have their facilities and they are running equipment in their own facility, usually significantly smaller than your data centers. But still, they’re running equipment in their own facilities that need uninterruptible power supplies. They might be using generators and the like. Is this a time for them to reevaluate what they may have as their myths or misconceptions and relook at battery technology as an uninterruptible power supply for their facility?
Mosman: Oh, absolutely. I think that the stabilization of the grid is becoming a very big thing. Do you think that we’re going to have less utility outages in the future? No. We’re going to have more as the system has been deregulated. The funding that utilities have had to repair and upgrade and maintain their facilities has been less, not more. When they sold off all these generating plans to private industry, they had incentive to not generate the VARs that are required to stabilize the grid because you get paid for watts but not for VARs, reactive volt-amps. So, they shut that off because it still costs money to generate them. But when you take the VARs out of the system, it gets all wobbly. That’s still going to become more and more a problem. And then, we’re putting in all of these windmills and photovoltaics, which are jiggling the system. The systems become more wobbly as more things are jiggling it. And that’s why they need the professor at Washington State University to figure out how they can build the grid and put in a control system that can manage all that. Well, there’s going to be a catch-up. The grid is going to have more outages. So, if you have a company, small or large, and you have a critical mission, that’s what you should do.
I design electrical systems for mission-critical facilities. No job too big, and no job too small. My three favorite words are “Follow the money.” My second three favorite words are “It’s all crap.” It’s true. All of this equipment that you buy, all these batteries, all this UPS, all these engine generators, it’s all crap. And because we’re trying to commoditize it, it’s starting to really become crap. My third three favorite words are “Trust your engineer.” Engineers, like myself, should be consulted by large and small companies.
I can remember when 100 megawatts was like, wow, how can we get 100 megawatts into a single building. Well, we’re building 100-megawatt data centers, regularly, but I think that we’re going to start looking at 500- to 1,000-megawatt campuses pretty soon. There’s going to be high pressure to keep the capitalization down. And so, we’re going to be looking at what is the cheapest crap we can buy because we’re “following the money.”
Well, that’s where people like me come in because we’re going to be the engineer that’s going to help the owners, who are chasing the money, keep from buying stuff that’s so crappy that it won’t work. The way that I have done this for almost 40 years now is, first of all, understand what the business mission is. What is this guy doing with his business? He’s following the money. He’s trying to earn money. He’s going to need his data center to do something that helps him earn money. And if it requires that that be up all the time, then we have to establish the criteria under which he operates his business. And once we have what the business mission is and what operating criteria is, then we’ll evaluate the scope of that. Is it going to be this big, that big? And then, we can discuss things like, “Here’s how much redundancy you have,” or... “Here’s what’s needed.”
It’s very complex because it gets into plumbing and security and fire protection and air handling and architecture and all of these things coming together. It’s not just, well, we’re going to throw a UPS down here and everything’s fine. It doesn’t work like that. That’s been my business. At my old company, CCG, I hired as many architects as I have engineers. So, if you’re talking about a small manufacturing company and you’re going to depend on power not going out, there’s probably 10 ways to skin the cat. And one of them is going to be better and costs less than all the others. That’s what you’ll want to know. What is the best? And what’s the cheapest?
Feinberg: We’re now making, I don’t know, hundreds of thousands or millions in batteries, what’s going on with the recycling of all these batteries? I mean, the number of batteries that are going to have to be recycled is growing exponentially. And not something you’ve heard about much lately yet, but with building them like this, the recycling is going to go like that.
Mosman: Oh, I’m the wrong person to be asking that question.
Matties: I would guess that’s an emerging market, though.
Mosman: I can’t see it not being an emerging market. For lead-acid batteries, everybody wanted that lead back. For newer batteries, it all depends on how much it’s going to cost to get the battery torn apart, get the elements out of it, and separate out all of the junk that polluted it. And that process, right now, is a little bit more expensive than going out and mining new metals and building new batteries. And so, really, it’s my opinion that recycling batteries must become part of the green revolution that data centers are undergoing everywhere. Right now, what a lot of these hyperscale data centers are very, very interested in, is the power that they are using dirty power or clean power? Is it sustainable? There’s a drive by 2025 to make these huge data centers totally sustainable, meaning that we’re going to use all wind, all solar, all nuclear, whatever power.
Nolan Johnson: Is there a shock on the supply chain currently, Mike?
Mosman: I don’t see any happening. I haven’t heard of any. There might be a few rare earth elements that are going into some batteries. But I haven’t seen it restrict the availability of batteries. Batteries, right now, happened to be much more obtainable in a shorter time frame than a three- and four-megawatt engine.
Matties: Well Mike, I’ve found this to be really enlightening and I’ve enjoyed this conversation immensely. Thank you so much for your time.
Feinberg: Nice meeting you. I appreciate the answers. And I also appreciate the education.
Matties: Mike, thank you again, sir. We’ve appreciate this immensely.
Mosman: All right. Any time that you guys have a question regarding data centers, mission-critical facilities, or anything like that, you can feel free to give me a call.