Harnessing unused potential for a flexible energy system

Partnership with Telia's Helsinki Data Center sets an example on how data center operators can be active participants in energy systems and help drive the transition to clean energy forward.

Telia datacenter

Increasing electrification of societies and constantly increasing amount of intermittent renewable energy in the power system creates challenges for grids all around the world. Electricity production and consumption must be in balance at all times, and we need electricity every moment of every day, but how can we ensure constant renewable energy supply even on cloudy or windless days?

In general, energy production needs to get more flexible, in order to be able to move ahead in the energy transition. Climate change is a global challenge that calls for cooperation not only between governments, but between companies and energy providers in the private sector as well. Traditional production forms can help to accommodate the changes in electricity production and demand, but other means are also needed.

Harnessing the power flexibility of Helsinki Data Center

Business that creates flexibility for energy markets is called Demand response business. Fortum has been building and developing its demand response business Fortum Spring since 2015.

"Fortum Spring is a virtual battery that brings flexibility to the energy market. In the case of unusual energy needs, Fortum Spring is there to provide energy to its customers", says llari Alapera, Head of Fortum Spring.

With the cooperation with Telia Helsinki Data Center, Fortum can harness its flexible energy capabilities into Fortum Spring.

Data centers need to operate around the clock with no interruptions, even in the case of a larger power shortage. To do that, they are equipped with comprehensive back-up power units, also known as uninterrupted power systems (UPS).

"Some time ago we realized the unused potential of data centers around the world. When it comes to providing energy to the grid in the moments of unusual demand, data centers can really help. They have a lot of reserve and back-up power units that can be connected to the energy grid, such as large batteries and generators", Ilari Alapera says.

Despite being connected with Fortum Spring, the security and performance of the data center is never compromised. The center's UPS batteries decide if they are capable of providing energy to the grid, and always prioritize the data center operations. This means that the center never runs out of power.

"Each UPS battery in the Helsinki Data Center is equipped with a Fortum Spring demand response controller, but the UPS is ultimately always in charge. It assesses its status and availability to provide the service, if called upon by Fortum Spring. The whole process happens in just milliseconds", Alapera explains.

Turning unused UPS systems into revenue

How do the data center operators benefit from participating in the energy network? Participating in demand response brings two benefits to Telia.

First, the cooperation helps Telia to decarbonize the society. As a responsible company with environmental values in its strategy, this is an opportunity to contribute for a more sustainable world.

The second benefit is the ability to leverage often unused power systems for new revenue streams for Telia.

"Luckily, our UPS systems are unused almost all of the time. Previously these costly investments were not turning in revenue as they were just a consistency system for the actual data center. With the integration of Fortum Spring, we've been able to use the battery and generator investment to participate in the energy market, helping to make the data center as a whole a profitable investment", says Alapera.

Global future potential is growing fast

Currently there are more than 7,500 data centers around the world, with the number growing fast. In the U.S. alone, about 2% of the total energy is used by data centers.

"The potential for using data centers to provide flexibility to energy systems in the future is huge. We're very proud to be pioneers in this field at Helsinki Data Center together with Telia, and show the way for others on how to leverage unused systems in decarbonizing our societies", adds Alapera.

Decarbonisation is a joint effort - Read more partnership stories

The world of energy is a complex ecosystem. Many different players – energy producers, industries, consumers – contribute to creating a balanced, sustainable energy system. Now, in the midst of energy transition, it is all the more important that we work together to reach our shared climate goals.

Fortum Spring

Fortum Spring is a demand response aggregator and operator within Fortum. We connect various consumption-side assets and batteries to our platform and provide this harnessed capacity to various energy markets, including ancillary services, via Fortum’s trading system. By utilising the already existing assets for balancing services, we can create additional revenue streams for the asset owner and help the increased renewable production to integrate better to our energy system.