According to the study called “Understanding the Cost of Power Interruptions to U.S. Electricity Consumers” done at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Energy Analysis Department, power outages cost the American economy an estimated $80 billion per year. In 2011, the most recent year for which annual data is available, the average U.S. electric customer was without power for 112 minutes, according to PA Consulting. “When a power outage strikes a mission critical facility like a data center, hospital or financial networks, the stakes could not be higher,” says Jeff Schnitzer, general manager of Critical Power, GE’s newest business.
That’s why GE launched this week a new business called Critical Power. The business is developing smart sensors and software for reliable and efficient power systems, and to manage critical electricity loads. The GE technology, which includes intelligent switchgear, AC uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), DC power, energy storage, and power distribution, helps businesses prevent brownouts, blackouts, and power fluctuations. The GE gear, which is linked through the Industrial Internet, a digital network connecting people, machines, and data, can monitor and smoothly disconnect from the grid, switch to a backup generator and UPS system, saving data, money, and even lives.
The number of U.S. sites that need critical power is booming. GE estimates that data centers that form the backbone of the Internet, telecom networks, and the “cloud” will grow by a factor of 50 over the next decade.
The average U.S. enterprise data center needs 5 megawatts of electricity to feed its racks of servers. (Collectively, U.S. data centers already consume more than four times the energy needed to power a city the size of New York.) But Critical Power’s eBoost software can cut a data center’s annual consumption bill by more than $3 million over a decade, 3.6 million kilowatt hours. The software can improve the operating efficiency of a GE UPS system, another technology in Critical Power’s portfolio, from 94 percent, up to 99 percent. Last fall the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) endorsed the technology as an innovative way to save energy and gave it the ENERGY STAR certification.
The GE UPS system with eBoost is currently serving at more than 40 data centers in the U.S. and Europe. But the applications extend beyond the cloud to the financial industry and healthcare. Schnitzer estimates that eBoost provides “a 4 to 5 percent efficiency saving that roughly equates to $80,000 to $100,000 per year,” for a hospital like Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center, which has over 600 beds and attached research facility.
A number of other customers are exploring the high-efficiency technology. GE engineers are currently testing similar systems for cell towers in developing countries where blackouts are a daily nuisance.