Harnessing the Advantages of Modular, Rapid Deployment of Integrated Critical Power Solutions

From Hanley Energy, November 2, 2020

Hanley Energy recently teamed up with partners ABB to release a new market-leading UPS product. Confidence is high that this will usher in a new class-leading pre-packaged power line-up solution to the market.

The Hanley Energy solution favours skid-mounted equipment as a means to address a number of recurring issues, from local skill shortages to speed of installation and ease of commissioning.

According to Engineering Manager Alan Smyth, “there are huge advantages of bringing anything upstream. If you can bring manufacturing and assembly into the factory, you have tighter control of quality and procedures.”

Lower Risk, 100% Up Time

The plug and play modular solution provided by Hanley Energy creates less of a disconnect between design and construction teams, since time on site for installation is minimised. Rather than assembling individual components on site against ever-shorter deadlines, the power line-up can be delivered and deployed in a fraction of the time. As a result, both parties save time, reduce cost and de-risk through less time on site. And the customer gets 100% uptime they rely on with a fraction of the risk.

Given the benefits the solution provides, it’s surprising that more providers do not offer it. But, as Smyth explains, the simplicity is in the deployment, not the project management. “Hanley Energy are uniquely placed with the OEM partners because of the skills and experience we have,” he says. “That also means we can offer a bespoke solution without the price penalty.”

Advantages of modular - quote from Alan Smyth, Engineering Manager

Fast Deployment of a Tailored Solution

That ability to take a modular product and customise it offers a clear advantage. Says Alan: “You’re not starting with a blank sheet of paper every time. We’re taking a concept and giving it the customer tweaks. You can pick it up and move it. If you’re looking at 10s of units that are really similar, we can be flexible and tailor the exact specification of the switchgear and the UPS.”

Not that this approach is necessarily new, points out MD and co-Founder Dennis Nordon. “Modular has been used in the oil and gas industry as well as mining for years,” he notes. In fact, it was the standard approach for many of the original data centre sites in Dublin itself. But originally, “there was this notion that modular was more expensive,” he says – and that was before the dotcom bubble burst.

The Push for Faster Deployment

Nowadays, Nordon likens the data centre industry’s strategy to the pioneering land grabs of North American in the 1850s. “This is a game of real estate,” he says. “Whoever gets the real estate gets the control. So the priority is faster deployment in order to sign up customers.”

Modular delivers that speed and control, he observes. It is not only the approach now taken by tech giants such as Microsoft and Google, but also the driving force behind market growth expected to touch 10 to 15% in the coming years.

While speed to deployment might be the priority, it is difficult not to overlook the tensions beneath the surface between market desegregation and operational efficiency. With multiple stakeholders now involved in the purchase of technology equipment, there’s a tendency to work in terms of separate business units and product lines.

Breaking through the Silos

Where Hanley Energy has proven successful is in resolving the human challenge of bringing the value back together as an experienced system integrator. They take a collective perspective with a more measured view of the potential structural and engineering pitfalls of working in silos at speed.

Ciaran McGlinchey, Electrical Design Manager, elaborates on the issue: “We’re putting three different contracts together,” he explains. “Normally there would be the switchboard contract, the UPS and the cabling. We’re combining those. It’s not new but it’s more efficient.”

As a result, the team are designing the switchboard with integration already in mind. In the case of ABB, that’s meant increasing efficiency on the UPS by 1% compared to what else is on the market.

“It doesn’t sound like a lot,” Ciaran points out, “but it’s wasted heat, more air conditioning and more expense.”

Further efficiencies can be delivered by building directly onto a steel frame that can then be loaded and shipped into a standard container without any oversized load complications. For the additional requirement of kit to transfer the load into the electrical room, the team can reduce time on site during installation – a fair pay off that delivers results.

Should circumstances or requirements dictate, Hanley Energy can adapt their bespoke solution relatively painlessly. “Most standard switchgear and transformers are general purpose,” says Alan. “We can optimise our design to make sure it performs without the shackles of having to conform to an industry standard.”

By extension, a certain level of flexibility and agility allows Hanley Energy to replicate the same solution for another client but to “tailor the details.”

advantages of modular - quote from Alan Smyth, Engineering Manager

Reduced CapEx and OpEx Expenditure

That flexibility, he stresses, is a crucial device that allows customers to reduce CapEx and OpEx outlay. Whereas “the industry standard is to build these huge data centres in these huge warehouses,” he explains, “You can fit out the electrical room as you need it as you sell the rack space. Cashflow wise that allows you to defer expenditure until you have some income.”

Without the pressures of CapEx and OpEx, the customer can turn on extra data centre modules as required, responding more accurately to cost forecasts. There is no need to hold surplus inventory – power can be turned on only on the very day it is required.

Given that power on is the critical moment in any construction project, a unified, modular approach minimises the chance of compromise, whereas disaggregated systems pose multiple risks.

New Ways of Deploying UPS

The modular UPS unit provided by Hanley Energy can be built in 250kw power blocks. According to Dennis, “That means day one you can have the capacity available to you but if you haven’t got the clients you can just put in one power module. You’re only consuming what you need.”

Not surprisingly, this is an especially attractive solution for co-location data centre facilities leasing to some of the bigger players, as well as the next tier down – those with clients operating 5 or 10 racks. “That’s the sort of market where modular will really grow,” Dennis predicts.

The Future Frontier of Power Storage

Similarly, the rapid growth of Edge technology bringing accessibility into towns and cities is also likely to accelerate the demand for affordable, efficient modular solutions. Particularly given the Green Agenda, Dennis notes. “Manufacturers are looking for scalable efficiency and there’s a renewed focus now on power usage.”

Does this signal the decline of the hyper-scale mega data centres that have proliferated under the empire of Microsoft, Google and AWS? Not necessarily, argues Dennis.

“It’s complementary to them,” he says, “and there are a lot of uses for modular Edge power units beyond pure data centre. We’re tailoring our service to the data centre industry but there are lots of avenues it can go in.”

He points out that Hanley Energy are already engaging with clients in electric car charging to provide power storage where there is no alternative power source to meet demand. “You can drop in a modular UPS that now becomes a battery storage system.”

The Demand for Clean Electricity

Just as Hanley Energy designs each project with a view to integration, so the focus on future growth is through the lens of clean energy. “We have to future proof ourselves,” says Dennis. “We have to find alternative ways to power the planet.”

He picks out ABB as a company that is at the forefront of Green technology, looking at the issue from every aspect. To do any otherwise would be catastrophic. “If you think you’re going to be selling in 5 years what you’re selling today, you’re already in trouble,” he observes.

“Everyone is talking about solar PV now and there will be incentives to create alternative energy,” he says. That prospect is one that Hanley Energy can embrace rather than fear.

“If you reverse the technology that we’re using for UPS backup supplies, it’s exactly the same technology,” Dennis points out. “Rather than battery storage, it’s about harnessing power from solar PV cells in remote locations with modular, containerised set up.”

System Integration Expertise

As ever, there’s a human obstacle to overcome in making this a widely shared vision. In short, the procurement cycle for technology currently risks inhibiting innovation around modular. The challenge for modular is to work alongside traditional builds, complementing existing alternatives rather than presenting itself as a panacea to replace them.

But to present an alternative, you must be able to execute, and that requires a system integrator who can bring different products together as a bespoke solution. A system integrator such as Hanley Energy can cherry pick the best products to fit that solution – as opposed to choosing a general product off the rack that you squeeze into the solution.

To that end, OEMs should be considered as partners rather than a hindrance. The most valuable partners are those that recognise the skills of the other parties and enable them.