How FCR became a sustainable win-win for the Boden Tech data centre

The growing use of renewable energy places new demands on the electricity system’s balance between production and consumption. But through frequency regulation, electricity consumers can contribute to the stability of the power grid. The Boden Tech data center is Sweden’s largest Frequency Containment Reserve (FCR) developed in collaboration with Vattenfall and Sympower. Results from the project shows that it is possible to make sustainability profitable for all stakeholders.

Almost all companies today talk about the importance of sustainability. Hive Blockchain, however, a Canadian company in the growing blockchain sector, wants to demonstrate their sustainability credentials through actions rather than words. That’s why they chose to locate their new Boden Tech data centre in Sweden rather than in a fossil-heavy country. And that’s why they also responded quickly to a request to sell their flexible electricity use to support stable frequency in the power grid and thereby increase the availability of renewable energy.

– I’m extremely proud of this project. When Vattenfall told us about FCR, I knew immediately that it was perfect for us. Sometimes I hear people say that renewable energy lead times are too long, but this shows how wrong they are. FCR plays a key role in the journey towards a sustainable world, says Tobias Ebel, Hive Blockchain board member, by phone from Germany.

Provides up to 10MW for the grid

FCR stands for Frequency Containment Reserve. Put simply, this means that a reserve of energy is created to balance rapid fluctuations in electricity demand that affect the frequency of the grid. This is because the power system is dependent on a balance between production and consumption – and it functions best at 50Hz. As the proportion of weather-dependent renewable energy grows, larger reserves are required, which in turn is set to create new revenue streams for companies with flexible electricity consumption.

The Boden Tech data centre started the FCR-D service from Vattenfall last autumn. The project is a collaboration with Sympower, experts in power demand flexibility, who provide the technical solution that enables data centres to participate in FCR. In practice, the service means that Boden Tech shuts down its processes if the electricity network’s frequency falls below 49.90Hz until the frequency recovers. The product that the electricity consumer sells is thus a frequency reserve. Supply interruptions are brief and rare, so impact is minimal.

– At Boden Tech, we can turn off 115,000 computers in one second. When the frequency has recharged a maximum of 15 minutes later, everything is back up again. This is well under 1 percent of our total time but makes up to 10MW FCR available to the grid. For us, it’s proof that we’re living up to our vision of efficiency and sustainability, says Ebel.

IMG_20200515_080251-1-1

A win-win for all stakeholders

Ebel explains that FCR is particularly well-suited for Boden Tech as the data centre only powers the operations of their own company. Therefore, shutting down large parts of the centre’s capacity for short periods does not present a problem. At the same time, Ebel emphasizes that this is a solution that most decentralized data centres should benefit from – even those with external customers.

– There are now data centres every hundred kilometres throughout Europe and they consume vast amounts of energy. I can safely say that the majority of them could be included in FCR. If you want to make the world a better place – you can – it's all about changing your mindset.

There are, of course, financial incentives. When you become part of FCR, it is possible to activate the product, and the customer receives compensation at an hourly rate. Companies are thus paid to be ready for this and with FCR they can benefit from the increasingly fluctuating demand for electricity. But for Hive Blockchain, money has never been the primary driver.

– We want to walk the talk and prove that we’re genuinely sustainable. But of course it’s a win-win four times over: good for us, for Vattenfall, for the power grid, and the climate. FCR is an excellent example of how sustainability can be profitable for everyone, says Ebel.

Supporting the shift to fossil-free

The FCR market is not new. Production facilities such as hydropower have delivered FCR since the electricity grid was created. What is new is that in Sweden since 2019, consumption facilities can start delivering power – an opportunity that has existed for many years in Finland. Boden Tech and Hive Blockchain are Vattenfall’s largest partners in this project to date. Now Ebel hopes that more data centres will discover the multiple benefits offered by FCR.

– You help the power grid and support the shift to fossil-free fuels, while also making money. Of course we want to replicate this! Here in Germany, unfortunately we haven’t come as far as you have in Sweden in terms of sustainable solutions, but I think attitudes are starting to change. Everyone wants to save the world – but how do we do it? FCR is the answer to that question.

 

Would you like to know more about FCR? Please contact us and we will get back to you.

Contact

If you want to know more about Sympowers technical solutions, please visit their website.