Hospital Data Centre Gets Clean, Flywheel Energy

Old-fashioned flywheel power systems are providing hospital data centres with clean, green backup power using a centuries-old technology

Not too many power-supply companies are offering old-fashioned kinetic-energy, flywheel-based uninterruptible power supply (UPS) options in their product lines. After all, because flywheel technology goes back to ancient times, it’s frankly not very sexy.

Nonetheless, flywheel power sources have a good story to tell: they are battery free; 96 to 97 per cent efficient (with only 3 to 4 per cent of power going to the apparatus}; offer continuous voltage regulation; very reliable; and true ‘green IT,’ needing little mains power.

A flywheel is a mechanical device with a significant moment of inertia used as a storage device for rotational energy. Flywheels can be used to produce very high power pulses for experiments, where drawing the power from the public network would produce unacceptable spikes.

A small motor can accelerate the flywheel between the pulses. Recently, flywheels have become the subject of extensive research as power storage devices for uses in vehicles and power plants.

Schneider Electric’s APC, Active Power and Vycon Energy are three of the largest manufacturers making these for data centres. Of these, Vycon Energy made some news yesterday by announcing that it has been tailoring its flywheel units for health care-system power backup.

Vycon, which earlier this week demonstrated its wares at Data Centre World 2010 in the US, is also exhibiting at international conference on health facility planning, design and construction, PDC 2010 in San Diego until 17 March. Here, Vycon is demonstrating how its clean energy backup power systems protect mission-critical hospital data during power outages.

Vycon’s specificity is another example of a trend about how storage of all kinds – in this case, it’s energy storage – is becoming more specialised. For example, both Iron Mountain Digital and Symantec recently came out with specific cloud-storage services just for health services.

Vycon’s flywheel UPSs, already deployed by a number of hospitals around the world, are designed to be complementary to standard UPSs by replacing space and maintenance-intensive batteries, which can cost tens of thousands annually to maintain.

Over a 20-year lifespan, Vycon said, cost savings from a flywheel versus a five-minute valve-regulated lead-acid [VRLA] battery bank can range from $100,000 to $200,000 (£66,377 to £132,754) per flywheel deployed.

“Our clean energy storage systems provide health-care facilities with a green and highly energy-efficient solution that not only protects vital data, but also helps facilities decrease energy costs and reduce their carbon footprint,” said Vycon president, Frank DeLattre. “Moreover, our flywheel systems eliminate the need for costly cooling and maintenance and take up a fraction of the space compared to banks of backup batteries.”

Power disturbances cost US industry alone as much as $188 billion (£125 billion) annually in lost data, material and productivity, according to the Electrical Power Research Institute (EPRI). In order to minimise these losses, annual spending on backup power systems exceeds $5 billion (£3.3 billion) worldwide, according to industry analysts at the Darnell Group.