Last Updated on October 28, 2021 by Alterum Data Center Experts
Alternating current (AC) power is the type of power you use when you plug your technology into the wall, and it provides steady, reliable power generation for most applications. But the power that a circuit utilizes isn’t as straightforward as you might think. There is typically a measurement of the circuit’s dissipative elements and a measurement of its reactive elements.
When it comes to an understanding of the concepts of power generation and power loss, most people’s eyes begin to gloss over. But when you’re shopping for technology, manufacturers quickly highlight power consumption and efficiency as big selling points.
But what does that efficiency mean, and why is it important for technology? Let’s begin the conversation by looking at the different types of power that your components utilize.
Understanding the Differences in Power
At the very least, these simple explanations will help you sort out why power is sometimes referred to in watts and other times it is referred to in volt-amps.
What is Reactive Power
In an electrical circuit, inductors and capacitors dissipate (or lose) zero power. Despite this neutral power state, these loads do drop in voltage and draw current, and this is why some mistakenly assume that these components are dissipating power.
What is actually occurring is a type of phantom power called reactive power. And unlike true power, which is measured in watts, reactive power is measured in volts-amps-reactive (VAR). In a mathematical equation, this formula is represented by the capital letter ‘Q.’
What is True Power
True power is the amount of power that is currently being used in an electrical circuit. True power is measured in watts and is represented mathematically by the capital letter ‘P.’ This type of real power measures what is required to perform useful work.
What is Apparent Power
Apparent power is the total amount of reactive and true power in a circuit. Apparent power is measured in Volt-Amps (VA) and is mathematically represented by the capital letter’ S.’
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Understanding Energy and Power
Energy, as in the force multiplied by a distance, is used to measure motion. And when we are talking about the power supplied by an electric current, that is one type of energy. It can be useful to understand the relationship between energy and power as a precursor to understanding how your technology uses power.
Power is typically defined as an amount of energy used over a period of time. The electricity that flows through your home or office has a voltage and a current. The voltage is the force necessary to create movement, and the current is the rate of movement. When you multiply the voltage by the current, the result is power.
Understanding Data Center Power Needs
Data centers are one of the most significant and fastest-growing consumers of electricity around the globe. Ten years ago, data centers based in the United States consumed enough electricity to power all home’s in New York City, and then some. And while our needs for data and high-level computing continue to grow exponentially, the energy efficiency of our components is improving. This means that the total demand for electricity infrastructure has been cut in half. And with energy-efficient appliances on the rise, we’re expected to see that figure down to one-third of the original power use ten years ago.
This is good news for anyone building a data center because modern technology that reduces power consumption also cuts operating costs and helps the environment, and by extension, brand image. But how do data centers consume so much power?
Data Center Cooling and Power Provision
About forty-three percent of the power needs of a single data center go into the cooling systems to maintain appropriate temperatures for operating electrical equipment that generates a lot of heat. Another forty-three percent goes to powering the servers. A slim eleven percent powers storage drives. And as little as three percent is dedicated to running the network that the data center transmits and receives data on.
Related: Server Room Temperature Guide
Data Center Growth Projections
The internet only seems to proliferate in size and scope, with some 257 million new users over the last twelve months. And along with that growing use is a growing demand for data centers to process the information exchanged online. Add to that–the coming of age of artificial intelligence and machine learning that is finally providing a platform for businesses to use the data they have been collecting in meaningful ways, and we’re trending towards more reliance on data centers to power the future of the internet and communications. In the next couple of years we will see a trend towards:
- The Rise of Hyperscale Data Centers
- Greater Focus on Sustainability and Power Consumption
- Greater Industrialization of Cloud Computing Technologies
- The Emergence of Edge Computer
The rate of change in the technology world is outpacing everyone’s expectations. That means that we need to be focused on building with sustainability in mind. And improving sustainability begins with a cursory understanding of power consumption.
Final Thoughts on True, Reactive, and Apparent Power
Data center technology is demanding power resources. There is no way around that. But you can plan for your power needs to ensure that your demand is met with steady, consistent power to prevent downtime and outage that hurt your business. But first, you need to understand how power works concerning data center technology. Looking at watts or volts-amps alone is only part of the picture. To truly understand the power needs of your data center, you will need to understand all the ways that your components draw power. And that includes understanding the differences between true power, reactive power, and apparent power.
Alterum Technologies is your partner for building the data centers of the future. We work with industry-leading manufacturers to provide systems design and planning with reliable, protected power. Get started designing your data center today.