Backup batteries ensure that the when power goes out, the Internet stays on, and there are already millions of batteries used in these settings. These batteries will support a connected future where the cost of "downtime" grows.
For most people, the word “battery” probably makes them think first of the disheartening sight of their phone battery dying coupled with the mild panic that ensues envisioning even a few moments without the ability to connect digitally to the rest of the world. Next they would probably think of other consumer devices around their homes that either use rechargeable or disposable batteries. Between our smart phones and our cadre of consumer electronics, we are all well acquainted with the inconvenience of a dead battery. Beyond our consumer electronics devices, however, batteries play a huge role in the modern world around us that is largely out of sight and out of mind.
As battery technology inches forward and progress opens new commercial applications for batteries, the energy storage industry has grown and evolved rapidly. Solar generation, utility uses, electric cars, and batteries as backup power supplies for mission-critical infrastructure have all contributed to the growth of energy storage. Unlike battery failures with consumer goods that may cause minor headaches, failures at commercial scale have major repercussions for modern ways of life. One of the most critical applications of batteries – one that protects the very infrastructure that enables modern society – is that of backup batteries that ensure the Internet is always available.
One of the most critical applications of batteries – one that protects the very infrastructure that enables modern society – is that of backup batteries that ensure the Internet is always available.
What do these crucial batteries look like? According to Avicenne, a French research firm, about 90% of the worldwide battery market consists of lead acid batteries. Looking more specifically at the large, robust Stationary Lead Acid (SLA) Batteries that account for infrastructure energy storage, the market size in 2010 was somewhere between $4 billion and $4.3 billion. Despite advancements that have improved adoption of commercial scale lithium ion batteries and the marketing flair that Tesla (and others) has adroitly created around them, lead acid remains the dominant chemistry to protect key infrastructure in modern society. The chemistry is stable enough to be deployed in challenging climate conditions and inexpensive enough to do so at utility scale.
The largest two categories representing nearly three-quarters of the total SLA battery market are Telecommunications and Data Centers at 41.8% and 27.6% of the market respectively. Beyond these two huge categories, Utilities, Emergency Lighting, Security Systems, Cable TV/Broadcasting, and Oil & Gas Exploration each represent somewhere between 4-6% of the market. Even SLA batteries that backup renewable energy systems like commercial solar installations are less than 3% of the total market.
In all of these settings, batteries are essential to ensuring proper functioning of the critical equipment and systems. Utilities are increasingly adding batteries to the grid to power demand response programs as regulatory pressures for efficiency increase. Emergency systems that provide security, lighting, and other services rely on batteries for mission-critical backup power. In oil fields, rugged batteries are used to power surface tools that help locate or extract hydrocarbons. These batteries are subject to particularly intense conditions and have to withstand extreme temperatures, shock and vibration over long periods of time. SLA batteries are ideally suited for these conditions. Lithium ion batteries, notorious for their instability, are less suitable for these conditions (at least at their current stage of development). From telecom carriers removing tens of thousands of lithium ion batteries from their networks due to heat-related explosions to thermal runaway events on large airliners, the past decade is rife with examples in many sectors where lithium ion batteries were found to be “not quite ready” for utility scale deployment.
Telecom and Internet infrastructure (including data centers that support the cloud, applications and content that make up what most of us think of as the “Internet”) provide perhaps the most intriguing and far-reaching example of the critical nature of backup batteries. The power of the Internet penetrates each and every other sector of the economy and Internet downtime can be incredibly costly for businesses. Over $1 trillion of infrastructure investment over the past 100 years enables US citizens and businesses to seamlessly access the Internet from any web-enabled device almost anywhere. The wireless towers, wireline cabinets, central offices and data centers that make the Internet work are backed up by batteries (primarily stationary lead acid batteries). But that infrastructure’s value, and thus the importance of the batteries that protect it, are expected to continue to grow dramatically over the next several decades.
Over $1 trillion of infrastructure investment over the past 100 years enables US citizens and businesses to seamlessly access the Internet from any web-enabled device almost anywhere.
Not only has the Internet become an essential part of all of our daily lives, the ways in which we interact with the Internet are expanding. The “Internet of Things” (IoT) is the technological trend of connecting nearly everything to the Internet. By connecting these “things” to the Internet and gathering data from them, the hope is that we in turn drive efficiencies that improve our lives. This trend can be seen everywhere from storied tech giants to cutting-edge startups creating sensors and devices for every facet of life and eventually connecting everything to the Internet.
In 2009, the number of connected devices surpassed the total world population. Today, connected devices outnumber people nearly four to one and by 2020 there could be as many as 50 billion devices constantly connected to the internet. These devices have penetrated different industries to varying degrees. While consumers are only now adjusting to having more than just their desktop and smartphone – perhaps a wearable device, a car, a home security system that require Internet access – some industries are already far along into the IoT revolution. For example, an oilrig today may have as many as 30,000 sensors.
According to a study by McKinsey, the estimated economic impact of the continued growth of the IoT sector across industries by 2025 is between $3.9 and $11.1 trillion – a broad range that takes into account the many inherent growth and deployment challenges. Among the major applications at the top of the list for IoT economic impact are Factories (operations optimization, predictive maintenance), Cities (public safety and health, resource management), Human wearables (monitoring and managing wellness), Retail environments (automation, personalization), and Worksites (equipment maintenance, R&D automation).
In a connected world, not only do backup batteries need to ensure our devices remain operable, but they need to ensure that the sensors driving the IoT revolution can always connect to the Internet. Further, among the hurdles that remain in the IoT revolution, one in particular will have a long term and powerful impact on the importance of the telecom industry. Data collected by the billions of devices in operation is by and large underutilized. Given the hype surrounding “Big Data” this seems unlikely, but the reality is our ability to produce data has far exceeded our ability to extract meaningful insight from that data. From that same oilrig fitted with over 30,000 sensors less than 1% of the data is ever processed.
So the telecom industry faces two challenges. First, how does it cope with exponential growth in devices and prepare to handle more and more data from each one of those devices? Second, and perhaps more importantly, as more processes in every industry are handled by connected devices, the cost and impact of “Internet downtime” grows. Thus, how do carriers ensure that the Internet is always on?
Network upgrades and advancements in technology such as a shift towards fog-computing are going to be key, and these are already underway. Yet, as more and more essential functions in our residential and work lives are handled by devices that need to communicate with the Internet, the criticality of backup batteries increases. Battery backup and the reliability of the Internet cannot be separated.
As more and more essential functions in our residential and work lives are handled by devices that need to communicate with the Internet, the criticality of backup batteries increases. Battery backup and the reliability of the Internet cannot be separated.
When it comes to keeping the Internet on, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that batteries back up the hundreds of thousands of wireless towers, wireline cabinets, and networking centers that make the Internet work. Without these, the quiet discomfort of a muted Wi-Fi signal would be all the more common. The bad news is that most of these batteries are not being adequately maintained. Many of these critical batteries sometimes go years without being checked for capacity and health, and sometimes they remain in the field for their entire life-cycle – anywhere from two to ten years depending on the type, environmental conditions, and other factors – without ever being tested.
To the average person, Internet outages may be a minor inconvenience. As more items in our lives become connected, the collective pain of individual device outages grows. These issues – an app that won’t load or a wearable that won’t sync – are just the tip of the iceberg. In the Internet of Things future, battery failures that result in a loss of Internet availability have the potential to drastically cripple company operations. Countless procedures that count on real-time data and algorithmic decision-making will suffer. More drastically, health and safety emergencies become vastly more complicated to manage without the Internet’s vital role in coordinating responses (T-Mobile paid $17.5 million for 911 outages). Thinking beyond the app that won’t refresh or even the machine that refuses to operate, failed batteries can mean lives are at risk.
Batteries are indispensable and critical to the modern world’s infrastructure. From the consumer electronics in our lives, to the comforts of a modern home, batteries keep us powered. Outside of our homes, batteries are ubiquitous in infrastructure, sentries against power outages and the work stoppages and emergency scenarios that can ensue. Above and beyond the batteries that power these technologies, the batteries that ensure the availability of the Internet are truly an underappreciated resource. In the Internet of Things age when everything is connected, batteries will ensure that Internet is always on.
Servato offers a solution for backup battery management that extends battery life and allows for advanced remote monitoring. Servato is currently working with companies in the telecom industry to protect Outside Plant sites and ensure connectivity through Active Battery Management.