Data Center

Ensuring a Resilient, Sustainable Power Grid for a New Energy Landscape

By Bradley Hague

Protecting critical infrastructure means ensuring internet data centers have resilient, reliable, and affordable power without sacrificing the community. MITRE is working with local, governmental, and corporate leaders to ensure our connected future.

Loudoun County, Virginia, may be best known for pastoral vineyards and the Dulles International Airport, but this corner of the Washington, D.C. region is famous for another reason. Over two-thirds of the world’s internet traffic connects through servers in the small town of Ashburn.

Data centers are among the most voracious consumers of energy on the planet. To power their massive server racks and cooling equipment, they consume about 1,000 kilowatt hours of energy per square meter. That’s 10 times more than most American homes and up to 50 times as much as the typical office building, according to the Department of Energy.

In areas like Loudoun County, electricity demand is growing rapidly and taxing the local grid.

MITRE is using advanced analytics to help create a resilient and reliable power grid, empowering local governments, companies, and other stakeholders with data to make smart development and energy decisions.

Advanced Analytics Can Save Problems and Power

While data centers have backup generators, complete power loss could devastate communities and companies. Unplanned IT outages can cost some companies more than $25,000 per minute, and a single data center can serve hundreds, even thousands, of companies.

We need more power. Creating advanced, green electricity generation takes time and money. Utility companies need to know what the usage will be, and local governments need to know the power is worth paying for. Both camps need advanced analysis and access to sensitive data from government and industry to plan their future. Without that data, neither side can access the whole picture.

“Advanced analytics is a MITRE specialty skill set,” says Ariel Castillo, our chief engineer for advanced energy. “We’re already doing work with numerous government agencies to help them analyze and understand their needs and risks. Those capabilities easily transfer to help companies and local governments ensure they have enough power to meet customer demands.”

The Electric Grid Under Threat

The challenge is here to stay. Power consumption in 2022 was at an all-time high. Increasing electrification could raise the electricity demand even higher, by as much as 38% by 2050. Electric vehicles and the demand for increasing data connection are driving the surge. Just keeping the internet operating requires 17 gigawatts of power—the equivalent of three nuclear reactors or six offshore windfarms.

Hurricanes, heat waves, wildfires, and cyberattacks also threaten our energy networks. The decade from 2011–2021 experienced 64% more major power outages than the decade prior. In 2020, electric companies had over 1.3 billion hours of outages. And it’s getting worse.

From California and Texas to the East Coast, many utilities struggle to manage existing needs, transition to new, cleaner, power sources, and maintain service through climate disruptions. Brownouts are becoming common, frequently impacting those least able to adapt.

MITRE can be an objective adviser, collecting and analyzing the data to let stakeholders know what future energy demands could be.

Ariel Castillo, chief engineer, advanced energy

Transforming Analysis into Answers

That’s one reason the Loudoun County government turned to MITRE.

“This is a perfect role for us,” Castillo says. “MITRE can be an objective adviser, collecting and analyzing the data to let stakeholders know what future energy demands could be.” That way, the county can plan for transitioning to new power sources, the utilities can plan to meet customers’ ne­­eds, and the data centers can plan for expansion while supporting homeowners who require heat and light and energy for electric cars.

And we're going beyond advice and analysis. “If an analysis doesn’t get to people who can actually make the decision and execute the plan,” says MITRE’s Alex Schlichting, a power and energy systems engineer, “it might as well be put in the garbage.”

Which is why we’re connecting stakeholders with our government sponsors. “We want them to do more than understand the problem, we want to help them solve it,” Schlichting says. “If it works, this approach provides a template for other communities across the country.”

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