400V DC Power Distribution Improves Efficiency for Telecom and Datacom Applications

With telecom and datacenters becoming ever more important to our work and leisure activities, the demand placed upon these applications is increasing dramatically. Every percentage-point increase in efficiency results in significant cash saving for the operator – and hopefully, the customer – in the cost of wasted power.

As converters improve their efficiency, distribution losses become a more significant factor in overall system losses. As state-of-the-art computing, routing and optical hub equipment continue to require more power, traditional 48V distribution quickly becomes expensive to install and operate due to I2R losses; at the same time, AC distribution utilizing AC UPS becomes too expensive and complicated. The obvious solution is to increase the DC distribution voltage, but this requires DC-DC converters that accept high input voltages and offer large step-down ratios, whilst retaining high efficiency.

The higher voltage DC distribution provides many advantages over AC distribution employing AC UPS:

  • Fewer conversion stages in the overall system
  • Longer battery back-up without system de-rating
  • No harmonic losses and effects on distribution
  • No need for load balancing between phases
  • Smaller footprint
  • Single global voltage – 380V DC

But the most notable advantage is the possibility to implement energy storage at higher voltage, either 48V or even 400V. The ETSI specification requirement for 10ms holdup can be accomplished with minimum component count and maximum energy density.

While higher DC voltage can efficiently address the power system’s total cost of ownership, system integrators also need to interface existing 48V equipment in a simple and effective way. Similarly, equipment manufacturers need to design and make available new hardware that can directly accept the higher DC voltage. Vicor’s power system architectures address both needs, optimizing the trade-offs at component as well as system partitioning level.

In 2012, Vicor collaborated with Emerson at two trade shows, Intelec and electronica, to give a live demonstration of a 400V DC powered eco-system that used new power components that make high voltage DC distribution feasible. The demo operated at 380V DC and made use of existing technologies and components provided by several major vendors. The solution featured high end-to-end efficiency, with no penalty in supporting the ERSI EN 300 132-3-1 voltage range of 260V – 400V DC, and resulted in significant savings in site wiring costs versus 48V DC. The tabletop demo was put together by using standard, off-the-shelf components.

With this demonstration of Vicor’s 400V DC to Point-of-Load Conversion, the company has shown that it is now practical to use much higher DC voltage for distribution to improve the efficiency of converting and managing power from DC distribution to point-of-load. With the continued pressure for datacenters to cut costs and reduce energy consumption, one thing is for sure; 400V DC distribution systems are the future of green datacenters.

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