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Modular substations power in South Africa's data centre boom

Modular substations are the best option for data centres, as they can be designed and built quickly
A dry-type transformer installed in a modular substation for a data centre
Trafo Power Systems designs its substations to integrate effectively with the customer’s vital monitoring, access control and security systems
In its modular substation solutions for data centres, Trafo Power Solutions typically provides a dry-type transformer and medium voltage switchgear

Data centres are experiencing significant growth in South Africa as the digital revolution continues to gain momentum. To keep up with the demand, these facilities must have the flexibility to expand rapidly when needed, as must the substations that provide them with power.

David Claassen, Managing Director of Trafo Power Solutions, says that modular substations have emerged as a perfect solution for accommodating the expansion of data centres over time. “Typically, data centres start with large structures that are only partially equipped with servers and related equipment, usually about 30% to 40%. The strategy is often to set up a cost effective facility to serve the initial customer base and expand the infrastructure as this base grows,” he says. “Modular substations offer the advantage of scalability, allowing data centres to start with the required number of substations and add more as demand increases.”

Data centres operate around the clock, demanding reliable and uninterrupted power. They employ backup systems like diesel generators and uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) to ensure continuous operation. These backup systems can also be scaled up by adding additional units as needed.

Claassens says speed is of the essence in planning, constructing and expanding data centers since earlier operation means quicker revenue generation. “Modular substations are the preferred choice due to their quick design and construction capabilities, with the repetitive nature of manufacturing facilitating rapid production, and economies of scale in material requirements.”

Dry-type transformers and medium voltage switchgear are typically provided in data centre substation solutions provided by Trafo Power Solutions. These units step down incoming medium voltage power for low voltage servers and ancillary equipment on racks with the substations designed to seamlessly interface with other aspects of the data centre including low voltage distribution, medium voltage switchgear, UPS systems, and the overall control and monitoring system.

Efficiency is crucial for data centre success, as these facilities consume substantial electrical power. Trafo Power Solutions contributes to efficiency by designing and manufacturing energy efficient dry-type transformers with some of the lowest losses globally. These air-cooled transformers require minimal maintenance compared to conventional oil-filled transformers, reducing operational costs and minimising downtime.

Trafo Power Solutions has been involved in various data centre projects, ranging from 1 MW to 60 MW, supplying up to 20 modules for each project. They have also been involved in a  data centre project in the Netherlands, where they are supplying three 22,5 MVA, 50 kV/13.8 kV dry-type transformers being used in the intake substation, demonstrating their expertise in delivering customised solutions to meet unique project requirements.