Powering the Largest Data Center Market in the World - How Industry Transformation has Driven Innovation at Dominion Energy

Stan Blackwell, Director - Customer Service and Strategic Partnerships, Dominion Energy

Stan Blackwell, Director - Customer Service and Strategic Partnerships, Dominion Energy

When referencing the world’s leading IT markets, the discussion typically revolves around New York, Tokyo, San Francisco, and London. What most fail to realize is that the small community of Ashburn in Loudoun County, Va. has quickly eclipsed these IT powerhouses to become the world’s largest data center market. Each day, upwards of 70 percent of worldwide internet traffic travels through fiber networks and data centers in Ashburn. The Northern Virginia market continues to distance itself from the competition in total market capacity and projected growth. Powering a large portion of this connectivity hub is Dominion Energy,Virginia’s largest electric utility and one of the nation’s largest producers and transporters of energy. This industry has evolved over time with increased power requirements for individual sites, renewable energy solutions that customers demand, and very aggressive time-to-market requirements for these highly specialized facilities. This continual evolution of the data center industry has driven innovation and responsiveness at Dominion Energy.

Powering the cloud has been no small task. Dominion Energy serves over 1.3 gigawatts(1,300 megawatts) of actual peak data center load across its service territory, which is enough electricity to power over 325,000 homes. To respond to this demand and the continued rapid growth, Dominion Energy has a dedicated team to take projects from concept to connection. The Economic Development group within the utility engages in early stage site selection and qualification with prospects new to the utility’s territory. As the project progresses towards energization, a Key Account Manager is assigned to be the primary point of contact within Dominion Energy. 

The Key Account Manager is responsible for the long term partnerships and customer service required to exceed expectations of the largest tech companies in the world.

Data center customers have driven innovation from the electric utility to meet their evolving needs. As facilities have grown and changed over time, companies are deploying new strategies to pack more computing power into the same building footprint. Efficiencies in server technology, cooling methods, and heat tolerances of equipment have allowed data centers to maximize their watts/ft2 and double the capacity in megawatts to their facilities. Dominion Energy has also evolved and maintains the view that it competes for data center business every day, which is a mindset that sets it apart from many traditional utilities. Dominion Energy has kept up with the explosive growth of the data center industry while maintaining electric rates that are currently 37.5 percent below the national average at 5.5cents/ kWh.

RENEWABLES

The area of greatest transformation related to the data center industry has been the expectation of renewable energy solutions for customers. Just 3-4 years ago, a renewable energy solution was rarely mentioned when customers started discussing a data center project. Today, it is a requirement to have multiple renewable options to even be considered as a location for data center development. The global data center industry has been a catalyst for the adoption of renewable energy. Dominion Energy has listened to its customers’ needs and has recently transformed as a company. Just four years ago, it had 1 megawatt of solar generation in Virginia. Today it has more than 1,000 megawatts in operation or under development statewide. Dominion Energy also recently announced the nation’s largest offshore wind project and is the fourth largest owner of solar generation of any utility holding company in America. Dominion Energy has also partnered with Smithfield Foods on an innovative renewable natural gas pilot. The responsible shift to cleaner, less carbon-intensive energy sources like renewables, nuclear and natural gas is a constant focus for Dominion Energy. 

The company has committed to reducing carbon emissions by 55 percent and methane emissions by 50 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels. These generation sources enable the utility to reduce its carbon footprint while maintaining reliable, safe, and cost-competitive power sources.

TIME-TO-MARKET

The aggressive time-to-market demands have forced Dominion Energy to innovate and improve processes. Speed is everything once a facility starts construction and some of the largest, fastest-constructed data centers in the world are served in the Virginia market. The success of data center facilities often relies on how quickly the sites can go from plans to operations. Dominion Energy delivers power to these sites through the use of very nimble and redundant distribution and transmission grids. Constant improvements and updates to utility engineering standards are necessary to satisfy the demands for power that data centers require. Careful planning and preparation from the utility’s engineering teams deliver the right power capacity to the site exactly when it is needed. This practice saves customers time and money while efficiently deploying a long-term growth strategy in the Northern VA market. If a project is, “constructed safely, on time, and under budget”, then all stakeholders are successful and the market continues to grow.

Few industries have achieved the unprecedented growth, innovation in construction practices, and technological advances seen in data center markets across the globe. As the home to the largest data center market worldwide, Northern Virginia has seen speed, scale, and requirements of facilities evolve with market demands. Dominion Energy has been fortunate to participate in this dynamic industry and developed best practices and business strategies to serve its customers. Whether the need is site selection, providing a specific growth plan, serving as an advocate for the industry, developing renewable energy solutions, or establishing lasting partnerships with their customers, Dominion Energy is proud to be a part of the story and will continue to grow and innovate to meet customer needs.

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