Why it’s Way Past Time (about 2000 Years) to Upgrade Your Backup Power Operations

By Joe McGarvey, Senior Director, Marketing |
Babylon battery in the time of babylon and modern day D battery on cityscape

The battery, that near-ubiquitous energy storage source, has been the primary backup power medium for broadband communications providers for the past several decades. Nearly everything that runs on electricity, in fact, cars, phones, smartwatches — you name it — relies on battery power to keep moving, processing and ticking when untethered from the public grid.

While everyone is familiar with the good old battery, few have any idea of exactly how old it is. Does it predate the airplane? You betcha. How about the printing press? Yep. The Roman Colosseum? Affirmative to that.

In 1938, according to this and other accounts, the director of the Baghdad Museum, located in what was once Mesopotamia, found an ancient relic in the museum’s basement that is now known as the “Babylon Battery.” The roughly five-inch clay pot contained a copper cylinder that encased an iron rod, as well as indications of the use of a liquid that acted as an electrolyte.

The Babylon Battery, or batteries, since several have been found, date back to roughly 250 BCE. Scientists and archeologists speculate that these early energy storage devices were used for both industrial (electroplating) and therapeutic (an early form of shock therapy?) purposes. Clearly, Nebuchadnezzar didn’t commission these batteries to provide backup power for a yet-to-be-unearthed Iron Age communications network. But it should not be overlooked that these ancient devices were constructed of the same components that make up a modern-day battery and performed essentially the same function: providing electricity through a chemical reaction.

Something Better

The battery has come a long way since Babylon, of course, in terms of performance and application. But that doesn’t mean that the energy storage systems — mostly lead-acid and some Lithium-type batteries — providing standby power in today’s communications networks are not without shortcomings. For starters, electrochemical batteries remain a serious threat to the environment, both in terms of chemical mishaps and the need to dispose of or recycle them at a fairly frequent rate. Performance and reliability also suffer due to limitations in how much of and how often a lead-acid battery can discharge its stored energy.

You could say that familiarity or even inertia is the major reason most broadband service providers continue to power their standby operations with batteries. It’s a longstanding routine. They’ve been using them for so long and, for the most part, they get the job done. If something works, you stick with it, goes the old adage. Until something better comes along, that is.

At roughly 2.25 millennia and counting, the traditional electrochemical battery has had a pretty good run.

The good news for communications service providers is that something better has come along. Hybrid supercapacitor energy storage technology offers a greener, more sustainable, and more affordable alternative to current energy storage solutions. Originally designed as an electrical storage device with rapid charge-discharge capabilities, supercapacitors evolved over time to behave more like batteries by providing longer-lasting discharge cycles. Hybrid supercapacitors, a breakthrough energy storage medium, blends the best attributes of Lithium-Ion batteries and Electric Double Layer Capacitors (EDLC) to create an optimal solution for stationary applications.

Hybrid Supercapacitors deliver significant advantages over lead-acid and Lithium-type batteries. The electrostatic (no chemical reactions) characteristic of supercapacitors provides a cleaner, safer alternative that eliminates the risk of corrosive leaks and thermal runaway. With 100% Depth of Discharge (DoD) capacity and continuous operation for reliable, uninterrupted service, these solutions provide a reduced carbon footprint at a significantly lower total cost of ownership (TCO). The solution’s extended lifespan of as much as 25 years — with little to no maintenance required — and related savings in HVAC and facility footprint add up to exceptional capital and operational savings.

Hybrid supercapacitors also offer significant waste-saving advantages over traditional energy storage solutions. In addition to greater durability — with lifespans of two decades or longer — supercapacitor modules can be recycled when they reach the end of life, completely refurbished and placed back in service, which is something that is almost impossible to do in a typical chemical storage environment.

Sustainability Challenges

This new, cleaner and more eco-friendly energy storage solution couldn’t have come along at a better time. Cable operators and telcos are under increasing pressure to reduce carbon footprints and reach mandated, as well as self-imposed, sustainability goals over the next several years. A step in that direction is the replacement of traditional backup power systems based on lead-acid or Lithium-based batteries with a safer and more durable energy storage technology.

On top of the environmental and performance advantages of hybrid supercapacitors, the technology supports peak shaving, a process by which service providers can save significant sums of money by utilizing idle energy storage resources when energy costs are at a premium, in terms of kilowatts per hour.

A Light Reading-hosted webinar featuring ATX energy storage experts provides evidence and examples of how hybrid supercapacitors can empower broadband service providers to modernize their standby power operations while at the same time saving money and further increasing progress toward critical sustainability goals. The webcast, which originally aired in December, draws a directly line from the adoption of hybrid supercapacitor solutions to the reduction of landfill waste and the ability to reduce energy costs when they are at their most expensive.

Even the best technologies eventually get replaced. At roughly 2.25 millennia and counting, the traditional electrochemical battery has had a pretty good run.

Long live the hybrid supercapacitor.