Interview with Trent Waterhouse and Mark Johnson, Lineage Power

Earlier this month, Dallas-based Lineage Power ( announced that it had received a $2.4M grant from the Department of Energy, to advance the firm's technology to improve energy efficiency Today's interview is with Trent Waterhouse, VP of Marketing, and Mark Johnson, Head of R&D at Lineage Power, who sat down with us to tell us how the firm's equipment is helping to reduce power consumption in the country, and how it got involved with the DOE program.

It's not often that people connect power rectifiers with energy efficiency--can you explain how your company applies to the whole energy efficiency area?

Trent Waterhouse: The context is, as you look at the communications infrastructure through the United States, there's an ever increasing amount of power consumption due to consumers, who seem to have this seemingly insatiable desire for real time information. What the Department of Energy grant does, is it accelerates some new technology availability, as well as documents a real-life return on investment case for deploying higher efficiency technology into central offices and large data centers, which the carriers and cable companies use to deliver voice, data services, and video. Where technology in the past may have only been 88 percent energy efficient, this new technology is 97 percent energy efficient.

What about this technology that makes it more efficient -- does this have anything to do with the differences between D/C (direct current) and A/C (alternating current) power systems in those data centers?

Trent Waterhouse: As you mentioned, there are both A/C and D/C power systems. D/C energy systems are more efficient than A/C computer rooms, with a typical A/C computer room running around 79 to 80 percent efficiency. A D/C data system will run at 92 percent plus efficiency. What we're doing, is we're taking that up to 97 percent.

How are you doing that?

Mark Johnson: Every time you convert from one form of energy--from A/C to D/C--there are losses involved. That's why you have a difference between how much energy is coming into a data center, versus how much is used. In a typical data center, you have commercial A/C power coming in, that gets converted to high voltage D/C for backup, then it gets converted again back to A/C. That's the nature of the UPS systems used in those data centers, where A/C is fed to the servers. On those servers, they also do their own power conversion, from 110V to 12V for disk drives, which is then further converted to 5V, or 3V, or 1V to run those electronics. Each of those have their own amount of loss in efficiency. When you bring them all together, it's like multiplying those efficiencies together, which is how you end up with only 79 percent efficiency. All those inefficiencies multiply together. In the telecom industry, where the structure is D/C power, and where we already tend to minimize power conversions, we still start with commercial, AC, 480V coming in straight from a transformer. That gets converted directly to 48V, and typically in telecom equipment also to 12V and 3.3V. In a typical central office environment, there are two, maybe three power conversions at most, rather than six. So one answer how we are more efficient is purely an architecture play--how do you minimize the conversions. The second factor, is the technology we're using in our rectifiers, which is a different technology. Different circuit technology has different characteristics which lead to more or less efficiency. A crude way of thinking about it, is with power supplies, which are usable switchable, there's a switch controlled by the circuit. The more often it switches, the more losses there are. We've come up with a way of arranging the circuit topology to minimize the conversion of power. Another aspect in our rectifiers, is the evolution of devices. In the same spirit that microprocessors get more powerful every year, you can get similar curves in things like rectifiers. With the Field Effect Transistors used for switching, these devices are getting better and better, giving you efficiency advantages.

How did Lineage Power end up participating in this DOE program--is this something the firm has been actively involved with in the past?

Trent Waterhouse: It has a lot to do with our heritage. Our company can be traced to Western Electric, AT&T, and Bell Labs. As you look at the footprint within the central office, we've got the largest footprint out there. We've got the largest installed base, and if you can improve the efficiency of that installed base, you can have the greatest impact the fastest. It's all a matter of us having been around for so long.

What specifically will those DOE funds go towards?

Trent Waterhouse: In one sense, the money is going to help accelerate our time to market, and bring our technology out of our labs to production. It will also allow us to document our solutions for the industry, with real-life, central office results. We are doing benchmarks today, showing what the efficiency is, installing the new technology, and showing what the impact is in terms of efficiency gain and cooling capacity. It's not just about electrical consumption, it's also about cooling requirements. The more efficient you are, the less cooling which is required. Rather than just theory and math, we're going to use real-life examples of this using Verizon central offices. Verizon is the largest carrier in the U.S., and is using real life products from Lineage--they're our largest installed base.

What kind of effect will this have on power consumption?

Trent Waterhouse: It's estimated that 20-25 percent of all of the world's electrical capacity is consume by the United States. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that 3% of the U.S. energy consumption is for communications and computing.

Power supplies and conversion aren't often thought of in respect to energy efficiency--can you explain why your products are now an area of interest?

Trent Waterhouse: I think we are in a unique place, and leading efforts down the path of efficiency. As there are more and more iPhone users, tablet PC users, Ebook readers, and more and more consumers going online, more and more storage, computing, and telecom infrastructure is needed to support that. The U.S. would have to build two new additional power plants each year to just keep up with that increase in consumer demand. The U.S. and electrical utilities just can't keep up with that pace of construction. What we're doing, without increasing electrical grid capacity, is figuring out a way to serve millions of more subscribers.