Blackout

3 May 2013 – Seasonal increases in the use of heaters, lighting and air conditioning systems, combined with uncertainty over the continuity of the municipal power supply this winter, are again placing the spotlight firmly on the efficiency of emergency, standby power supply systems, particularly in mission-critical applications.
 
This is the view of Jack Ward, MD of power provisioning specialist Powermode, who says the threat of 2008 style load-shedding and power cuts is looming large this winter.
 
“As a result, the need to ensure that generators and uninterruptible power supply systems are serviceable, and are not slowly degrading through neglect, is paramount,” he says.
 
Ward lists common faults such as dead or unserviceable batteries – in the case of UPS systems – and clogged diesel injectors or blocked carburettors in generators will leave many organisations ill-prepared for the power outages that can be expected in the coming months.
 
He warns that corporate emergency standby power equipment is often neglected by staff members appointed to manage it because this is not their core function. “It does not attract attention until there is a power outage. Then it is expected to function immediately and reliability, enabling the company to be productive,” he says.
 
He warns that UPS systems are faced with tough operating environments, including unstable power ranges, damaging voltage spikes and surges, and transient voltages that challenge their reliability.
 
“We find that failed UPSs and generators are usually located in less-than-ideal locations. For example, they’re often found in hot, dusty closets or forgotten in storerooms, under desks and in dusky hallways. Generators are located outside in a yard, in a parking bay or receiving area and the enclosures are less than secure – resulting in fuel theft – and open to the elements.
 
“In many instances, in-house support personnel are unskilled, ill-equipped or unmotivated to perform the basic maintenance and testing procedures required to ensure proper, reliable operation of the emergency power equipment. Often staff members are hard-pressed to locate standby power equipment − let alone maintain it.”
 
Because neglect is so common and operating environments uncontrolled, Ward encourages users to outsource regular, planned maintenance to reputable, independent organisations.
 
“Specialised maintenance personnel from these organisations will perform accurate inspections and major services on a regular basis; bi-annually on UPSs and at least quarterly on generator sets. They will also assist in the maintenance of a database and service record and an all-important load characteristics log.  
 
“Incidental issues such as the installation environment, management commitment and the suitability − or otherwise – of operators could also be addressed and noted at the same time.”
 
Ward maintains that the return on investment in a standby power solution is only as good as the service and maintenance it receives. “It is better to budget a little less on the system and more on its maintenance in order to be rewarded with reliability and – as a result – cheaper long-term cost of ownership,” he adds.