Level Up Against Power Outages

Choose a sufficient backup power system based on critical facilities needs.

By Sam Harrison
From the October 2021 Issue

Like it or not, you can’t plan for every outage or unscheduled downtime in your facilities. Today’s world operates at an unprecedented pace, and there is one thing on which every facility relies no matter the industry—power, and the electricity behind that power. Ensuring that a facility is safe and systems are running smoothly calls for a sustained effort, and this can be made more difficult with today’s shortage of qualified labor.

And, with a plethora of evolving factors that have the potential to inflict downtime on power supply, it’s important to proactively protect against those outages. When a facility loses power, it costs the organization time and money—costs that will not be recouped. That’s where a solid back-up power strategy is key.

Which Level Of Protection?

Here are some ways to make sure that you are protected from power outages that can cripple your ability to do business in your facility.

power outages
Whether a backup power system is designed to support one building system or multiple, critical systems across a campus, an effective design begins by identifying the level of response required for that facility. (Photo: Encore Electric)

The first step toward keeping your facility operational at all times is determining the level of power loss response vital for your specific operation, in each specific facility. Do you need constant power at all times for a few critical systems? Or does your facility absolutely, 100% need to operate all of time, no matter the weather, time of day, or other situation? Where you fall on this continuum of needs will inform which of these steps you should take to protect the operability of your facilities. We’ve narrowed this range into three levels to simplify the solutions.

In Level 1, you would only need to provide stand-alone temporary power to the critical systems in the facility. In this case, you might select an uninterruptible power source (UPS). The UPS would provide a short duration (a few hours) of backup power for server data storage, or other critical needs. This amount of time would allow for the controlled shutdown of systems or equipment to mitigate data loss or equipment damage.

This type of solution is well-suited for security or telecom equipment and allows for facility management to be notified of these events as they happen.

In Level 2, you might need more than a UPS-type system alone to ensure continued operation. In this case, we would suggest a combination of a UPS and a Generator Tap Box. This allows for the connection of a temporary generator in the case of a prolonged outage—like an electric line being severed or an inclement weather event. This provides an economical solution for emergency power without incurring additional equipment and maintenance costs of a larger system.

This kind of solution would work well for facilities where service can be restored within a few hours—hotels, office buildings, or schools, for example.

Level 3 would require the highest level of assurance that power will continue to flow to your facility. In these cases, combining a UPS with an automatic transfer switch (ATS) and a generator would not only guarantee a consistent source of power, but would also provide peace of mind due to having a period of time available to address the situation.

This solution maintains every required system at the facility and also alerts facility management of a power event in progress. It also features the added benefit of automatic functionality during off-hours, or if facility managers are not on-site. This type of system automatically senses when there is a power outage and nearly seamlessly sends power generated on site to the facility for continued operation. When the generator power is no longer needed when the utility power service has been restored to your facility, it automatically senses the change and switches back.

These systems are best-suited for mission-critical operations like hospitals, data centers, military installations, or manufacturing facilities producing vital components and items.

Protect Against Power Surges

Compiled by Facility Executive Staff

Transient overvoltage events, more commonly referred to as surges, were cited as the third leading cause of downtime in a recent survey of commercial and industrial facility professionals, including managers, owners, building engineers, heads of maintenance, and related occupations. The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) and the National Electrical Manufacturers Association’s (NEMA) Low Voltage Surge Protective Devices Section (BI-VS) surveyed these professionals regarding power surge incidences, misconceptions, and the usage of surge protective devices in their facilities.

power outagesSurge protective devices were viewed as a success by most respondents, as 79% estimated that downtime and equipment failure was significantly reduced. The vast majority of survey respondents (72%) claimed to be either very or extremely familiar with power surges, while only 8% were only slightly or not familiar at all. The most commonly cited causes of power surges were switching of electrical loads, lightning, faulty wiring and/or connections, and damage to power lines.

In looking at the key findings, when asked whose facilities had experienced unexpected downtime, 49% reported that a power surge had caused such an interruption within the last 12 months. Unexpected downtime was common, with over 72% of facilities surveyed experiencing downtime more than a few times a year. Twenty-three percent of respondents indicated that they installed surge protective devices after experiencing a surge event. Thirty-four percent of unplanned power outages were caused by power surges and unexpected resetting or misoperation of equipment. Equipment recently placed in service borne the brunt of power surges that failed, with 78% having been in service for five years or less.

Only surge protective devices, also known as transient voltage surge suppressors, protect against power surges. Typical power strips, consumer uninterruptable power supplies, ground-fault circuit interrupters, and fuses or breakers do not. Survey results show that installing these devices will protect against downtime, improve system and data reliability, and reduce electrical failures to keep your facility and electrical equipment running smoothly.

The full survey results are available here.

The Power To Perform

Backup power systems and strategies can be relatively simple, as described in the Level 1 scenario here. Or, these systems can be complex and robust as touched upon in the Level 3 overview. Systems that provide assurance that your vital facility will remain open and operable often pay for themselves the first time they are called into service. Whether it is a UPS-only system, a system that allows for flexibility with a Generator Tap Box, or a full-fledged UPS/ATS and generator system, planning for the unforeseen is something that every facility manager needs to consider in their place of business.

power outagesHarrison is a senior account manager at Colorado-based Encore Electric, an electrical contractor delivering highly technical projects in industries like commercial, healthcare, and others. As part of the Service & Special Projects group, Harrison specializes in design/assist, technical consultation, budgeting/estimating and value engineering. He has a degree in Construction Management from Colorado State University.

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