Operations an Important Part of Power Reliability

  May 30, 2012

This is Casey Laughman, managing editor of Building Operating Management magazine. Today's tip is that operations should not be overlooked as a part of power reliability.

One key point that's easily overlooked is that just having a UPS and backup generators isn't enough. It actually has to function when an emergency strikes. That can't be taken for granted. During the Northeast black-out of 2003, half of New York City's 58 hospitals suffered failures in their backup power generators.

The design of a backup power system is only one factor in how well it performs. Just as important is the operational side. Backup diesel generator sets require periodic maintenance and frequent testing if they are to be counted on in an emergency. A facility manager who scrimps on that maintenance and testing may very well compromise the system.

Another issue to consider is if the backup generator uses diesel fuel. Diesel fuel deliveries may be difficult if the power outage is caused by disaster.

Location can also have an operational impact. California had 540 power outages last year. If the batteries in the backup power supply are rated for 2,000 hours, their life expectancy in terms of calendar months is much shorter in California than in an area such as Chicago, where the outages are considerably less frequent. Outages along the East Coast grid also are higher than in other states.

Another problem is lack of commissioning. During commissioning, the design needs to be translated into the generators, uninterruptible power supply components, substation feeds and other elements that the contractor installed. Commissioning is essential to ensure that the backup power system meets the owner's requirements and expressed needs.


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