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Preserving your standby generator investment

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When faced with the potential losses involved in load shedding or general electricity outages because of poorly maintained infrastructure, many businesses in South Africa have made the investment in their own power management solutions. Central to these solutions is the diesel generator which stands ready to kick in when the power dies, writes Dave Warren, power generation sales manager at Master Power Technologies.
Purchasing a generator is not a simple or an inexpensive decision and businesses need to be sure they obtain value from their investment by being able to continue operations when the power utility fails. The problem with purchasing a generator is that it is a grudge purchase and the temptation is to keep costs to a minimum.
The ideal is that your generator will sit quietly until a blackout or a brown-out occurs, when it will start up and supply power without a glitch. But how often do we hear of generators that did not start when needed?
The reasons for this failure are generally due to economics, says Dave Warren, power generation sales manager at Master Power Technologies (MPT). In the first instance, people try to cut costs by saving on the initial generator purchase price. Putting it bluntly, this means they are prepared to sacrifice quality and reliability to save a few rand.
Secondly, failures are more often caused by a lack of maintenance. Like any mechanical and electronic devices, generators need regular maintenance (or servicing) to ensure they function optimally for a long time. Skimping on this maintenance will reduce the lifespan of the generator, which reduces the return on investment attainable.
Warren believes a generator investment should deliver at least a 20-year return on investment if the system is cared for properly. He offers a few tips to ensure your generator stands the test of time.
Batteries: Lead acid, lead calcium (maintenance free) and alternatives should be tested regularly to ensure they can handle the switch-over load when required.
Fuel storage: Diesel fuel must be of the best commercial quality available, low sulphur fuel of less than 50ppm is the standard. Nonetheless, when diesel is delivered, it always contains suspended water and catalytic fines. These contaminants descend to the bottom of a fuel storage tank over approximately 7 days. Any movement of fuel in the tank will re-agitate the fuel and elevate the contaminants. It is good practice to install “fuel polishing” systems to filter and centrifuge these contaminants out before the fuel gets to the engine and its filters.
Oil levels: Operators of standby generators often forget to check lube oil levels. Note that lube oil, as approved by the engine manufacturer, has to be used.
Fuel levels: Warren says that many “fail to start” call outs are due to low fuel levels. Make sure you have enough fuel to keep the engines running. If necessary, install an automated system to alert you when the diesel hits a critical level.
Coolant: No diesel engines should be run with water in the radiator. The engine manufacturer recommends coolants and additives, and these should be strictly adhered to.
Weekly exerciser: A timer can be installed which will start, run and stop the generator on a simulated mains failure operation. There are two options organisations can choose from.
Run off load and maintain the utility supply, or the change-over system can be controlled to throw the demand onto the generator set. The latter is preferred as it tests the integrity of the whole system.
Maintenance contracts: Several competent employees should be aware of the scheduled maintenance requirements of their generators and the supplier must train these people to the standards required. This would normally cater for up to three months of weekly inspections based on a pre-prepared maintenance check list.
In addition, a quarterly maintenance contract is recommended from the generator supplier’s service division. Staff training can be re-enforced at this stage and all necessary fluid and filter changes can be undertaken as per the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Emergency call outs: Most failures of diesel generator sets happen when a widespread utility power failure has occurred. Needless to say, your pleas for help will be sent to the back of the line if you don’t have any form of service contract with the generator supplier. With a bi-annual or quarterly service contract, you could expect preferential treatment.
For mission critical applications, you could take out an “Emergency Call Out” sub-contract to guarantee low response times on a 24/365 basis.
These are only a few tips worth considering to ensure your generator is geared to deliver optimal service over the long term. Warren explains that caring for your generator need not be expensive, but it can extend its useful life and ensure its “best before date” is more than 20 years down the road.