More than 50% of the emergency, standby power supply systems installed since the Eskom load shedding “scare” of 2008 are now in danger of becoming unserviceable and are slowly degrading.
This is the warning from Jack Ward, MD of power provisioning specialist Powermode, who says common faults such as dead or unserviceable batteries – in the case of uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems – and clogged diesel injectors or blocked carburettors in generators have left many organisations ill-prepared for the power outages that have become common this winter.
Ward warns that 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.
“However, UPS systems are faced with tough operating environments, including unstable power ranges, damaging voltage spikes and surges, and transient voltages that challenge their reliability.”
He says failed UPSs and generators are usually located in less-than-ideal locations. “UPS systems are 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 stresses 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.”