Any organisation’s power protection is only as good as the maintenance it receives. Whether that’s ensuring that the batteries are all in good health and ready for a power outage, or that the capacitors are replaced when necessary. It is not uncommon to hear of capacitors being overlooked, often resulting in a certain degree of drama…and smoke. That can lead to activation of fire prevention systems in server rooms and data centres, or in the worst cases, even equipment fires. In addition to the batteries, the UPS itself also needs to be looked at in line with its service schedule, and always by factory trained, certified engineers that are using original manufacturer parts.
With regards to decisions on what to protect, this will depend on the individual organisation and the nature of its load. For example, some KUP clients choose to only protect key process equipment – where a power disturbance would affect a trial, experiment or batch of material or goods being produced. Other customers include key communications equipment. In these cases, it is often that it is critical that they are able to coordinate the response to a power disturbance and it can take some time for such equipment to restart after a power disturbance. Similarly, the equipment must not be lost to a power spike or brownout that damages the equipment or confuses it into shutting down. Taking things to the next level, clients might also protect key workstations, such as those handling graphics packages or trading. Power issues can cause file corruptions or delay, perhaps even lose a trade, which would understandably be a significant issue. The ultimate level is to protect everything, or almost everything on a site. The UPS will ensure power is conditioned and all users connected to that power input get high quality, stable power that does not have any disruption, even if the mains supply experiences a disturbance. These types of sites typically also have a generator with adequate fuel, and this takes over the power once it is up to load. Of course, generator maintenance and fuel quality monitoring are just as important.
At a practical, individual level, the recent power outages will probably lead some people to consider using laptops where feasible. These can be a good solution but in today’s world it is common for users to still need access to remote files or Cloud hosted applications – and obviously if the power is off at the site hosting those files, this creates problems. Equally, many users find that desktops are, power for power, more cost effective than laptops so for applications like CAD work, graphics or running other sophisticated applications, laptops are not a viable solution. Low cost, single device UPS systems can be bought very inexpensively, however the challenges of maintenance and capacitor replacement do still apply and are potentially exacerbated by the increased number of devices. Therefore, many organisations use a single, larger UPS to support a bank of computers running this type of application. This reduces the complexity of managing lots of single-device UPS systems, is more likely to ensure the UPS is adopted by an organisational IT department, ensuring scheduled maintenance is being carried out. The other advantage of using a slightly larger UPS, one that covers more devices, is that product sophistication increases. Typically, this means that the UPS has better power conditioning – holding both voltage and frequency stable – and is always “on-line”, rather than kicking in only when the power drops.
The UK’s biggest blackout in more than a decade should serve as a wake-up call to British businesses and the UK’s energy industry. While National Grid did all it could to keep the power on, there was still a shortfall. This clearly demonstrates that when it comes to maintaining power supply, businesses need to take charge and ensure they are able to mitigate against any future incidents.
While the power loss of one business may seem slight compared to some the UK’s most important transport infrastructure, for our customers this can be equally devastating to their operations. For example, for one of Mitie Energy’s clients operating a specialised production line, a power outage means tens of thousands of pounds in costs as a result of spoiled product.
There’s certainly no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to preparing for a future incident – that’s why we recommend a multi-layered approach.
The most direct way to protect against power issues is to increase resilience, by installing equipment such as uninterruptible power supply or a battery energy storage system (BESS), both of which are a store of energy that can be called on should the National Grid supply be interrupted.
The success of power resilience equipment, however, is heavily dependent on ensuring it is regularly maintained – many businesses were caught short in the recent blackout when their diesel generators failed to kick-in upon the loss of power. Our customers work with us to ensure regular maintenance of their equipment were in the best position to ensure a steady supply of power during the incident.
However, the best way to be truly protected against National Grid power loss is to come ‘off Grid’. We help our customers achieve this by negotiating a ‘private wire’ Power Purchased Agreement (PPA) that’s independent of the grid. Energy is generated and used locally, meaning it never requires the use of the National Grid to be transported over power lines and therefore there’s no grid charges. This gives the added benefit of significant financial savings, as well as protection in the case of a blackout.
To take it one step further, companies that want an even greater level of resilience and independence from the national power supply have the option to generate their own power with on-site renewable energy – such as solar, wind or ground source heat pumps. If implemented correctly, these solutions can provide total independence from the Grid while also reducing the business’ environmental impact.
The best approach to ensuring resilience in your business’ power supply is in fact a combination of several of these approaches. Taking it back to our customer operating the specialist production line, we have designed a mix of techniques – including the use of power resilience installations as well as on-site renewable energy generation. If there’s one thing we have learnt from the recent power cut, it is that this multi-method approach is the only way you can truly be protected from large scale outages.
With the nation’s energy usage likely to increase, the latest blackout is unlikely to be a standalone event. Creating a resilient system is the only way a business can ensure it is protected – the time to act is now.