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Are you achieving a healthy return on your standby power investment?

Are you achieving a healthy return on your standby power investment?

By Jack Ward, MD of Powermode


Faced with an increasingly fragile national power grid, resulting in frequent blackouts, many consumers who rely on a reliable electricity supply and continuous uptime for production or profit have installed standby power systems.

Uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems, power inverters and hybrid solar photovoltaic (PV) systems have become central to the design of numerous standby power supply systems and their implementation strategies, countrywide.

The challenge for many companies and their executives charged with operations management is to balance their investments in standby power solutions against a (hoped for) return on investment (ROI).

In a retail environment, for example, blackouts may well disable tills and security systems. This can result in shoppers abandoning their trolleys and leaving the store. A large South African retail chain estimates the cost of a power outage at over R60,000 per hour in lost sales per outlet.

We have knowledge of a multi-site organisation that has recorded more than 80 hours of power outages in a month. Fortunately for them, these incidents passed virtually unnoticed, thanks to a fully-functioning standby power solution.

The high costs of power outages should be weighed against the costs associated with purchasing, running and maintaining a suitably-designed backup installation.

In calculating these costs, accurate data is needed. How many outages were experienced? What was their duration? Did the backup systems perform as required? Did the generator fire up first time on command?

Storage battery performance is one of the more important keys to a standby system’s ability to deliver a high ROI. The only way to accurately assess the performance of a battery – or battery bank – is to monitor it.

Unfortunately, many users are unaware of the often-preventable, hidden causes of premature – and costly – battery failure. These include high ambient operating temperatures (which can shorten battery life by a factor of two for every 10-degrees Celsius increase above 25 degrees C) and damaging ripple currents that can cause loss of performance and failure.

Significantly, a battery’s longevity is directly related to the level and duration of discharges, while overcharging, undercharging, inactivity (with the possibility of sulphating) all play vital roles in its early demise.

Against this backdrop, it’s clear that any ROI calculation based on anecdotal evidence is bound to be wide of the mark.

Fortunately, detailed, accurate data required for a dependable ROI calculation can now be sourced. Deep insights into a standby power system’s performance are now possible thanks to ground-breaking new monitoring technology developed in SA.

The Powermode Monitoring Portal (PMP), is an Internet-linked system geared to holistically monitor a company’s standby power environment. It reports on a wide range of critical parameters.

Moreover, the PMP system facilitates the continuous streaming of empirical data to Powermode’s 24×7 Operations Centre in Johannesburg. Here the performance of a client’s standby power system is intense scrutinised.

Technicians monitor the data and should a disparity in standby power quality from accepted benchmarks be identified, the company concerned is notified immediately. If authorised, a service crew will be dispatched to any location country-wide to rectify a serious problem, ensuring continuous uptime.

The data culled from the PMP can also be analysed and accurate, detailed reference documents produced which provide a clear indication of the ROI gained from any standby power solution. Using this data, future standby power budgets can be more accurately formulated, resulting in streamlined approval processes.