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The forgotten infrastructure: Out of sight, out of mind

“Businesses invest large sums of money in standby and emergency power sources. Very often, however, this expensive infrastructure fades into the background and is largely forgotten. 
 
Generators and UPS systems are prone to performance degradation in a relatively short time.  The often hard-to-accept reality is, these devices require constant and regular servicing in order to operate optimally. 
 
From experience, a maintenance budget should be pegged at a minimum of 40% of the overall 5-year cost of ownership of the standby resource”

Jack Ward

Ironically, it’s the most vital resources – those used every day, unthinkingly – that are the least obvious to us and are normally taken for granted. 

Resources such as life-giving water and sunlight, fresh air and – of course – electricity often go unacknowledged…….until we are deprived of them, even for a short time.

This is especially true when it comes to the continuous supply of power to businesses. When there is a power outage, business operations come to a standstill and life – generally – becomes immeasurably more difficult.

In these times you realise how much we rely on electricity – and take its presence for granted. 

We are also reminded of the importance of standby or emergency power – and the need for standby services, such as generators and uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs), to spring into action when they’re needed.

What happens if they don’t? Or their performance is not up to par? Familiar scenario?

Businesses invest large sums of money in alternate, emergency power sources. Very often, however, management is lulled into complacency in times of stable and plentiful supply of utility power. Then this expensive infrastructure fades into the background and is largely forgotten. 

Generators and UPS systems are prone to performance degradation in a relatively short time.  The often hard-to-accept reality is, these devices require constant and regular servicing in order to operate optimally. 

Genset diesel engines, for example, are especially prone to fuel and lubricant contamination, while starter battery problems, line blockages, out-of-diesel situations and other issues will inhibit their performance.

Manufacturers recommend that genset engines be run up to operating temperature at least once a month – if not weekly. Quarterly inspections and 200-hour or annual services are mandatory.

UPS devices, on the other hand, are slightly more resilient.  They are designed to provide smooth, constant power to critical loads while the generator is spooling up or while vital services are closed ‘gracefully’.

UPSs need to be installed in cool, dust-free environments and, as a minimum, require annual or bi-annual inspections. 

Battery banks are especially sensitive to temperature and will require replacement every two to five years depending on usage, their environment and battery quality. 

It should be noted manufacturers’ battery life estimates are calculated on the basis of an ambient temperature of 25 degrees.  For every eight degrees above this benchmark, battery life is halved.

The point is, this ‘forgotten infrastructure’ quickly disappears from the priority list in normal times, when the supply of utility power is good.  As a result, it is often short-changed when it comes to preventative maintenance. 

Because they’re out of sight, users need to ensure they don’t neglect these vital investments.  From experience, a maintenance budget should be pegged at a minimum of 40% of the overall 5-year cost of ownership of the standby resource. Only then will the resource be in a position to achieve and maintain a reliable service.