Load shedding: When a generator isn’t the answer

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Generators are not always the answer to the questions posed by Eskom’s punitive load shedding, says Jack Ward, managing director of power provisioning specialist, Powermode.

He cites the challenge faced by many small businesses – particularly home offices – where the noise of a diesel- or petrol-powered generator piercing the quiet of a residential area or interrupting the thoughts of staff members deep in concentration is simply unacceptable.

Against this backdrop, what are the alternative solutions to address South Africa’s increasingly unstable and unreliable power supply?

“The most cost-efficient and effective solution is an uninterruptible power supply [UPS] system,” says Ward. “However, there are many options available, so users should take time to decide on the most appropriate offering in order to save unnecessary expenditure.

“Firstly, users should determine if there is critical equipment that must remain powered 24×7 – such as important security systems and cameras? Or is the requirement simply to keep one or two personal computers and a couple of lights up and running during an outage that may last between two and four hours?”

He explains that in addition to UPS sizing, accurate calculations relating to the size and number of batteries in the UPS battery-pack play vital roles in determining the total number of hours of back-up time available.

Ward maintains that potential customers should become knowledgeable and well-informed in order to make circumspect power provisioning decisions.

“Often, an installation’s requirements depend on a number of less-than-obvious factors, such as the maximum possible load required, the average likely load and the level of redundancy that may need to be on the safe side,” he says. “These parameters are key to UPS system selection.”

One of the advantages of a UPS system – compared to a power inverter – is its ‘power conditioning’ effect or the removal of so-called spikes and brown-outs from the power supply. This is vital for sensitive equipment such as computer servers and laboratory apparatuses which should not be plugged directly into an inverter, says Ward.

When it comes to purchasing a UPS system, he warns potential customers against dealing with less-than reputable suppliers. “Because load-shedding is so common and its impact is felt on such a large scale, the number of power solutions on the market has mushroomed – some come from reputable suppliers, others from opportunists out to make a ‘quick buck’.

“More often than not, the ‘fly-by-nights’ only serve to add confusion to the marketplace and are seldom around long enough to address warranty claims and other queries down the line,” he adds.

“Preferably select a reseller with experience in both the IT [Information Technology] and power arenas as their expertise will be invaluable in the early system design and analysis phases together with on-going support and maintenance routines.”

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