Do you have a back-up power supply?

March 01, 2016 // By Olivier Bomboir
Power is the lifeblood of a modern business. In the 21st century, almost everything we do requires a power source. But what do you do if that power source fails? For many sectors, this is a key consideration when putting a business continuity plan in place, especially as large scale failures become more common.

Research published in January 2014 suggests that we can expect blackouts and brownouts to become more common as our infrastructure struggles to cope with increased demand and inadequate investment. For example, after two fallen trees caused all of Italy to blackout in 2003, it proved that the power generation systems in place were fragile and unreliable.

With network failure due to inadequacy a growing concern, the importance of having sufficient and resilient backup in place is clear. The primary aim for choosing a back-up power system is preventing a complete power outage; therefore, preventing a loss of business and earnings. In some sectors, such as Telecommunications, Mass Transportation, Oil & Gas, Power & Utilities, Data Centers and Healthcare, the implications to public safety and data security mean that having a power back-up solution in place is no longer a choice, but a necessity.

While keeping businesses and public services running at all costs is of course essential, there is another key consideration which is sometimes overlooked when choosing a sustainable back-up power supply – efficiency. As well as providing peace of mind, it is important that your business continuity plan does not place an undue level of financial strain on your business. Some power inverters lose large amounts of energy during the conversion process, amounting to money spent on basically nothing. You should therefore take care to select a system which provides both the safety and security that you require, as well as keeping your operational costs to a minimum.

 

Businesses rely on and sometimes take for granted the ability to keep going, and if you work in one of the critical public sectors, you will be keenly aware of the importance of power and the potential implications of an outage. In today’s modern era where the vast majority of processes have been computerized (records are stored on databases and even local convenience store points of sale are electronic), a sudden power cut can mean considerable loss of earnings, which spells disaster to a business owner.

One of the most challenging areas for implementing power supply systems is in Oil & Gas exploration due to tough environmental conditions and high operating costs. For example, a team in charge of replacing the UPS system on Sonangol’s offshore oil platform in Angola had to mount power supplies on an offshore oil platform in the midst harsh, tropical weather conditions.

 

The platform – powered by an uninterruptible power supply designed to ensure complete reliability of power for all essential systems – had a few problems. The main issue was that if one of the units needed repair or replacement, heavy lifting gear was required, the system had to be taken offline, and expert technicians had to be brought in by helicopter or boat. Sonangol opted to install two modular 40kVA UPS systems with Twin Sine technology, to replace the outdated system. The new UPS would run with a NiCad battery bank, occupy considerably less space and offer substantial maintenance advantages. Able to be completely housed in four cabinets, the new architecture offered several key benefits for Sonangol, including hot-swappable capacity, compact size, capability to run from NiCad battery packs, compliance with Oil & Gas industry standards, and guaranteed maintenance and support from the manufacturer for a minimum of 10 years.


Fig. 1: The two inverter cabinets each contain 16 TSI BRAVO EPC 110Vdc/230Vac Inverters, in EPC mode. Each inverter module has an output of 2.5kVa, making 40kVa in total.

The key component in every effective backup power system is either the power converters (battery charger AC/DC, inverter DC/AC and DC/DC converter) or the batteries. They work in the background, monitoring power levels, detecting commercial power grid abnormalities and, in many cases, correcting them immediately. It is this system which will kick in when a power failure is detected, running off high powered batteries to maintain your power, and allow you enough time to deploy your emergency power source. Although it may only be active for anywhere between a few minutes to several hours, it is vital in ensuring that your critical applications do not lose power and your business activities do not cease. No loss of power means no loss of revenue.