With so few utility infrastructure projects in place, reliability continues to slide. This fact has prompted many fms to move the “install standby power system” project to the top of their priority lists.
Whether or not there are any code requirements or new legislation mandating a facility to have partial or complete standby power during a utility failure, many facility managers (fms) are now looking for self sufficient backup options. Any organization with a life safety, emergency, or legally required standby system requirement (such as hospitals, water treatment systems, or correctional facilities) should already have some type of backup power system. This is because of mandates by one code or another that require safe operation to continue during a disaster or major utility power failure.
Other less essential facilities usually have some type of minimal backup power system-UPS, batteries, or a small generator-in place to keep a few items powered or to conduct an orderly shutdown to get employees and clients safely out of a building. But those organizations not required to have a larger backup power system in place have their fms asking the question, “Should we have a more sophisticated backup power system to get through longer utility power failures? If so, what needs to be considered?”
It’s a startling statistic: lack of regular maintenance is the single greatest cause of failure of emergency power engine generators. Generator, fuel, and starting systems fail due to lack of maintenance. These are the easiest parts to maintain but the most often overlooked.
A national provider of emergency power solutions held a roundtable discussion on emergency power for healthcare facilities. Hospital facility managers (fms) and consulting engineers who design and build emergency power systems for healthcare facilities shared their experiences about properly maintaining these systems.
Hospitals are mandated to have emergency power systems because they are responsible for “defending in place.” During emergencies hospitals must stay in place and not evacuate, so the building must be designed to protect, or “defend its ground.” It’s important for hospitals to continue to operate during power outages because patients cannot be moved readily to other facilities.
Speaking at the roundtable event about the maintenance practices at his organization, Kevin Deitsch, fm at Saint Joseph Hospital in Denver, CO, said, “We have found that following manufacturer specifications for our emergency power systems is the right thing to do. In our case, keeping our equipment in tip top shape has cut the failure rate to near zero.
“Our electrical system is on a one, two or three year cycle for maintenance, and this includes our emergency power,” Deitsch continued. “For emergency power, we have generators, automatic transfer switches, and paralleling control switchgear under contract. Our protocol for maintenance events takes our team three to four months per function to plan.
Jerry Petric, partner at Korda/Nemeth Engineering, Inc. in Columbus, OH, said, “Testing and maintenance are very important to ensure the emergency power system remains operational. Both monthly and annual testing of the system is already required by code. Testing with actual loads is better than testing at night when loads are minimal.
“I have heard, on one occasion,” continued Petric, “that a full operational test was not conducted by the manufacturer’s service agency, and the generator failed to start because the selector control on the automatic transfer switch was to the off position. Fortunately, the hospital’s maintenance staff noticed and corrected the problem. This example shows how important it is to test and maintain the system.”
Petric also noted, “Bypass isolation transfer switches are recommended for the critical branch, so transfer switches can be maintained without interrupting the loads being served.”
Dawn Willey, fm for Benefis Healthcare in Great Falls, MT, said, “With our closed transition transfer switches (CTTS), hospital staff doesn’t realize power has transferred. We monitor the sensitive equipment, and the CTTS truly pays for itself, because nothing goes out of synch. Tens of thousands of dollars could be lost if a board on a CAT Scan or MRI fails.
“Before we modernized our emergency power system,” she added, “I was told by radiology that we had ‘bad power.’ They can’t tell me that anymore because everything is in synch. Not being in synch can be incredibly expensive. Think about everything a hospital runs on concerning electronics: security, radiology, CAT scans, operating rooms. And that’s just the big stuff. Then we have the 500 IV pumps, and even our beds have electronic boards that are $1000 each. Nobody wants anything to be down.”
Not all healthcare facilities have been able to keep up with a proactive maintenance plan, however.
Scott Kesler, P.E., director of electrical engineering, OWP/P in Chicago, IL, said, “What we’re seeing is that maintenance hasn’t always been taken into consideration throughout the life of the facility. In years past when staff and budgets were reduced, preventive maintenance didn’t happen. Now, equipment is breaking down, they need to replace it sooner, and it costs more to maintain. Day to day operational costs would have been lower with an ongoing maintenance program. Facilities are really taking note of this and placing renewed emphasis on ongoing maintenance.”
To ensure emergency power systems are properly maintained, hospitals generally follow one of two approaches. The first strategy is to hire and train in-house staff to conduct all maintenance. The other is to contract with outside sources. With the variety of equipment needing to be maintained and its increasing complexity, more hospitals are opting to contract out their maintenance requirements.
In time, lack of regular maintenance ought to move down from its spot as the top cause of failure of emergency power engine generators.
Phelan is director of marketing services for ASCO Power Technologies, located in Florham Park, NJ.
Big box retail stores are an example of secondary facilities that should consider expanding their critical power strategies. Beyond backing up emergency lighting and doors, they are not mandated to have a standby power system in place that keeps the cash registers, HVAC, or other lighting operational.
There may be a large generator or two behind the facility to keep things running, but how long should these pieces of equipment be expected to last if forced to operate for an extended period of time? While these stores are not legally required to stay open, they are often the first place people run to when a blackout occurs or a hurricane blows in.
To this type of retail organization, customer service and lost revenues are primary factors driving the investment in reliable standby power systems. Food distribution centers and grocery stores are very interested in protecting their frozen goods and remaining operational, thus minimizing lost revenue to the bottom line. Home improvement locations are important centers for critical supplies during a disaster and need to be available to the community.
The Value Proposition
If a facility is seeking a major standby power system, there’s usually a tipping point that has prompted the action. That’s when planning for the capital commitment of a sophisticated system begins. However, the first question any organization should ask is this: what does being “open” mean to this facility?
- Keeping the air conditioning running to prevent mold and mildew buildup?
- Minimizing revenue losses?
- Avoiding data losses?
- Running business as usual?
- All of the above?
This is the biggest challenge for many fms-weighing the power reliability concerns against the bottom line. The facility’s risk of a serious power outage should be the driving force when considering the level of electrical reliability.
For some facilities, being powerless for just one day might not really matter. But for others, technology is such a critical part of business, that being without it for one hour or one day can put the organization or facility at high risk.
Going through this exercise is essential for fms. They must identify what’s most at risk without power and evaluate the most critical equipment and functions that need to continue. Soon, the standby power system necessary for the facility begins to take shape, as the generator size is matched with the electrical load that must be backed up.
Rent Or Buy?
Whether the fm handles this evaluation stage alone, with a specifying engineer, or with an electrical contractor, the decision of whether to rent backup power versus a permanent installation should become clear. Renting mobile generators might be a better option for organizations with multiple facilities. This option is also a good complement to an existing backup power system. It can be a temporary answer while the organization awaits approval for its capital investment of a permanent installation.
Some fms may not be aware of reserve programs that many of the larger rental power companies provide. Essentially, the fm picks a spot in line well in advance of any disaster or major utility failure in order to be guaranteed a rental generator (or more) within hours of an actual event taking place. Obviously, demand is highest for rental generators during an event. Fms who are proactive and coordinate a reserve contract in advance will benefit significantly, should an unfortunate event occur. It is advisable for fms to work with rental power companies for a complete solution instead of a drop and go service.
The rental power provider should also properly size the generator to the required electrical load; determine the quantity of rental generators needed; and be clear where the units would be deployed once called upon. A full service rental organization will provide skilled operators, connections, fuel, and other important services. Fms should consult with a rental power company several months in advance, as demand is much higher in the late spring or early summer months.
Beyond The Capital Investment
If the organization does decide to invest in a complete standby power system, the fm also needs to include a maintenance program in the long-term budget. Too often, thousands of dollars invested in a new or expanded power system are wasted, because the organization didn’t commit to a consistent, professional maintenance program.
Users are aware of the risks associated with improper and irregular maintenance of personal vehicles. Generator sets also need some TLC. The power system may be out of sight-in the facility’s lower level or outside housed in a separate facility-but it should never be out of mind.
Every standby system should be “exercised” regularly-either weekly or monthly-for about 30 minutes each time at full load. The exercise process can be programmed to start automatically or manually at the transfer switch.
Because there is a cost to exercising the system, some facilities forgo this effort. During that half hour exercise schedule, the generator may burn between 25 and 75 gallons of fuel. With today’s high fuel prices, that’s not something anyone wants to hear. But fms should remember the car scenario and consider the much higher expense that can be incurred when delaying or ignoring preventive maintenance efforts.
The exercise cycle allows the engine to heat up to its full operating temperature. This process ensures that the generator can carry the electrical load it is designed to serve.
These are just a few of the key functions tested during the exercise cycle and can be dealt with so the generator is ready to go when called upon to serve during a lengthy utility failure. Any fm not equipped with the right resources or experience in maintaining power systems can enter into a contract with the distributor.
The number one reason generator systems fail to start is drained batteries. Maintenance is vital in order to make certain the entire system is ready to function in a power outage. Fms should check the coolant to be sure it’s the right mixture, evaluate the louvers (regardless of whether they’re gravity or electrically operated) to make sure they open and close. Otherwise, overheating could occur and cause the generator to shut down.
Another common problem when the generator is not exercised regularly is that the diesel used in the generator becomes contaminated. A regular maintenance schedule performed by a local generator distributor will include fuel sampling, filters, belts, hoses, coolant testing, and other critical services that maximize performance.
Switching And Control Options
Along with the generator set, the electrical switching and control portion of the project is a key to success. From a basic system with one or a few automatic transfer switches to a more complex paralleling system for multiple generators, the only consideration is to provide optimum performance in a power failure.
The transfer switch feeds normal and backup power to the load through a specially designed switching system. Available in an almost unlimited number of designs and sizes, the automatic transfer switch (ATS) senses utility power, and when an “out of spec” condition occurs, a signal is sent to start the generator. Once the generator is running at proper voltage and frequency, the ATS transfers the load to the standby generator.
When the utility source returns, it is sensed by the ATS; after a time delay to ensure stabilization, the switch transfers the load back to the utility and shuts down the generator. When multiple generator sets are used, a parallel system of electrically operated breakers and controls places all of the generators on a common bus to feed the load through transfer switches in a series of breakers and utility controls.
This equipment also requires regular testing and maintenance. A maintenance plan for the complete electrical system must be developed alongside the generator set.
Electrical Safety And Training
Since electrical maintenance is a critical part of system reliability, a standard for electrical safety, NFPA70E, was recently published. This workplace standard provides guidelines for electrical safety including arc flash protection, product labeling, etc.
Fms responsible for the maintenance of any electrical equipment have taken notice. The standard essentially requires organizations to provide the proper safety training and equipment necessary for any associate responsible for installing, operating, or maintaining electrical equipment. Much like any maintenance program, this effort can also be outsourced if electrical issues are not a core competency of the fm (or if the fm does not have the proper resources to provide the training).
As with most projects, planning ahead usually results in the best outcome. For fms responsible for emergency preparedness planning, they can make the difference between success and failure. Fms can work with their electrical contractor, specifying engineer, or generator manufacturer to assess the best way to integrate a standby power system into the facility for uninterrupted operations.
Ferry is sales manager for Kohler, WI-based Kohler Power Systems Americas-Systems Group.
Facilities Earn Money To Help Solve Today’s Energy Crisis
By Gregg Dixon
Utility costs have increased 19% over the past two years alone, according to the most recent report on annual facilities’ costs from the International Facility Management Association (IFMA). Combined with market volatility and local and national focus on environmental concerns, electricity management has become a critical business function-and the responsibility of facility managers (fms) worldwide. While fms have to weigh many options for mitigating the ongoing pressures of rising processes, demand response (DR) may offer a zero capital investment opportunity to help tackle these challenges.
Like other resources, energy pricing is subject to traditional supply and demand economics. Distinct to energy, however, is the fact that supply and demand of electricity must remain in a delicate balance since it cannot be stored.
The traditional model of sustaining this balance has been to rely on designated peaking power plants during times of high demand. However, DR tackles the problem from the other side of the equation-instead of generating more supply, it focuses on reducing the amount of demand.
DR works by giving electricity users incentives, typically cash or rate reductions, to reduce consumption when called into action. This reduction is customized for each facility and can include turning off lighting, air conditioning, motors, and other non-essential equipment. DR providers partner with commercial, industrial, and institutional sites across North America, including data centers, grocery stores, retailers, manufacturers, and entire municipalities to help solve the electricity demand challenge through the use of DR technology.
The process is simple. Providers work with individual customers to identify what non-essential usage could be reduced when necessary. A small gateway device is installed near the customer’s electrical box (at no cost to the customer). When notified by a region’s utility or grid operator, the company sends out automated communications instructing facilities within the network region that it’s time to reduce.
Many times, fms choose to reduce their site’s electricity manually during a DR event. Some DR providers, however, can remotely reduce non-essential electricity automatically.
Facilities that participate in DR may benefit on a number of fronts. First, payments are awarded just for being on standby if an event is called; second, supplemental payments are granted that reflect the company’s performance during an event. Customers are typically given advance warning when the electricity grid is under stress and brownouts or blackouts might be imminent.
And by arming customers with information about their usage, businesses become smarter consumers. More organizations are looking more seriously at their role as corporate citizens, and DR is one program that can benefit the community at large.
Dixon is senior vice president of sales and business development for Boston, MA-based EnerNOC.