Winter: Time to focus on standby power systems servicing

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In South Africa, repeated ‘load shedding’ has highlighted the need for reliable standby power systems. It has also underlined the importance of serviceable uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems, power inverters and diesel generators – the ‘go-to’ options for most businesses to counter Eskom’s severely-constrained power system and poorly resourced grid.

With the approach of winter, the country’s already-desperate power crises can be expected to worsen putting the spotlight firmly on the readiness of back-up, emergency power systems to fire as required – at a moment’s notice.

Preventive maintenance is key to ensure standby power supply systems are in peak condition and fit for purpose. Regular servicing per a pre-planned schedule will help lengthen battery life, which is often shorter than expected as far as UPSs are concerned.

The reason for this that UPSs are designed to provide back-up power for only short periods of time – not the two-to-four hour periods of load-shedding that are becoming common.

These tends to drain UPS batteries completely, dramatically shortening their lifespan as they are stressed beyond their design parameters – a situation that is exacerbated as the cold weather makes its appearance, particularly if cheaper, lower-quality batteries have been installed.

In winter, a programme of diligent and committed planned maintenance and upkeep is mandatory for UPSs as well as power inverters and generators which, in many modern installations, may be interfaced using complex electronics, so the services of trained professionals are often necessary to supplement in-house activities.

Good preventive maintenance regimes will address standby power system reliability from many perspectives. For example, in a UPS system, the battery pack together with allied semi-conductors, wiring, resistors, breakers, capacitors and fans will all be checked.

An approved maintenance plan will also address battery health in linked or separately installed power inverters and include a raft of checks on diesel generators – including oil, fuel quality and operating battery function.

Importantly, a well-maintained standby power infrastructure will minimise or more likely eliminate costly emergency service call-outs, and could extend the operational life of these systems and their components by 25% to 50%.

The costs of preventive maintenance should be weighed against the potential costs of downtime to a business – not to mention the inconvenience of a black-out – particularly in retain environments.

Regular maintenance activities should be documented. Keeping a detailed record, listing upcoming maintenance activities and the dates on which past maintenance was performed, is vital to identify weaknesses in the system in the event of a breakdown.

In this light, a checklist of tasks, such as inspecting batteries for corrosion, looking for excessive torque on connecting leads and other fault-finding, helps maintain a disciplined approach to maintenance regimes.

Moreover, a well-documented history of a standby power infrastructure can be of significant use when planning for equipment upgrades or replacements, or when troubleshooting.

Importantly, acknowledge that critical components, such as batteries and capacitors, will wear out from normal use. The key is to be ahead of the game and anticipate failures through regular inspections and diligent maintenance before they become catastrophic.

By Jack Ward, MD of Powermode