PHOTO CREDIT: Active Power
Many building construction projects begin with dignitaries shoveling a ceremonial first blade of dirt and end with those same individuals cutting a giant ribbon. But for the design engineers, builders and facility managers involved in the project, it’s the work that takes place between those two ceremonies that matters the most.
Whether constructing a new facility or modernizing an existing one, there are important decisions that must be made during the design and build phases, including whether or not critical power equipment is needed. For mission critical applications, where electrical interruption is not an option, uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems and on-site backup generators can ensure uptime during power disturbances and micro-outages.
UPS systems serve two specific roles – condition incoming utility power and bridge the gap between utility failure and generator startup. Products can vary in a number of ways including energy storage technology, topology, operational efficiency, size and power density. Because each facility has a unique set of needs, they require different solutions.
To ensure that you choose the correct equipment for your applications, consider these five factors during the selection process.
1) System Performance
The first step in determining which UPS product is best suited for your facility is to conduct an in-depth analysis of UPS systems’ features, topology and power protection performance.
In addition to thoroughly reviewing product spec sheets, be sure to also investigate the product’s capabilities to handle overloads and steps loads, which are common in manufacturing and industrial applications.
For decades, the industry standard for UPS runtime was minutes, not seconds, but improvements in the technology have led to faster startup times for on-site generators, with most being able to fully support a load within 15 seconds. Despite this, the default has been to overprovision UPS with multiple minutes of runtime via batteries. This is no longer a justifiable or needed expense.
When seconds count, minutes don’t matter. By choosing a UPS with less runtime, operators can reduce operating and maintenance costs and minimize system footprint while still maintaining reliability and availability.
Reliability, in engineering terms, is the likelihood that a system or component will function properly under stated conditions for a specified period of time. With electrical equipment, reliability is measured in how likely the system is to fail.
It’s important to keep in mind that high reliability is not achieved through the selection of one piece of equipment, but through overall electrical system design. In mission critical facilities, UPS reliability is key. Don’t just take a vendor’s word about their product’s reliability – request scientific research, studies or whitepapers that support their claims. It can also be a good idea to request customer references who have similar needs and applications in place.
Conventional battery-based UPS systems use electrochemical energy typically stored in strings of valve-regulated lead acid (VRLA) batteries. Manufacturers of these systems recommend that the batteries be maintained quarterly and replaced every four to eight years.
While these preventative measures ensure the UPS and batteries are functioning properly, they can also be counterproductive – as human error is the culprit behind the majority of site failures.
Conversely, flywheel UPS, which uses kinetic energy to provide short term power, is an alternative to conventional battery energy storage and requires less maintenance and no replacement cycles compared to battery-based options.
5) Total Cost of Ownership
While system performance, runtime, reliability and maintenance are important factors to consider, many purchasing decisions ultimately come down to one simple question: How much is this going to cost me?
When selecting a UPS, it’s important to remember that the product with the lowest initial cost may not always be the best long-term solution. Conventional battery-based UPS systems require frequent maintenance, battery replacement cycles, space and regulated ambient temperatures, which can all contribute to higher costs.
Flywheel UPS solutions offer a lower total cost of ownership due to higher operating efficiencies, lower maintenance and cooling requirements, and no battery replacement costs. Additionally, because these units do not have battery cabinets, they also take up much less floor space.
To find the right UPS choice it's important to do your homework and ask questions. By taking your time to determine which solution is right for your facility, you can ensure the building remains fully operational long after its ribbon cutting ceremony.
Todd Kiehn is Vice President, Product Management and Modular Infrastructure Solutions for Active Power.
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