In 2006, thousands of businesses were blacked out in Central London for several hours due to a fault at a power sub-station. In California blackouts were experienced across the State caused by an unprecedented usage of air-conditioning units.

It used to be thought that winter was the most vulnerable time for powercuts, and indeed this is still the case. However, now with the increasing use of air conditioning equipment and alterations in the weather due to climate change combined with a growing demand for electricity Britain’s businesses are now facing a greater number of powercuts throughout the year.

Critics of the government’s overhaul of the wholesale power market in 2001 have argued that the market has failed to encourage sufficient investment in new power stations, raising further doubts about future security of supply. In a doom-laden report in 2003 the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), stated that Britain will become completely reliant upon energy sources supplied via pipelines from politically unstable countries thousands of miles away. The ‘State of the Nation 2003’ report highlighted a potential 80% shortfall in meeting the country’s energy demands from current supplies by 2020, and points to the possible cataclysmic effect of becoming too reliant upon unsecured, imported fuel supplies.

The prospect of blackouts combined with shrinking IT budgets, growing quantities of online data and tough legislation all combine to put pressure on business managers to put into effect a robust business continuity strategy and disaster recovery strategy in the event of prolonged power outages. On average a computer site experiences around 20 blackouts each year and generally, are far more common in rural areas. Most blackouts arise in the local, low voltage distribution network. In order to mitigate the risk of national and local power outages, businesses should ensure a secure, climate-controlled environment with backup power supplies, hands on support and equipment monitoring.

For business managers who have adopted a ‘crossed fingers’ strategy towards potential disaster for blackouts and outages, its time to take action against the distinct probability of potential IT disasters. It is the smaller companies that are reluctant to provide the wherewithal to protect themselves against the economic impact of such disasters whether natural or man-made. This is in fact a shortsighted approach which could result in financial ruin should a blackout last several days or even weeks.

The potential catastrophe caused by a black out or power surge to a company’s IT networks has resulted in a need for standby power. Over the past few years, standby generators have been transformed. Now, it is possible to obtain small units that can power up a single appliance or large systems that are suitable for all major standby power applications including the server, security and telecom markets.

Combined With UPS

Standby generators provide additional backup to a conventional UPS. Installed as part of a SPS (standby power system) the generator takes over before the batteries of the UPS run out, smoothly transferring the network over as part of the SPS. When mains power returns, the software will automatically switch back to conventional power after it has ensured that the power will remain constant.

Auto Mains Failure

Installing an AMF panel provides complete automation of the starting and stopping of a generator supplying power during mains failure. Nowadays seen as an essential part of any power support package, the AMF utilises state-of-the-art electronic controllers to monitor for phase loss, partial voltage loss, over-voltage and under and over frequency.

When a generator is in automatic mode, the AMF continuously monitors the incoming mains. If the mains voltage falls outside the preset limits, an outage or ‘mains failure’ has occurred and the process of starting the generator set begins. Once the mains failure is recognised, the contacts are released to disconnect the load from the mains. There is a pre-set and adjustable time delay before the generator is started. This avoids unnecessary starting of the generator when very short duration mains break of say 2 or 3 seconds occur.

The AMF then starts the generator and its output is connected to the load. (The load being essential equipment such as computers, appliances, lights, lifts, etc for offices factories and complexes). The generator continues to supply the building until the mains supply returns. The AMF then monitors the mains for a pre-set time to ensure the supply is stable, then automatically disconnects the generator and reconnects the load to the mains. The generator is ‘run-on’ for a cooling down period before the fuel solenoid/ignition is de-energised and the engine stops. The operational cycle is then complete and the generator returns to a standby condition. During this time the starter battery is maintained in a charged condition by a ‘trickle’ charger supplied from the mains.

A programmable control module, mounted in the enclosure, manages the generator starting and stopping and can be programmed for start delay, crank period, warm-up time, and mains return and run on. It also includes a full engine protection system for under-speed, over-speed, low battery volts, high battery volts and emergency stop. Low oil and high temperature monitoring is carried out by the generator’s own system. An LCD details faults should they occur including a “gen fault” display in the event of a problem with the generator’s engine. The interface panel is mounted next to the generator and connected via a remote start lead and terminated into a row of din terminals inside the interface panel. The panel houses an emergency stop button, which will disable the system when activated.

The loss of power in a stadium or arena can be catastrophic. Every year adverse weather conditions result in powercuts across the country as local power lines are hit by trees or simply collapse under heavy snowfall resulting in disruption to domestic users and businesses alike. Powercuts are no longer a seasonal phenomenon. Any business with critical processes or essential facilities which cannot accommodate electricity supply interruptions should, if they have not already done so, look to invest in back up generation facilities which can be triggered when there is an interruption to the mains electricity supply.