Winter is Coming – Be Ready with Backup Power Supply Alternatives
With winter coming, resilience reaches top of mind. Snowstorms, blizzards, freezing cold fronts, gusting winds – the trends show that each year winter brings increasingly frequent and severe weather conditions. To be best prepared for winter weather-related emergencies and disasters that threaten to disrupt routine operations, forward-thinking businesses invest in emergency preparedness. One important aspect of this preparation is to define an optimal power failure response strategy, including consideration of the alternatives and selection of the optimal backup power solution to best ensure your business continuity in case of blackouts or any other grid failure.
Diesel Generators – the Old Standby
The traditional approach to ensuring backup power supply when the grid fails has for many years been the standby diesel generator. Standby generators are available to support a broad range of power loads and are deployed by different industries around the world. To ensure that the generator will initiate whenever needed, adequate reserve fuel must be stored in close proximity and the generator must be regularly serviced, tested monthly and well-maintained; otherwise, the business takes a chance that when the power goes out, the generator may not kick in as expected. Emergency generator procedures need to be well documented and supervised by a knowledgeable professional to ensure that the generators are properly connected to avoid damaging the electrical system or critical equipment. Moreover, keep in mind that operation of the generator will cause vibrations, emissions of fumes and noise. With increasing regulatory restrictions on the use of diesel fuel, more businesses are seeking alternatives to this default emergency power source.
Batteries for Short Duration Energy Storage
Batteries, UPS power supplies and battery banks are another common power generation source that are widely used for emergency backup power. Batteries are typically used to maintain lighting, fans, small appliances and communications systems during outages. UPS electronic power supplies are used to backup data centers and other systems requiring constant power. Emergency mobile battery power systems usually maintain power for a relatively short duration – typically from 700 – 1,500 watt hours, and battery charges diminish with time, requiring periodic replacement. Increasingly batteries can be recharged by a wide variety of other sources of energy such as solar panels, wind or diesel generators, requiring investment in and maintenance of multiple emergency power sources but affording more reliable results. Indeed, lithium ion battery technologies or fuel cells are increasingly being chosen for energy storage systems to complement intermittent renewable energy sources. The duration that the batteries will run will generally depend on the size of the battery bank, where long duration solutions will require extensive space for the batteries’ storage. Safety precautions should be taken to prevent batteries from catching fire as well as to ensure safe disposal of batteries and the hazardous materials they contain.
Leveraging Renewable Solar & Wind Energy Sources for Backup Power
Businesses that have invested in solar power to complement their grid power consumption can rely on this green, eco-friendly power source to be available during emergencies. Often solar-powered businesses use some of the excess solar power to charge battery-operated energy storage systems that will kick in when sun or grid power are not available. Another option is to complement the solar power with ultra-reliable fuel cells. Today more and more businesses are deciding to invest solar power, from commercial property owners and managers to manufacturers to large public facilities such as hospitals and universities – all looking to reduce electricity expenses to please invite sustainability-oriented customers and tenants. The high capital investment and space required for hosting a solar energy system make this a decision generally taken beyond the framework of a power failure response strategy; nevertheless, businesses that use solar power should certainly leverage their solar power for emergency preparedness. Of course, geographical location will play a key factor in determining whether or not solar power is the best alternative for your business.
Wind power is another renewable source of energy gaining in popularity. In parallel to the large utility-scale wind turbines, more businesses today are investing in smaller-scale wind microturbine systems to generate electricity. Like solar, wind power solutions involve a significant capital investment and do not produce energy in all weather conditions; here too frequently business owners will choose to install a hybrid system incorporating both wind and fuel cells or batteries that are charged when the wind is blowing and kick in when wind or grid power are suspended. As there is opposition to wind turbines for ecological and health reasons, in some locations wind power may be prohibited or involve permitting that can be difficult and costly to obtain. Nevertheless, businesses that have invested in wind power should certainly leverage it to support emergency preparedness strategies.
Fuel Cells for Ultra-reliable Backup Power
Another clean, reliable and increasingly affordable backup power alternative that can ensure business continuity is the fuel cell. Fuel cells are available for a variety of stationary and mobile applications and at different power ratings. One attribute that makes fuel cells especially appropriate for backup power is their capacity to be “always-on”, maintained in stand-by mode for long durations even in harsh weather conditions and yet able to kick in immediately on demand. There are several types of fuel cells, some of which operate at very high temperatures or involve complicated maintenance procedures that make them less accessible to most businesses. Alkaline fuel cells offer among the highest efficiency rates of all fuel cells and run at relatively low operating temperatures. They are fueled by hydrogen, which is today becoming more readily available and less costly in most countries around the world. These fuel cells can be deployed indoors or outdoors. Having few moving parts and emitting no carbon or other pollutant emissions, alkaline fuel cells are noise, vibration and odor-free. In contrast to UPS or battery solutions, fuel cells can run for extended durations. They are well-suited for businesses seeking a hassle-free emergency preparedness solution that requires almost no maintenance or servicing and can run for as long as fuel can be made available.
To best weather the storms, as winter approaches, smart businesses should be taking the time to plan for emergency preparedness. This includes creating checklists, determining mission critical power requirements, considering the alternative backup power generator options and putting in place a power failure response strategy that best meets your specific requirements. Business continuity and disaster recovery experts recommend planning and documenting your strategy in advance, especially with reference to response to power outages and blackouts.
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