Power Grid 101: It's Time to Secure Backup Power

Power Grid 101: It's Time to Secure Backup Power

University officials need more reliable sources of power.

University officials have undergone a crash course over the last few years in the need for more reliable sources of power. Life-threatening weather patterns, widespread blackouts, and terrorist threats have all weakened an already fragile power grid. And the lesson learned? All three instances will continue to play a significant factor for years to come.

The idea of calling off classes-a day here, a day there-is never a welcomed one for any university. But in recent memory, educational facilities were particularly hard-hit by power outages, with devastating effects on class schedules as well as critical academic and student data. Many colleges and universities found out the hard way about the importance of being prepared. As such, university officials are increasingly turning to stand-by power generators as reliable alternatives.

Hurricanes, snowstorms, earthquakes, and even tsunamis ravaged parts of the Earth and disrupt the way of life for entire cities. And no matter what part of the country a university is located in, the threat of a power outage is prevalent. Winter snowstorms were once again severe this past season and sizzling temperatures are on the way for summer classes. Additionally, universities in the "Hurricane Corridor" will get no rest from the past two storm seasons, as experts have predicted an above-average 2006 hurricane season.

For universities, being prepared means ensuring a constant and uninterruptible source of power to remain up and running. Although we will always have to "batten down the hatches" and evacuate students, faculty, staff, and guests until threatening weather passes, educational institutions must be able to withstand a loss of electricity for an extended period of time to protect everything from student records and lab experiments to safety and data security.

The power grid has been a large concern over the years since demand has placed much stress on the system. An increase in the number of users and aging transmission lines have caused frequent "brownouts" in areas throughout North America. Consider the fact that utility executives in the Northeast prepared businesses and residents for many rolling blackouts prior to the harsh winter months, knowing that demand would surpass energy supply.

Educational facilities must plan accordingly and integrate backup power resources into a continuity strategy. And now that so much of a campus's infrastructure is tied to large computer networks, it is even more important to ensure a constant flow of supplemental power throughout the facility, no matter how long the grid is down.

Campus facility managers should understand that a successful backup power system is more than just generators. High-quality transfer switches and enough fuel are just as critical as the generators. Transfer switches are the components that transfer the distribution of power from the traditional source to the generator when the power is interrupted or knocked out entirely. A quality transfer switch can eliminate downtime from power grid loss to generator start-up. Also, higher-quality transfer switches let facilities managers operate generators remotely, which can prove beneficial if the school cannot be accessed because of damaged roads, bridges, downed power lines, etc. Since today's campuses are generally dependent on large computer systems, having reliable transfer switches that immediately link over to backup generators is one of the most critical elements of the entire system.

There are different kinds of fuel available to power a variety of generators. Most run on either propane, natural gas, or diesel. Propane and natural gas consume more than diesel, but with propane, facility managers will have to bury a tank. Natural gas generators usually cost about twice as much as diesel. Diesel is probably the most cost-efficient method. However, most diesel generators carry a fuel capacity of between 24 and 72 hours, so it is necessary to make accommodations for additional fuel delivery during extended power outages.

Despite all the recent attention surrounding hurricanes and related power outages, many facilities are still without reliable backup power. This can be very dangerous since most generator suppliers do not have inventory available for immediate delivery. In fact, for many suppliers, order fulfillment can take up to 36 weeks. Therefore, it is important pay special attention to key suppliers. Research more about generators through the industry association, the Electrical Generating Systems Association (EGSA), www. egsa.org.

University campus administrators now face the possibility of frequent power loss. For this reason, it is essential to consider an uninterruptible power system centered on backup power generators that have the capability of providing adequate levels of power for extended periods of time.


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