How the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s backup power solution protects ocean research

UPS solution helps defend school’s deep-sea remotely operated vehicle against potentially harmful voltage variations
Ed Spears
Ed Spears
Ed Spears is a technical marketing manager in Eaton’s Critical Power & Digital Infrastructure Division in Raleigh, North Carolina. A 40-year veteran of the power-systems industry, Ed has experience in UPS systems testing, sales, applications engineering and training—as well as working in power-quality engineering and marketing for telecommunications, data centers, cable television and broadband public networks. He can be reached at [email protected]

Established in 1988, the mission of the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) is to make the center a leading institute in ocean and earth science and technology. SOEST scientists and engineers work to understand the interrelationships of the sea, atmosphere and Earth to learn how to sustainably enhance the quality of lives, as well as bring an enrichment of intellect, culture and technological advances to Hawaii.

For years, the Honolulu-based University of Hawaii at Manoa has relied on power management technology to protect critical equipment across its campus and ensure continuous uptime for students and staff. A wide variety of uninterruptible power systems (UPSs) help safeguard operations in server rooms, network closets and other learning environments.

Based on the successful track record with its backup power solution, the university recently decided to expand that coverage into the deep blue sea.

Ensuring student success through continuous uptime

An integral part of SOEST’s Ocean Technology Group (OTG), located at the University of Hawaii Marine Center, Luʻukai (or “Sea Diver”) is a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that requires reliable power protection. The two-part system—consisting of the vehicle that performs science operations on the seabed or in the water column and a tether management system (TMS) that hovers above the working vehicle —relays high-definition video and other data to and from the support ship on the surface. Capable of diving 19,600 feet, the 3,200-pound ROV enables researchers to sample and collect data from abyssal to shallow coastal and seamount waters.

Although the system was designed to run off the ship’s power, doing so caused significant issues with Luʻukai. “When we perform operations, we use dynamic positioning with GPS and a bow thruster to hold our position over the work site,” said Blue Eisen, a marine research engineer with SOEST. “The demand on power is highly variable so the voltage fluctuates dramatically, which can damage our equipment.”

To address the power quality issues on board, the OTG initially rented a large commercial generator each time Luʻukai was operating. Yet considering the fact that the deep-sea robot is launched on up to 60 outings per year, this option proved both expensive and inconvenient. SOEST desired an economical solution that would deliver continuous, clean power to the ROV and eliminate the need for the generator rental.

UPS delivers reliability 6,000 meters deep

Based on a recommendation from the ROV’s manufacturer, SOEST decided to bring a new solution on board: the Eaton 93PM UPS. Preventing harmful voltage fluctuations from reaching Luʻukai, the UPS has successfully kept the ROV’s operations ship-shape ever since.

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Combining efficiency and reliability in a space-saving, scalable design, the 50 kW 93PM UPS shields the highly sensitive robotic equipment against damaging power anomalies. “We use the Eaton system as a power conditioner,” said Eisen. “One moment, the ship might be receiving 480V power and another moment it could be 470V power. If our ROV system was to receive a 10V fluctuation, that would be a real problem. The UPS allows us to run on ship’s power and not be affected by these voltage variations.”

The unit not only protects against changes in voltage, but also allows operators to safely shut down equipment in the event the ship loses power completely. “That 15 minutes of battery gives us the time we need to do a smooth, controlled shutdown,” said Eisen. “As opposed to the ROV being in the middle of holding onto a rock with a hydraulic clamp and then everything just goes black.”

Looking ahead to next semester

The University of Hawaii at Manoa’s SOEST team sees its 93PM UPS as a cost-efficient solution that will continue to pay off in the future. “The unit will pay for itself within two years from generator rental savings alone,” said Eisen.

Additionally, with its ability to accommodate 50Hz power, the solution fits well into the school’s future plans—with Luʻukai set to explore oceans beyond the U.S. “This will enable us to make that conversion if we take the ROV on a European ship, which we plan to do in the future,” said Eisen.


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