Articles in the UK national press this week alluded to the possibility of winter power cuts as a direct response to the UK’s mounting energy crisis. Reports state that, under the government’s latest “reasonable worst case scenario” plan, businesses and households could face power blackouts during the coldest months of the year.
While government sources have stressed that this scenario is highly unlikely to materialise, Bloomberg has reported that the power shortfall could total about a sixth of peak demand, even if emergency plans to fire up retiring coal power plants are enacted. Paul Brickman, Commercial Director at Crestchic Loadbanks, highlights the importance of ensuring that backup power systems are ready for action, should the worst-case scenario arise.
What’s at the root of the power cuts?
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, European nations have been in a rush for gas, with volumes in storage reservoirs running well below historic levels. This, combined with a reduction in electricity imports from Norway and France and low winter temperatures, has resulted in speculation that the government may be forced to enact emergency measures in order to conserve gas. If supplies to gas-fired power stations are halted, businesses and homes are likely to be hit by power cuts.
When power is critical, is confidence enough?
A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokesperson is quoted as saying that “Households, businesses and industry can be confident they will get the electricity and gas they need.” However, while confidence is nice, it simply isn’t enough. The only way for businesses to guarantee that they have the power required to remain operational is to have backup power in place that has been maintained and tested.
With power resilience a hot-topic, and businesses driven by increasingly demanding customer expectations, most bigger businesses have power resilience strategies in place. This often comes in the form of a generator – a hefty bit of kit which sits in a darkened room or corner and offers a temporary backup power source in the event of an outage. While having the equipment in place is certainly the first step to any power resilience strategy, the plan can fall down if the generator isn’t tested and maintained appropriately. The ideal way to do this is to use a load bank.
What should load bank/generator testing look like?
It is important that operators implement a testing regime that validates the reliability and performance of backup power under the types of loads found in real operational conditions. The only way to do this is to use a load bank to simulate the operational load that a generator would encounter. This process “tests” the generator – including fuel, exhaust and cooling systems, and alternator insulation resistance – to ensure that it is fit for purpose in the event that it is called upon.
Ideally, all generators should at very least be tested a minimum of once a year for real-world emergency conditions using a resistive-reactive 0.8pf load bank. If multiple gensets are run in parallel, they should be run in a synchronised state, ideally for 8 hours but for a minimum of 3. Where a resistive-only load bank is used (1.0pf), testing should be increased to 2-4 times per year at 3 hours per test minimum.
A robust testing regime ensures that generators are effectively tested and system issues can be uncovered in a safe, controlled manner without the cost of major failure or unplanned downtime.
The risk of not testing back up power systems
For most businesses – and indeed society as a whole – power is critical. It keeps our hospitals operational, our manufacturing industry productive and our food supplies stocked. It is also critical to our transport infrastructure, with the rail network in particular one of the largest commercial users of power in the UK. From the largest hyper-scale data centers, to the smallest sole-trader operator – power keeps people and industry moving.
The reality is, in many instances, that those in charge of maintaining backup power have no regular testing schedule. By not testing the system adequately, the generator is put at risk of failure – with the fuel, exhaust and cooling system untested, along with the potential for embedded moisture, putting the system in the very high-risk category.
Given that the cost of a load bank is typically only a fraction of the cost of the systems which it supports – and with businesses under a very real threat of power outages – now is the time to implement regular and rigorous testing. To find out more about how to incorporate backup power testing into your business continuity plan, speak to our team here: firstname.lastname@example.org or use our contact form here: Contact Form
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