By Kent Smith

Whether it’s a scheduled shutdown or an emergency outage, facilities managers and plant engineers can save time and money by planning ahead to secure portable rental generator sets to meet their temporary electric power needs.
Most facilities management professionals consider planning ahead for temporary power to be one of their key responsibilities. Then again, there are others who wait until the last minute to secure the equipment needed when utility-supplied power goes off. And sometimes the last minute can be too late.
The tragedy of Hurricane Andrew provides a good example of planning ahead for temporary power. As you may recall, the storm hit south Florida and Louisiana in late August, 1992. Months before the hurricane struck, a Miami Herald article predicted that a powerful hurricane was certain to hit in the near future. Unfortunately, when the utility lines went down, during the hurricane, many businesses were left without power because most of the rental power in the area went to hospitals and disaster recovery centers. However, companies that planned ahead got the rental power they needed. As a result, these businesses were able to cut their losses and get up and running much sooner than those who held out until the last minute.

Getting started

Although critical, planning for temporary power need not be difficult. If you don’t have a plan in place, here are three easy steps to help you get started:
Step 1: Determine how much power is needed.
Step 2: Know where to rent generator sets and related equipment.
Step 3: Answer basic questions before the power goes off.
It’s really that simple. Of course, it’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with rental generator set terminology so that you know what to look for when you research the rental power marketplace.

Full versus priority power

Before you rent temporary power, you need to know how much power you need. To do so, determine whether to power your whole facility or only critical loads.
If you have to keep your whole facility operating as it would with utility-supplied power, you need to determine the aggregate electrical load. A simple and accurate way to do this is to take ammeter readings of your electrical distribution boxes when your facility is running at peak load. To cross check, your utility bill will list peak electrical usage.
If you choose to power only certain functions at your facility, your first job is to prioritize individual loads. If in doubt, think about the loss of profit or problems that will result if certain functions were to lose power for longer periods of time than you can afford. Lights, HVAC, computers, process equipment, and pumps are examples of critical loads. Prioritizing will help you decide which loads require power immediately during an emergency. This is important since it may take several hours or longer to secure all of the rental equipment you need on site during a large-scale emergency, such as Hurricane Andrew.
In most buildings, a separate distribution box will feed critical loads. If this is the case in your building, you may only need enough temporary power for the loads served by that set of circuit breakers. Another method is to take an ammeter reading with just the critical loads running. If you want to know the amperage or voltage of an individual piece of equipment, check the nameplate and it should be there.

Where to find rental power

Determining your facilities power needs is only the first step. Now you need to find a rental generator set dealership to fit those needs. This is an important step because the generator sets you rent are only as reliable as the supplier who backs them. The key is to find a generator set rental dealership who has the equipment you need, as well as a qualified staff to solve any problems that may arise. It’s a good idea to visit the dealership to get to know the people you’ll be relying on throughout a planned shutdown, or more important, during an emergency outage. Here are some questions to ask when you talk with a potential supplier:
•What is the kilowatt (kW) range of the rental generator set fleet?
•Does the dealership deliver generator sets and related equipment? If so, how long will it take to get it on site?
•Will the dealership deliver in the middle of the night, or during a holiday?
•Does the dealership supply fuel?
•How are the rental contracts structured?
•What kind of experience does the dealership have in renting equipment in your industry?
•What technical service/support is provided?
•What if the rental generator set goes down on site?
•Does the dealership offer training in equipment installation and operation?

The basics

Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with suppliers, you need to think about the logistics involved in rental power setup. Some of the questions you need to ask yourself are very basic, but extremely important nonetheless. Here’s a brief checklist of key items to include in your plan:
•Where will you put the generator sets once they arrive on site? This is important because rental generator sets range in size from 5 kW to 1750 kW. Large generators sets, often called power modules, can measure 8 feet wide by 40 feet long. If tight quarters are a consideration, you may need several small gen sets to do the job of one large unit.
•Who will be responsible for getting the rental generator set to your location? Most generators are towed on semitrailers or pull trailers. Others are skid-mounted and require lifting equipment for loading and unloading. If you’re picking up the generator sets, make sure you have the right size truck and other essential equipment. Or, shop around to get a fair contract with a trucking firm that can handle the job quickly and efficiently.
•How will you route cable from the generator set outside your building to the electrical distribution boxes inside? During a planned shutdown, an open door or window will suffice, but during an emergency with extreme weather, this may not be feasible. Consider installing a weather-head, or cable access door that can be closed when not in use.
•Will you have enough fuel? Plan to keep extra fuel around if you think you will run your rental generator set for an extended period. An auxiliary tank of fuel will reduce expenses related to service calls. More important, however, is the fact that your fuel supplier may not be able to get to you in time during a wide-scale emergency.
•Who will hook up and maintain the equipment? Find out whether you have people on staff to perform these tasks. If you don’t, make sure the dealership who supplied the equipment or an electrical contractor can handle these duties. Or, have an expert walk your staff through the rental generator set hookup and maintenance procedures as many times as necessary to ensure they will be comfortable with this critical responsibility.
There are many other details to think about when you get down to specifics of renting generator sets. It’s a good idea to jot down as many details as you can and keep them on file so that you’re ready when the time comes.
By now, you know how much rental power your facility will need, you know where your rental equipment will come from, and you’ve answered the basics involved in getting the equipment on site and up and running. You’ve walked the walk, so to speak. Before you pick up the phone, however, it’s a good idea to talk the rental gen set talk.
Because all rental generator sets are created equal, here are some terms you need to become familiar with, as well as key generator set features to look for:
•Sound-attenuation: If your business is located close to other businesses or in a residential area, you may need quiet-running generator sets that are "sound-attenuated." Ask for a rental gen set with a sound-attenuation rating below 92db(A) at full load or better.
•Auto-start/stop connections: This is a critical feature if your rental generator will be backing up a permanent standby unit. This feature will automatically start and stop a rental generator if the standby unit goes down.
•Radiator, exhaust discharge: Another must feature if your rental unit is in a populated area. Some generator sets come with vertical radiator and exhaust system designed to direct heat and exhaust away from people and buildings.
•Electronic governors: This feature maintains a steady electrical frequency, which is necessary for critical loads that cannot handle frequency fluctuations.
•Output bus bars: Bus bars should be spaced to allow for multiple output cable hookup. This lets you run several pieces of equipment off of one generator set.
•Fuel Capacity: Check the fuel capacity and consumption rate to determine how many tanks of fuel you will need through your rental period. Generator sets should run for at least eight hours without the need to refuel.
•Fuel priming pump: This ensures easier start-up after refueling.
•Charging alternator: This ensures batteries are charging when the units are operating. If the unit is equipped with battery chargers and/or space heaters an outside power source is required for standby generator sets.
•Sight gauges: Properly positioned, these gauges will allow for easy checking of fuel and other critical fluids.
•Security: Generator sets should be virtually tamper-proof. Lockable doors, oil/water drains mounted inside the enclosure, and hidden exterior fuel drains help ensure security.

Time is everything in an emergency

Because you’ve done a lot of leg work to secure your rental power, it’s advisable to keep it all organized. The last thing you want to be doing in an emergency power outage is rifling through file cabinets or searching computer files to find the information you need. Keeping an organized file at home and the office is another good idea because gaining access to your office may be difficult during emergencies involving severe weather.
Most of all, be prepared. Your rental generator set file should include a list of telephone numbers of key people you’ll need to communicate with during an emergency (or a planned shut down for that matter.) Make sure you list office and home telephone numbers, as well as those of alternate contacts.
Some of the people and items to include on your list are:
•In-house operations/maintenance staff.
•The person in charge during a power outage (or your second in command.)
•Generator set dealership.
•Fuel supplier.
•Critical load requirements for your facility.
•Prioritized critical loads and their required voltage/amperage.
•Physical locations in the plant and locations of schematic drawings and electrical diagrams.
•Designated loads to be isolated from the main breaker.
Solid planning can make the difference between failure and success, in nearly every business situation. This is especially true when it comes to rental generator set power for your facility. If you follow these simple steps to planning for temporary power, you can have an invaluable strategy in place in no time. Or, use ideas listed here to update the existing plan you’ve already filed away.
Remember, it’s a relatively painless process. Plus, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Kent Smith is the Rental Sales Manager of Caterpillar, Inc., Engine Division.

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Disaster Recovery Worldİ 1999, and Disaster Recovery Journalİ 1999, are copyrighted by Systems Support, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or part is prohibited without the express written permission form Systems Support, Inc.