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Volume 31, Issue 2

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Electricity is never more precious or more scarce than after a disaster. Lights are out, telephones disabled, businesses shut down. People may need food, water, heat and medical attention. There can be no real recovery without power, yet no one can predict when utility service will come back. The distance between continuity and chaos in managing a business is sometimes closer than many realize. Even the best laid plans can be wiped away by the devastating effects of a natural disaster. At other times, a power outage can result from something as routine as programming a couple of digits in a computer program.

Power failures are beyond your control' but they don't have to control you. Regardless of how interruptions happen, now is a good time to start planning for a backup power system. Providing for a safe, reliable supply of electricity will ensure that your business will save time and money during a power interruption. Within a business continuity plan, a few basic steps should be taken to evaluate installing permanent generator sets, or leasing or renting generator sets to carry you through any emergency.

Getting Started

Become familiar with some of the industry terminology associated with generator sets before talking with a power equipment supplier. Then, determine your power requirements. Make a list of critical loads and conduct a walk-around to examine your electrical system. Be sure to note connection capabilities and any special requirements that a backup system design should consider.

To keep an entire plant or facility operating with the same amount of power as supplied by a utility, make a determination of the power needs on the entire aggregate load. A simple and accurate way to do this is to take ammeter readings from the electrical distribution boxes when the facility is running at peak load. To confirm your calculations, a utility bill will list the amount of peak electrical usage.

If only certain functions at the facility will require power, it is a good idea to prioritize individual loads. If there is a question about the priority, think about the potential loss in profits, employee safety issues or any problems that might arise from a decrease in productivity resulting from downtime. Computers, lights, HVAC systems, process equipment and pumps are examples of critical loads. Prioritizing is especially important in the event of an emergency outage, as it may take a few hours or more to secure all of the rental equipment needed on-site during a larger-scale situation such as hurricanes or flooding.

In order to feed critical loads, a separate distribution box is set up in most buildings. One building may already be set up to handle enough temporary power to manage the loads served by a specific set of circuit breakers. If so, it is possible to take an ammeter reading with just the critical loads running. The nameplate on the equipment will also help determine amperage or voltage of a specific piece of equipment.

Asking the Right Questions Reveals the Best Suppliers


Once the power needs are determined for a facility, the next step is to select a generator set supplier. If you can tolerate momentary power outages' from four hours to one day' rental power can be an affordable solution. A generator set can be rented and kept on standby during critical months. If your facility can not tolerate more than a momentary lapse in power' fifteen seconds or less' a permanent, back-up power installation is the best investment. For critical power needs that cannot tolerate any power interruption, a UPS system is required in conjunction with a permanently installed generator set. The key to best serving your business' needs is to find the power equipment supplier who can provide a full line of permanent or rental generator sets, with all associated equipment and services, as well as a qualified staff for maintenance.

A few questions to ask a potential sales or rental supplier include:

  • What kilowatt range of generator sets is available?
  • Does the dealership deliver the generator sets and related equipment? If so, how long will it take to receive the equipment on-site?
  • Will the dealership deliver in the middle of the night or during a holiday?
  • What experience does the dealership have in sales and rental for this industry?
  • What type of technical support is provided?
  • What happens if the generator set goes down while on-site?
  • Does the dealership provide equipment operator training?

As part of the decision, the equipment supplier should be able to provide a detailed breakdown of the scope of services, assistance with equipment selection, and installation advice for the application. A brief checklist of items may include:

  • Does the location require the use of sound-attenuated equipment to meet local codes or OSHA requirements?
  • Where will the generator sets be placed once on-site? This is important because generator sets vary in size. Larger units, also known as power modules, can measure up to eight feet wide by 40 feet long. Additionally, sufficient space around the equipment is required for airflow and cable attachments.
  • Who is responsible for getting the rental units on-site? Regardless of how the unit is transported to the site, make sure the right-sized truck and delivery equipment is used. Or, shop around and get a fair contract with a local trucking firm that can handle the job safely and efficiently on short notice.
  • When routing cable from the generator set outside a building to the electrical distribution boxes inside, consider installing a weather-head or cable access door that can be closed when not in use.
  • Will the equipment supplier provide an extra supply of fuel if the rental generator set will be running for an extended period of time? Also inquire as to double-walled fuel tanks or spill containment basins for greater environmental protection against leaks and spillage.
  • What are the supplier's capabilities for hooking up and maintaining the rental equipment? A qualified electrical contractor can handle those duties as long as they are comfortable with the critical requirements associated with the project.

Be Prepared


Depending on the situation, securing back-up power can be a time-consuming challenge. It is best to keep a copy of your company's plan of action on file at a secure location or with a key contact who can be reached during emergencies, especially when severe weather is involved. Keep files readily available that include information on the priorities of critical load requirements, required voltage and amperage, as well as the location of the electrical schematic drawings. As an added precaution, be sure to specify the loads that must be isolated from the main breaker before delivering power from the generator set. Also, ensure that you have access to a complete contact information file on the in-house maintenance and operations staff, the generator set supplier and fuel supplier.

The issues affecting power supplies are complex, and they will not go away quickly. Now is the time to analyze back-up power needs and take whatever steps necessary. There are several avenues available for assistance. One is the local electric utility. Another is an electrical consultant familiar with your business, industry, and local power-supply situation. A generator set dealer also has information on power reliability issues and can help guide you to appropriate solutions. It is not too early to start planning to protect power for the future.

In nearly every business situation, planning ahead will almost certainly determine your chances for success. This is especially true when it comes to making sure that power stays on during the most chaotic situations.

 



Michael Wuebben is manager of EPG market support for Caterpillar's North American Dealer Sales. Cat Rental Power is comprised of 182 dealers worldwide. Each dealer owns and operates a fleet of rental generator sets, mobile chillers and related equipment. Caterpillar Inc., based in Peoria, Ill., is the world's largest supplier of generators rated 500 hp (373 kW) and above. The Caterpillar line of diesel- and gaseous-fueled engines range in size from 71 to 22,030 bhp (53 to 16,200 kW).