Did you choose the right back-up power supply?

Did you choose the right back-up power supply?

The arrival of the colder winter months in South Africa heralds the threat of more load shedding as the country’s power utility struggles to keep up with the growing demand for electricity. What are the benefits of consulting an energy expert before investing in back-up power infrastructure?

Owing to failing infrastructure at the power plants and dwindling coal reserves, 2020 was recorded as the worst year for power supply, with Eskom reporting more than 1 500-gigawatt hours’ worth of total power outages. Predictions that 2021 will be no better are convincing more and more companies to invest in generators and other forms of standby power as a means to mitigate the negative impacts of unreliable and unpredictable power supply on their companies.

“Without power, business owners are rendered helpless and risk losing thousands of rands with each instance of load shedding. Fortunately, alternative power options such as solar energy, back-up batteries, inverters and generators have become readily available for business owners looking for long-term solutions to sustain their businesses through South Africa’s energy crisis,” says David Petrie, technical manager: utilities at FM Solutions. “Thanks to improved technology, the cost of installing and maintaining these alternative energy sources has dropped dramatically and is now more financially viable.”

As a specialist in energy efficiency and energy management, Petrie explains that each company’s electricity needs are unique. While some businesses are able to work around load shedding schedules without too much impact on their operations, it is vital for others to ensure that their switchboard and computers continue to work in order to avoid frustrated customers or loss of sales.

Even with staff members working from home, it is still important to ensure that a company’s server remains up and running in order for them to access emails. Similarly, the AC unit might also need to run to keep the server cool. Companies involved in manufacturing need to ensure their machines don’t power off, as it can take several hours for these devices to warm up again before activities can be resumed.

“Whatever source of power you select, it is important to ensure that it is fit for purpose. There are many different options available on the market today – each with its own pros and cons. Investing in a generator might seem like an obvious choice, but an inverter or a battery system might be more suitable to your particular needs because it is neater and quieter. It is also important to remember that there are certain legislative and occupational health, safety and environmental issues that could influence your selection. For example, some office parks prohibit the use of generators because of the noise they create,” Petrie explains.

Guiding its customers through the maze of different power, price and performance options, FM Solutions begins the process by understanding each company’s individual energy requirements by analysing electrical meter readings and tariffs. A site inspection helps identify areas where the plant could be optimised and usage reduced by installing more energy-efficient appliances.

Where necessary, suggestions are made for behavioural intervention as part of a detailed energy profile that is created to support the company’s business strategy, daily operations and future expansion plans. A shortlist of the most suitable energy options is then presented, detailing each one’s pros and cons, costs, warranties and maintenance requirements. The client then has the option to have the alternative power supply bought and installed by their own electricians, or to outsource this responsibility to FM Solutions.

“Much like an HVAC system or a vehicle, generators have various moving parts that require regular preventive maintenance that is best left to professionals. For this reason, we have seen a marked increase in the number of clients who are eager to outsource the responsibility of maintaining these machines to a specialist service provider such as ourselves,” Petrie says.

FM Solutions offers this service as part of its regular technical maintenance / handyman service offering, but also has back-to-back service level agreements with third-party service providers, should bigger repair and replacement jobs be required.

“We monitor the generator runtime and efficiency, which will then be logged and reported on in relation to the maintenance plan. Our service includes checking and changing the oil when required, ensuring the fuel is kept clean and topped up, cleaning the engine and air filters, repairing oil leaks, tightening loose components caused by vibration and replacing spark plugs when necessary,” he explains.

The FM Solutions team will also check the generator’s load capacity and windings to ensure it is within tolerances. Attention is paid to electrical connections by an annual thermal scan to eliminate the risk of a fire caused by faulty electrical connections or incorrect voltages.

“It is clear that load shedding is not going to disappear in the near future and that we have to prepare for ongoing disruptions in our power supply for several more years,” Petrie warns. The message is clear: the time to get organised when it comes to back-up power is now!

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