Backup power is typically required for emergency and egress lighting. Emergency power could also be used during evacuation to power systems that help keep building occupants and rescue personnel safe. These systems include ventilation, air handling, pumps, fire systems, telephone systems and automated doors and elevators.


“Backup power also needs to be available for critical infrastructure buildings that are legally mandated to be operational in case of disaster, such as police and fire stations,” said Chad Dozier, market development consultant, Caterpillar, Peoria, Ill. 


Other applications where emergency power is mandated include medical facilities, nuclear power plants, data centers and industrial applications such as chemical plants and semiconductor fabrication. Dozier said that data center managers and owners best understand the critical nature of their electrical loads and the need to have instant, reliable and safe backup emergency power.


Batteries can usually meet the legal requirement for backup power, said Rich Thompson, director of marketing, commercial and industrial products, Generac Power Systems Inc., Waukesha, Wis. 


Many applications, including healthcare and other large facilities, are opting to use emergency generators in lieu of battery backup power for life safety circuits.


“However, more and more businesses, which are not legally required to have optional standby systems, are seeing the value in having on-site generators in order to not inconvenience customers and for safety,” he said.


Powering trends


According to Thompson, many states on the East Coast are proposing legislation that would require gas stations and convenience stores to, at minimum, be generator-ready to serve the need for gasoline during a natural disaster.


“This means that, if these businesses don’t invest in a permanent backup power system, they at least need to have the transfer switch in place that will enable them to rent a mobile generator and keep themselves operational during an extended power outage,” he said. 


Florida already has requirements for gas stations, located along hurricane evacuation routes, to remain operational during a natural disaster.


Dozier has noticed a growing awareness of the effect weather-related outages have and how those outages affect businesses of all sizes.


“Although larger industrial, healthcare and commercial enterprises have long understood the need for having backup power, we’re starting to see smaller businesses gain a greater understanding of the benefits of using backup power to maintain operations,” he said.


End-users’ greater flexibility in generator selection is a major technology trend.


“End-users are increasingly partnering with generator suppliers and installers to better determine the correct equipment sizing for their emergency power needs,” Dozier said. 


Codes that address emissions regulations, seismic certification standards and arc flash prevention increasingly are being cited in specification documents.


“There is an increasing amount of discussion of these topics coming from designers and switchgear vendors about codes, including NFPA 70E, and their impact on projects,” he said.


Ed Spears, product marketing manager, Eaton Corp., Cleveland, points to a trend of larger clients requesting redundant generators for their emergency power needs.


“In only one out of 77 times, a generator will not start. However, in truly critical situations, that second generator can be essential to maintaining critical and emergency operations,” he said.


The contractor’s role


During an emergency power system design process, the electrical contractor (EC) should understand the application and remember that installation and system function are equally important.


“The contractor can advise the building’s design engineers concerning what’s practical and what would be prohibitive or not cost-effective to accomplish,” Spears said.


Vendors welcome ECs bringing this level of expertise as early in the design process as possible.


“The contractors know how to install the equipment and what design elements can make the project better or will create challenges,” Dozier said.


The contractor can also play a role in logistics and equipment rigging.


“The contractor needs to discuss the project’s transportation needs and equipment placement during the design phase and not during the installation phase. The contractor can also suggest creative methods to perform the installation with minimum disruption to the building’s operations, and, most importantly, help ensure that all safety issues are fully considered,” Spears said.


According to Thompson, the electrical contractor is in a position to work with specifying engineers, particularly in specified projects.


“The contractor is vital to the design process and can perform site visits, assess the current electrical infrastructure and provide a solution that meets peak power usage based on customer-supplied data,” he said.