Manufacturers of standby power generators aren't sitting back and waiting for someone else to reinvent the market-they're doing it themselves. Don't think of backup power generators as noisy, chugging units that struggle into operation. They're microprocessor-controlled touch-screen products that move seamlessly into startup. They are easier to maintain, super efficient and fully supervised. Think of computers and plug-and-play operations and you will have a better idea of where this market is.

The electric utility service is being taxed to its limits and has continued to lose ground in reliability. With events like the August 2003 blackout still fresh in end-users' minds, manufacturers have put the focus on research and development, finding out how to get backup power up and running simultaneously or with no interruption. Modular systems are common, allowing multiple generators to be added with ease as necessary. Finally, most units come in a smaller footprint, yet provide higher capacity and reliability that can reach as high as 99.99996 percent, according to one manufacturer.

Manufacturers are bearing witness to emerging trends and opportunities to present reliable generators, particularly in mission-critical or emergency-power applications. While the average business can lose thousands of dollars or more when power is down even a short period of time, some organizations have even greater stakes. For hospitals, healthcare institutions and many other security and life safety applications, constant power is a lifesaver.

Focus on critical power

“Standby power is receiving more attention nationwide and by the manufacturing community because of the fragile power grid system,” said Dawn Tabat, chief operations officer, Generac Power Systems Inc., Waukesha, Wis. “By paralleling the outputs of multiple generators via advanced onboard controllers, we offer a powerful combination of innovation and proven technology that eliminates the use of expensive paralleling switchgear. This significantly reduces project costs while offering the additional advantages of redundancy, scalability and flexibility for a much wider range of applications.”

Generac's recent innovations include the introduction of the Gemini Twin Pack GenSet (generator set) with two paralleling generators (built-in paralleling technology) within the same enclosure, the Modular Power System (MPS), and Bi-Fuel Engine Generator. The Modular Power System is offered in three fuel options-diesel, natural gas or bi-fuel-and can be scaled up as needed. Bi-fuel engine operation is an interesting and cost-effective solution. The bi-fuel unit starts up on 100 percent diesel fuel, then transitions to run on up-to-90 percent natural gas with no loss of power or electrical output. The advantages of bi-fuel are many, but include the reduction of exhaust emissions, reduced consumption of diesel fuel by the engine and longer backup coverage during extended outages.

According to Mark Repp, vice president of marketing, Kohler Global Power Group, Kohler, Wis., a great deal of the change and product innovation in standby power systems has been specifically on units designed for mission-critical applications. Repp said that the end-user wants to know that his equipment will be up and running when it needs to be.

“How equipment is monitored and controlled has been the focus of product changes. Paralleling switchgear and digital-based control, as well as monitoring (supervision) and control via the Ethernet, is all possible now with standby power systems,” he said.

Switchgear technology

Enhanced and improved switchgear technology in the PD-Series from Kohler Power Systems includes a Closed-Transition Transfer Switch. The automatic transfer switch allows for momentary paralleling between the utility and generator and eliminates any power loss or disconnect to the loads during transfer of power from the primary to the secondary unit. The closed transition switch also features microprocessor logic with display and programming capability.

“With the closed transition system, there is no interruption of power,” Repp said. “Both systems parallel each other briefly.”

Much of the innovation in standby power systems involves bringing microprocessor/ computer control and integrated power operation to the head-end systems. Touch screens and on-board control displays are common. Controlling the units from a laptop or other computer has also become routine. Units have definitely shrunk in size, but they still offer greater capacity and intuitiveness. Caterpillar Inc. recently announced the release of a UPS system with Kinetic Power Cell Technology. The system provides a super-small footprint, digital microprocessor-based control panels, 24/7 remote communication capabilities and power monitoring in a fully integrated design package.

Power makes applications happen. In some cases, it's crucial that it continue even when the electric utility goes down. That's where manufacturers of mission-critical standby power systems step in with new innovation. Wherever and whenever power is needed, there's a product to keep it up and running, even in the most critical situations. EC

O’MARA is the president of DLO Communications in Park Ridge, Ill., specializing in low-voltage. She can be reached at 847.384.1916 or