Power quality problems lurk

Stories about an increase in productivity in the commercial and industrial worlds attributed heavily to the growth in information technology (IT) equipment. In fact, this number has been put at $46 billion for the 2003 fiscal year. The 2002-2003 productivity report, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, shows that the annual rate of output per worker grew at 4.5 percent, which was almost double the rate of the previous five years that were already nearly double the 1.3 percent growth rate of productivity in the 1980s and early 1990s.

This correlation between the growth of IT spending and increase in productivity has been reached by most business and IT managers, though some economists are still searching for the definitive formula.

Productivity is usually tracked by comparing hours worked to the revenue or output per employee. In the government sector, making such a calculation may be a bit more difficult. But the spending seems to come freely. The Defense Department alone awarded IT-related prime contracts valued at $83.1 billion. While not all of this funding goes to IT equipment alone, it clearly demonstrates that there must be significant potential for government facilities to experience similar types of problems when it comes to power quality phenomena as the commercial and industrial sectors. The IEEE Standard 1100-1992 Emerald Book states that such equipment “can be both a contributor to and a victim of powering and grounding incompatibilities in the power system.” It’s also expected that, as the proliferation of susceptible equipment in the government sector increases productivity, it also raises the system’s overall vulnerability to sags, swells, transients, harmonics and other power quality problems as well.

These tables summarize some of the possible causes and resulting effect on IT equipment and other susceptible equipment. The list is not comprehensive, but does provide a good starting point for investigating “decreases” in productivity.

As government and business operations become more dependent on power quality-susceptible IT equipment and the expectations for productivity increases continue, the need to “harden” both the equipment and the facilities against occurrences of this nature is a growing issue. Yet it seems the governmental agencies have yet to express concern, except when the results are on the grand scale of the Aug. 14, 2003, blackout. While there was considerable attention to the losses in productivity during that event, the day-to-day occurrences for the government and other vertical markets as well might actually cost more. It is certainly time to assess these considerations, especially in light of continued widespread deployment of state-of-the-art integrated security and IT systems, networks and controls.

BINGHAM, a contributing editor for power quality, can be reached at 732.287.3680.