Between a troubled public utility power grid, unprecedented demand for power by a growing population and the need to protect an increasingly digitally dependent economy, everyone from major manufacturing facilities to homeowners are recognizing the need and value of the protection and capabilities offered by today's uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems.

According to Sriram Ramakrishnan, manager of competitive strategies for Eaton Powerware, Raleigh, N.C., when the UPS market is examined as a whole, the worldwide market is estimated at about $5 billion, and the U.S. market is about half that much.

“If you examine UPS products at or above 10 kVA that require professional installation, the U.S. market is worth about $800 million,” he said.

According to Suzette Albert, marketing product manager for Sola/Hevi Duty, an EGS Electrical Group company, Rosemont, Ill., the worldwide industrial UPS market is about $100 million alone.

That is the good news. The better news is that the UPS market is expected to continue to grow, both at home and abroad. According to the business consulting and marketing research firm Frost & Sullivan, the overall UPS market in North America is expected to grow 4 percent a year though 2010.

“Our sales for three-phase UPS systems grew about 6 percent from 2004 to 2005, and we expect growth to continue at about that rate over the next several years,” said Mary Heath, three-phase channel coordinator for MGE UPS, Costa Mesa, Calif.

Factors that are influencing the UPS market growth include an increasing understanding for the need for backup power and the cost of not protecting power sources when utility outages do occur, the condition of the national power grid, the increasing likelihood of power outages if the situation is not improved, and the convergence of voice and data networks and an increased reliance on digital networks, phone systems and business equipment.

“Facility owners and managers are realizing the impact on the bottom line if these systems do go down or are damaged because of power outages or power quality issues,” said Bill Grande, director of safety and power quality products for Leviton Manufacturing Co. Inc., Little Neck, N.Y.

Although most UPS and backup power systems are used in the information technology (IT) and telecommunication industries to protect data, many industrial processes are now microprocessor and PC-based and very susceptible and sensitive to power disturbances.

“Facilities recognize that a millisecond of power outage can bring an entire process offline, forcing the loss of millions of dollars,” Albert said.

Other drivers of the UPS market include older units being replaced and an increased demand for UPS technology in medical and healthcare applications.

“Customers are demanding upgrades to existing UPS units to take advantage of technological advancements and to provide assured power and power quality for sensitive electronic and medical equipment,” Albert said.

Advancements and developments

Customer demand for increased reliability and zero downtime has led to manufacturers designing more robust components for UPS systems, such as electronic switches, said Ramakrishnan.

“New UPS systems being designed by manufacturers are able to examine critical points in the UPS system and can send that information to the facility's monitoring center,” he said.

The end-user or manufacturer can examine this data in order to predict potential failures and take preventative measures.

According to Albert, technological developments in UPS systems have mainly taken place in communications protocols, such as the single network management protocol (SNMP), allowing facility managers to monitor UPS processes over the Internet.

“SNMP is a communications language that is most widely used in the IT and telecommunications industries and is installed in conjunction with the UPS system,” Albert said.

Advancements in insulated gate bipolar transistors (IGBT) now provide faster switching, increased ampacity, smaller sizes and overall cost reduction of UPS units.

“The IGBTs can now be used in the front end, or rectifier, of the UPS unit, reducing its physical dimensions and allowing it to react faster to changes in electrical input and output, thereby improving overall power quality and more efficient reaction to greater load stresses,” Heath said.

“Power conversion, energy storage, and modularity and scalability are the three most prominent technological advancements in UPS systems,” said Eric Marshall, marketing manager for electrical equipment at GE Consumer & Industrial, Louisville, Ky.

In power conversion, the market is primarily experiencing the development of digital signal processing and space vector modulation to provide faster response by the UPS to load changes.

“Space vector modulation has been used in inverter controls in drives and motors for a number of years and is now evolving into the UPS industry,” said Brad Thrash, UPS product manager for GE.

In energy storage, mechanical energy flywheel technology is being increasingly adopted in UPS systems to replace lead acid batteries.

“This trend is being driven by the need to address such issues as footprints, life-cycle costs and environmental concerns,” Marshall said.

Finally, today's paralleled, modular UPS systems are eliminating single points of failure through decentralized static bypass switches and controls.

“What's new is that the switches and controls are being distributed within each unit, rather than installed centrally, as they historically have been,” Marshall said.

Modular design includes built-in redundancies that provide extra assurance that backup power will be available when needed.

“If one UPS module in the system fails, the load will automatically be picked up by the other modules,” Leviton's Grande said.

Market trends

As the need to protect power sources and quality increases, UPS systems are being used in a growing number of applications, such as data centers to ensure the integrity of information and infrastructures, retail point-if-sale, educational and healthcare facilities, and industrial processes.

“UPS systems are now being used in any industry or application that has to protect any kind of computer networks or controls,” Grande said.

There has also been an increase of the use of UPS systems in residential applications as homeowners want to protect their sensitive electronic and entertainment equipment from power outages and power quality issues.

“UPS systems are really becoming a commodity item that is being used by small businesses and homeowners as everyone's concern for power quality and security grows,” Sola/Hevi Duty's Albert said.

Another new niche market for UPS systems are broadcast stations and casinos, according to Ramakrishnan. As more and more TV affiliates and cable stations broadcast digitally, they must protect both the power to broadcast, the quality of that power and the sensitive digital broadcasting equipment.

“The digital slot machines in new casinos and the facilities' sophisticated accounting and counting equipment must also be protected,” Ramakrishnan said.

There is also a market trend toward customers requiring smaller UPS units that provide the same level of protection.

“The trend is being driven by space being at a premium and by the cost of ownership,” Heath said.

The smaller the UPS unit's footprint, the lighter in weight it becomes, the less it costs to operate and the more space is available to devote to the core business or process.

What contractors need to know

According to Grande, electrical contractors need to research which market segment to best focus and capitalize on.

“The smaller retail and commercial applications offer electrical contractors many opportunities because these are markets the contractors are already involved in and they would only have to develop some specific expertise to successfully add UPS installation and maintenance to the services they already provide,” he said.

For electrical contractors to successfully stand out in the UPS market, they must understand that customers are examining UPS systems today from a life cycle and total cost of ownership perspective and account for that when choosing a supplier, Ramakrishnan said.

“In addition, contractors should look for suppliers that can provide installation support and the engineering drawings and specifications that will enable them to efficiently install the equipment,” he said.

Furthermore, ensuring that they are updated on the latest technical advances in the industry will enable electrical contractors to effectively inform their customers about the best and most cost-effective ways to protect their critical loads and equipment.

“Having the technical expertise on-hand, such as engineers, or an engineering firm on retainer, will allow contractors to design the appropriate UPS system for the application and provide the customer with complete turnkey, sole-source solutions,” Heath said.

What's next

The next evolution in mechanical energy storage will be the ability to increase the runtime of UPS units to five to 10 minutes, Marshall said.

“Manufacturers are currently researching how to develop these devices that will enable UPS system to store energy for when it is needed,” he said.

Heath believes that the next generation of UPS systems will be “transformerless,” instead using inverters to transform voltage.

“This will allow the UPS units to have an even smaller footprint and allow the manufacturers to increase the overall efficiencies of the system,” Heath said.

In the larger size UPS system, that is, more than 5 kVA, Grande believes the market will see more integrated solutions being offered to customers that include every aspect of power, power backup, and power quality and conditioning.

“Electrical contractors can team up with these system integrators and become part of the solution being provided,” Grande said.

For their part, the integration companies will have to rely on the electrical contractor for its installation expertise.

“But the contractor will have to understand the needs and installation requirements of sophisticated integrated system if they are to successfully partner with these integration companies,”Grande said.

The UPS market will continue to grow, driven by the increased use of devices and equipment that are microprocessor-driven and by increased security needs.

“As the economy becomes even more digital-based, more users, outside of data centers and computer networks, will realize the need for backup power protection and will turn to UPS systems to fulfill those needs,” Ramakrishnan said. EC

BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 or darbremer@comcast.net.