Backups for Blackouts

Last year's blackout sparked a sharp rise in consumer interest in ensuring constant uptime, which has provided more and more opportunities for the electrical contractor. With this increased demand comes the consumer's desire for more cost-effective power. As a result, several manufacturers have introduced products to more efficiently achieve this goal.

“We have recently designed a new product that reflects the growing trends in the backup power industry,” said Sylvia Zhuang, communications director for Powerware Corp., Raleigh, N.C. “We did an extensive survey before developing the product and conducted even more surveys to determine the electrical contractor's needs. Our newest product, the Powerware 9390 is a three-phase, uninterruptible power system that combines power performance, battery management, flexibility and uninterrupted service.”

The Powerware 9390 has a double-conversion design that isolates output power from all input power anomalies and delivers perfect sine-wave output.

“Pressure to ensure 100 percent uptime and to cost effectively manage space is forcing IT managers to closely evaluate the type of UPS systems that ensure the best efficiency and manageability,” said Farah Saeed, analyst at Frost & Sullivan. “Our extensive research indicates that Powerware has an unmatched reputation for highly reliable products. Powerware's latest UPS product line, Powerware 9390, demonstrates to the world again its commitment to fulfill customer requirements and validates why Powerware received our 2004 product line strategy award for demonstrating the most insight into customer needs and product demands.”

The system supports loads from 40 kVa to 160 kVa in a base configuration. As up to eight UPS modules can be paralleled for capacity and redundancy, providing total power capacity of 1280 kVa, its flexible design allows engineers to address present power needs and accommodate future power requirements.

“This state-of-the-art product is designed to reduce interference between equipment,” Zhuang said. “It has a front-entry access so the UPS can be installed against a wall, takes up less space and is easier for the electrical contractor to install because the service is all done at the front of the unit. With all contractors, time is money, so they are always on the lookout for ways to save them time. The remote monitoring system on the 9390 unit alerts a contractor to potential problems. One of the most common problems is when a battery goes and the unit shuts down. With this product, we have installed a strong battery management system that expands the life cycle of the battery. This system would alert users to any potential battery problems like the need for a battery to be changed months before the battery goes down.”

GenTran Corp. has recently designed a unit to save installation time for contractors. The PowerStay automatic power transfer system, which is used alongside a standby generator, is able to maintain power in a residential or commercial setting during a power outage by transferring it to another location. When utility power becomes disabled, a sensor triggers a generator to turn on. When the generator is able to reach a nominal output level, the selected circuits are then transferred to the generator load depending on assigned priority.

“Our switch can be flush-mounted indoors so for higher-end homes that have a flush-mounted load center, our system allows for a 'cleaner' looking installation,” said Beth Johnson, vice president of marketing for GenTran. “Most other transfer switches are large, surface-mount boxes, and require a subpanel.” According to Johnson, until this smart switch was designed, nothing novel was introduced in the switch industry over the past 10 to 15 years. In the new switch, users can provide load management by assigning priority to each load. For example, if a well pump is running continuously, you would need to maintain its power supply. Therefore, the transfer switch could turn off a less important switch. The new switch provides for extra demand temporarily and manages the distribution without user interaction.

“This has become very popular since the automatic transfer switch is generator-independent because more and more manufacturers have chosen to put an automatic transfer switch into the genset,” said Johnson.

Just where is all this heading? “Backup power is more prevalent and it's a topic that people are now talking over at dinner parties,” Johnson added. “It's more affordable today and we have been seeing the trend of people looking for smaller transfer switches. There's always been a need to keep up with the Joneses so there will be those who will invest in a 10,000W generator and others who will get the basic minimum just to get by.”

Reliance Controls, Racine, Wis., also has jumped on the transfer switch bandwagon.

“Since the August 2003 blackout, there has been more interest and demand for smaller manual systems because the grid is unreliable, and not a lot has been done to make the connection in the past few years although the intention is there to improve,” said Jeff Flegel, executive vice president for Reliance Controls. “As demand increases, people are discovering they are able to use portable generators for the home as standby units because many don't want to spend thousands of dollars on a large generator that they don't need. For a while, there was a gap in the portable market because only large systems were being sold. People can now afford these systems and others are looking at larger standby and portable systems, so it is definitely reaching a larger consumer base.”

The TF151 manual transfer switch uses a portable generator to operate a residential forced-air furnace during a power interruption and can be used with a portable generator. “Our new transfer switch adds flexibility to an installation,” Flegel added. “It is designed for single circuits like space heaters. For example, in the average home, the only circuit that is not corded is the furnace. The switch is put in front of the furnace in a steel enclosure with a recessed plug and extension cord so the user can select between the generator and line switch. In the event of a power interruption, you would just use a standard grounded cord to connect the transfer switch to the standby power source.”

American Power Conversion (APC) of West Kingston, R.I., recently introduced its Smart-UPS RT double-conversion, online, uninterruptible power-supply family, designed to support a variety of IT and industrial applications and environments. “The RT family extends our midrange offering to provide innovative solutions for companies' needs ranging from computer rooms to data centers with 1-20 racks,” said Dwight Sperry, APC's group general manager of Enterprise Systems and Business Networks. “APC pioneered the first redundant, scalable and modular UPS with the introduction of the Symmetra Power Array in 1997. Since then, businesses have become even more dependent on information technology and electronic equipment. The convergence of voice and data networks, shared storage, and other business-critical IT applications continue to drive the need for highly available, scalable solutions.”

APC has also designed InfraStruXure architecture, which incorporates an integrated cooling system to meet the challenges of data centers and server rooms.

“With server consolidation and increases in use of high-power density servers such as blades, companies are not only faced with problem of powering these dense racks, but also figuring out how to cool them,” Sperry added. “Our new approach delivers the ability to easily configure, order and install a cost-effective solution for a highly available network-critical physical infrastructure. Several of the same lessons we learned with power are driving new thinking in cooling, which many have learned the hard way is just as critical a factor in overall uptime. We are building systems to enable future technologies including servers with variable power draws.”

As more customers are now demanding 100 percent availability, they are also looking to the electrical contractor for assistance in developing a quick-fix solution.

“The UPS products we manufacture can be used as stand-alone or with data center architecture. We spoke to people about power, cabling management and power modules being built into a rack and, from the feedback we received, we have introduced a new mid-range line of UPS products,” said Chet Lasell, director of public relations for APC.

“We work with companies to improve data centers and give reliability and availability that they need in this 24/7 world. People simply will not tolerate downtime despite a power outage. It is especially critical for networks with their physical infrastructure, racks, power and management,” Lasell added. EC

SPEED is a freelance writer based in Weymouth, Mass. She can be reached at 617.529.2676 or



About the Author

Kellie K. Speed

Freelance Writer
Kellie Speed is a freelance writer based in Weymouth, Mass. She can be reached at 617.529.2676 or .

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