Power Play

Power and power quality is something we are all acutely aware of. Whether it is because of outages due to natural disasters or unexplained utility blackouts, everyone knows power is something difficult to live without.

For industrial, institutional, government, financial/retail and many other vertical markets, power equipment has embraced new technology and processes in an effort to offer products and services suited specifically for the application and worthy of mission critical and other 24/7 operations. Power equipment, including standby and backup generators, uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems, transformers, switches, boards and other hardware and software has evolved to become an intuitive total system solution package.

Equipment has been downsized and fits in a smaller footprint, yet yields as much as or more power than predecessor units. In some cases, generators are mobile and portable and can be set up quickly and safely. Sophisticated microprocessor and computer-based software and control parameters are part of the package. Many units are Microsoft Windows-based operating systems or include integrated analysis and troubleshooting.

Manufacturers have put the focus on research and development and it shows. Much of the innovation involves bringing microprocessor/computer control and integrated power operation to the head-end. Touch screens and control displays are common.

Programming and assessing the system is routinely done from a laptop, desktop or other computer-aided control device. Units have shrunk in size but still, offer greater capacity and system smarts. Modular, scalable systems are common, bringing additional flexibility and expandability to the operation.

In a recent independent survey conducted by Renaissance Research & Consulting Inc., New York, Electrical Contractor magazine asked participants/readers about the types of equipment they work on; the work performed (sales, installation, maintenance); contractors’ role in brand selection; and their expectations for future growth of various types of power quality work.

The special report, Power Quality Study, covered the following types of equipment: grounding and lightning protection, power monitoring, power conditioning, surge suppression, K-rated transformers, harmonic filters, uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems, battery replacement and maintenance, standby generators, on-site generation, and alternative energy/power. Some 497 contractor/respondents participated in the Internet-based random sampling Power Quality Study.

Brand selection

The Power Quality Study identified the four most common types of power quality equipment as grounding and lighting protection, surge suppression, uninterruptible power systems and standby generators. On average, installation (27 percent) accounts for more revenue than maintenance (17 percent) or sales (14 percent).

According to the study’s findings, contractors play an important role in power quality product selection. In eight of the 11 categories included in the survey, contractors said they write the specification in at least 30 percent of the installations.

Contractors have the highest spec-writing role in the cases of harmonic filters, standby generators and UPS systems, where they write the spec on average about 40 percent of the time. In addition, fully 40 percent of those currently working on power quality projects expect their volume of work to increase overall over the next few years. Contractors who worked on power quality projects in the past 12 months were far more likely to have done installation (93 percent) than maintenance (60 percent).

Power quality projects account for a significant proportion of the contractors’ revenue, almost 60 percent on average, suggesting that the survey had identified a group of “power quality” specialists.

Other insights from the special report:

°Of those 40 percent currently working on power quality projects who expect their volume of power quality work to increase over the next few years, their main reasons for expecting an increase are that computers and other types of electronic equipment will require clean power—44 percent. They also cite concerns about poor or degraded power quality (22 percent) or concerns about the integrity of the infrastructure (13 percent).

°Some 30 percent of those who are not currently working on power quality projects but who did so in the past said they expect to be doing power quality work again in the next few years. Their main reasons are similar to those cited by those currently working on power quality projects: that computers and other types of electronic equipment will require clean power, 55 percent. They also cite concerns about poor or degraded power quality, 15 percent. In addition, they reference problems with power availability, 16 percent, and/or alternative energy/cogeneration, 16 percent.

°The most respondents, 40 percent or more, cited UPS, surge suppression and standby generators as areas that will have future increased volume for their firms.

Rolling blackouts, unexplained loss of power and a general feeling that the power system is not as robust as it should be have propelled the market for power products, including standby generators as well as UPS system demand for more than mission critical applications. In these instances, such as healthcare facilities and hospitals, the need for power is a life safety concern all-around. But in addition, businesses in general realize that the loss of power can cost thousands, and therefore, the equipment costs are well justified. Power and power quality is critical for all customers and it is getting some well-deserved attention in the field. 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 domara@earthlink.net.




About the Author

Deborah L. O'Mara

Freelance Writer
Deborah L. O’Mara is a journalist with more than two decades experience writing about security, life safety and systems integration, and she is the managing director of DLO Communications in Chicago. She can be reached at dlocommunications@gmail.com...

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