Critical Power – for When You Can’t Take Power for Granted

April 8, 2016

Hector MartinezHector Martinez

Electricity can be a rather tricky thing when it comes to powering sensitive equipment or in situations when it’s critical that power always be available. It’s not unusual for problems to occur as the result of variations in power frequency and voltage.

While such variations may not be noticeable in most situations, in some instances they can prove critical, even fatal. From my work as Secure Power Solutions Director for Schneider Electric, I’ve come to appreciate that just about any industry has at least some applications that require critical power. In this post, I’m going to highlight just a few to illustrate the point.

Before we dive in I should explain a bit about what I mean by critical power. The idea behind it is really two-fold. First, the idea is to simply ensure the availability of power at all times. Most companies have a backup power plan for critical infrastructure, either through a utility or generator, or both. But there’s always a short lag time between when the utility power goes out and the backup kicks in. Critical power involves the use of uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs) to provide power to critical equipment until the backup comes online. Secondly, the UPSs also ensure power is “clean,” meaning free of the sorts of fluctuations that can damage sensitive equipment.

And sensitive equipment is now all around us – even at the movies. We work with a systems integrator in Latin America, Bardan Cinema, that does lots of work for movie theatres.

Theatres today are quite different from even a few years ago, as the major Hollywood studios have been providing incentives for them to switch to all digital projection equipment. This equipment comes with strict requirements around power quality and monitoring.

That’s challenging in many areas of Latin America that are susceptible to power fluctuations. In a video we shot with Daniel Benitez, CTO of Bardan Cinema, he explains how the equipment can suffer severe damage if it’s not properly protected by a UPS. “Once you see a failure or two you have a very strong argument in terms of the financial side,” to deploy some power protection, he says.

Hospitals are another example of where secure power is critical. They are chock full of expensive equipment that has highly stringent power requirements, such as CT scan and MRI machines. Even the lights in surgery rooms must have reliable power.

In another video, Benitez explains how his company did some work for a hospital in Honduras that had recently acquired a CT scan machine and the kind of power requirements it needed. Besides protecting its delicate electronics, the machine also had refrigeration components that required 24×7 power protection and vacuums that would take 24 hours to restart if they went down.

That kind of downtime is simply unacceptable in a hospital environment, especially one where people may be traveling for more than 24 hours from rural areas to receive treatment, as Benitez points out in the video.

One more example is another that at first blush may seem out of the ordinary: casinos. While it may not be life-threatening if a casino loses power, it can mean lots of lost revenue. If a bank of slot machines is suddenly not functioning, any casino can tell you how much that’ll cost per hour – a figure that makes it well worth investing in secure power protection. Here’s yet another video in which an electrical contracting executive explains that return on investment equation.

I could go on with lots of other examples in industries such as food and beverage, which has to protect the machines that fill containers against downtime that would cause costly system restarts, or any industrial environment that can’t tolerate power fluctuations.

In these industries and more, you can’t take power for granted. Click here to learn more about how to protect it.


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