Natural disasters, maintenance, and other inevitable variables can throw a wrench in something we all rely on — power.
Whether planned or unplanned, power outages can disrupt your business and cost you thousands of dollars in lost income. But with the right backup power solutions in place — including standby generators — business can run as usual despite a lack of power from the electrical grid.
In this blog, I discuss and compare two solutions to ensure reliable generator power at your business, including manual interlocks and automatic transfer switches (ATS). I also introduce the Energy Control Center, an innovative way to ensure sustainable, resilient power using renewable energy.
A fast and easy way to connect a generator to an electrical distribution panel is with a manual (also known as mechanical) interlock kit. This solution integrates into your existing electrical panel and is cost-effective to both purchase and install — saving you hundreds of dollars compared to an ATS.
Once a licensed electrician installs the mechanical interlock, you can transfer power manually between the utility and the generator with the flip of a switch. Although the solution is manual, it has built-in safety features that ensure you cannot energize both the normal and generator circuits simultaneously.
Manual interlocks are more frequently installed at small businesses or in locations with infrequent outages. Also, if your business does not require continuous power, or if you always have someone on-site to flip the switch, then this is a solid option.
In all, standby manual interlocks are an easy, economical way to avoid costly power and equipment shutdowns and ensure safer, reliable backup power.
Automatic transfer switch
When the power supply to a critical load is shut off, an ATS identifies the problem and automatically turns a backup power source on without interruption. When the utility turns back on, an ATS will also detect the source and switch back to its original setting.
There are a variety of ATSs available on the market, depending on the application. ATSs designed for the industrial, light industrial, and commercial settings vary in size and ratings based on your specific power needs. Also, all ATSs deliver high levels of reliability and ruggedness suitable for businesses across many industries. For a great rundown of ATS options for your business, check out this leaflet. If you have IT power equipment at your business, you may want to explore rack-mount ATS options.
Compared to mechanical interlocks, ATSs cost hundreds of dollars more to purchase and install. However, they are a worry-free solution for those in outage-prone areas or those in need of continuous power.
Energy Control Centers
Another way that businesses can stay “on” during power outages is with Energy Control Centers (ECCs), an energy resiliency solution that uses renewable energy sources generated on-site, such as wind, solar, and batteries. ECCs are available in many markets throughout the U.S.
Currently, most of the renewable energy generated on-site is not accessible with the grid goes down. That’s because these distributed energy resources connect directly to the grid. However, when these renewable technologies connect to an ECC, they can provide power during a grid outage.
How does it work? ECCs provide action-based recommendations determined by current electrical availability. Many ECCs use advanced algorithms to assess available power sources and analyze energy requirements. The system can make critical decisions and adjust power sources and loads to ensure energy reliability.
Let’s say the grid goes down because of a weather event, such as a hurricane. When this happens, the ECC will identify the outage and automatically switch on another distributed energy resource from your site, such as a generator, battery storage system, etc. Also, ECCs prioritize loads as either critical, essential, or standard, so that customers can maximize their energy use during a prolonged outage.
Because they are much more expensive and permanent than other backup power options, ECCs are ideal for critical facilities and large businesses that require consistent power, and those that already have renewable energy generation on-site.
Keeping your power on
Power outages don’t have to bring businesses to a screeching halt or cost thousands of dollars in downtime and lost productivity.
The first step in ensuring energy resilience is by outlining your backup power options and determining the right one for your business. An electrical contractor may be able to help you with the planning, installation, and maintenance of your new equipment.
From there, develop a detailed emergency action plan to ensure you can operate as normal when the power goes out.