Secure Power: What’s It Worth?

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It’s easy to look at a new backup power system as a hit to the bottom line. But considering only the capital cost of such equipment misses the point of the protection it can provide for a business’s operations. To truly understand the value of an uninterruptible power supply, owners need to balance that cost against even greater expenses it could prevent, including revenue losses that could occur during downtime and the labor required to get systems up and operating again, once power returns.

A recent Schneider Electric white paper, “Four Steps to Determine When a Standby Generator is Needed for Small Data Centers,” provides some guidance in the process of understanding just how much downtime can cost your business. While the title is focused on data centers, the advice the paper offers could be useful for a range of facility types.

As authors Wendy Torell and Victor Avelar point out, a first step in this process is understanding how the duration of an outage – or disturbance, such as a voltage sag – affects its overall cost for your specific facility. In some businesses, like a retail store, an outage’s cost (in, say, lost retail sales per hour) might remain constant throughout its duration. And a short-duration outage might only delay sales, rather than eliminate them from the bottom line, entirely. In other cases, though, as with a semiconductor fabrication plant, the greatest loss – possibly an entire batch of silicon wafers – can occur in just the first 500 milliseconds of downtime. There are also the wages of idled employees, who still need to be paid during downtime, and the possible expense of bringing data systems back online when an outage ends.

And what’s the risk that your facility might face as a result of a power disturbance or outage? The answer will differ by location. As an example, the paper’s authors used an availability analysis calculator developed by Schneider Electric to develop outage profiles for New York, Texas and Singapore, and came up with widely varying results. New York’s grid operations were the most stable, but its customers still experienced an average of more than 65 sag or under-voltage events lasting less than one second per year, and 9 actual interruptions of that duration. Events of up to 10 minutes occurred slightly less than three times per year. Texans experienced almost twice as many short-term disturbances, and close to the same number of 10-minute-or-less events. Singapore’s service was even less secure, with 20 actual short-term interruptions and just under five interruptions of up to five minutes.

Your facility’s risks may fall somewhere between – or outside – the range Torell and Avelar found in New York and Texas. But this exercise illustrates the importance of tailoring a backup option to each business’ individual needs, and the risks it might face, because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Similarly, upfront capital investments in UPS or other backup supplies need to be considered in light of the specific expenses they can help a business avoid, and not just as a bottom-line cost. Schneider Electric offers options for a range of facility types – taking time to find out about them now could prevent major disruptions going forward.

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