Now that we’re well into November we have to come to grips with a fact that many of us, at least in northern climates, hate to admit: winter is coming. With the winter cold comes snow and ice and blustery storms that can and do bring down power.
Which makes this a good time to assess whether your uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems are ready and able to protect you in the face of a power outage. (Those of you in warmer climates are not off the hook, either, since power outages can occur in all kinds of weather.)
In this post, I thought I’d bring up the most common issues that the Schneider Electric field services team sees when we go to service UPSs on behalf of our customers.
Not surprisingly, the most common items we see have to do with consumable components of the UPS, meaning those that wear out over time. Just like the battery, tires and brakes on your car wear down and have to be replaced, so do some UPS components.
Chief among them is the UPS battery. We recommend UPS batteries be replaced every 3 to 5 years, given normal conditions. By normal we mean comfortable temperatures, a clean operating environment with plenty of ventilation, and a load that’s adequately matched to the UPS system. If any of those are outside the norm – and I’ll get into that more in just a bit – then you can expect shorter battery life.
Another consumable in a UPS is the capacitor, which is intended to eliminate fluctuations in voltage, conditioning the utility power and making it safe for the intended load. A UPS will usually have multiple capacitors working in tandem, which can actually make it difficult to determine when one goes bad because the others may simply take over the load.
The life expectancy of a capacitor is around 5 to 7 years, so at that point they warrant close visual inspection and perhaps thermal scanning to identify any issues. Proactive replacement at that age is also a viable option.
A third consumable is the UPS fan. Here again, after a certain period of time fans will fail, especially if they’re being used frequently. Fans in a UPS that uses double conversion technology, for example, will run more than those without it. Some UPSs have alarms or lights to indicate such failures. Otherwise, look for signs such as an increase in temperature near the UPS (check with a thermostat or just by feel) or a change in sound – it will be quieter if the fan’s not running.
Aside from consumables, another common problem our field maintenance teams see with UPSs has to do with environmental issues. That gets back to the earlier discussion about battery life. If the environment in which your UPS lives routinely gets either excessively hot or cold, or if it’s particularly dusty or humid, that will affect UPS life. The UPS must also be properly ventilated, just like any piece of IT equipment, or it will run too hot – and shorten its life. Take steps to address any such issues you come across upon your UPS inspection.
Also be on the lookout for any changes in what you’re asking the UPS to do since it was first installed. If the load the UPS is protecting has increased significantly, the unit may no longer be able to offer the level of protection you need. Similarly, if the load has decreased, you’re probably wasting UPS power (and energy). In that case, it’s probably worth taking a look at whether some units should be moved or replaced such that you can right-size your UPSs to the loads they’re protecting.
This sort of annual inspection and routine maintenance should be part of your secure power plan. If it’s beyond the scope of your IT group, or if they just don’t have the time, you may consider having a service provider do it for you. Schneider Electric’s Field Services team, for example, offers a number of customizable service contracts, all of which include an annual preventive maintenance visit to check for just these sorts of issues.
Another benefit of the service contract is that if you run into a problem with a UPS this winter, or any other time, we’ll send someone out to help – in as little as four hours.
Here in New England where the U.S. headquarters of Schneider Electric is located, it’s common for homeowners to have service contracts for their boilers that provide heat to their homes. It’s an insurance policy against a boiler failing on some cold winter night, leaving the house with no heat.
Think of a UPS service contract along the same lines: an insurance policy that ensures the UPS systems that protect your most important business systems can reliably do their jobs.