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Fault Intolerance: Future Directions for UPS

Leo Craig

Leo Craig

Uninterruptible Power Supply systems are typically used to protect hardware such as computers, telecoms systems or other electrical equipment where an unexpected power disruption could cause injuries, fatalities, serious business disruption or data loss. Risk UK interviews Leo Craig, general manager at Riello UPS, about current and future developments in this area.

Risk UK: A continuous power supply is vital for many businesses with critical operations. What can you tell us about the current state of the industry and why UPS is the best solution for organisations that would suffer the most from a major power failure?
Leo Craig: A dependable Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) should be seen as a business’ first and foremost line of defence against potential power outages and disruptions. IT downtime is catastrophic, not just in terms of financial losses or drops in productivity, but also in terms of reputational damage. With a reliable UPS protecting your critical power supply, you have that ultimate insurance policy bridging the gap until your back-up generators kick-in or letting your computer systems safely shut down until the power’s back on.

Risk UK: Which business sectors do you think find a UPS system to be most valuable and why?
Leo Craig: UPS units are obviously essential in any Data Centre environment, whether that’s in the banking or insurance industries, telecoms and IT or retail. It’s similarly important in manufacturing, too, where one unplanned incidence of downtime can cost an average of £1.6 million in lost productivity.

It’s not just in sectors that prioritise profits and the interests of shareholders where a UPS can prove invaluable. It’s not an exaggeration to suggest that a UPS can sometimes be the difference between life and death. Hospital operating theatres and A&E Departments, the Emergency Services, roads, railways, docks and airports – all of this critical infrastructure demands the clean and consistent power supply that a UPS can provide.

Risk UK: Do you feel that UPS will innovate or expand in any new or existing sectors in the near future?
Leo Craig: It’s not so much a case of innovating or expanding into other sectors. These days, virtually every industry relies on electricity and IT in some form or another, so a UPS system is a valuable safeguard to protect against any unexpected outages. For example, we’ve recently secured a number of clients in the sports stadiums and facilities sectors.

Given the continued growth and popularity of connected devices, smart industry and the Internet of Things, our personal and professional lives are only going to become more increasingly interconnected and dependent on a robust and consistent power supply. That being so, the demand for UPS protection is only likely to burgeon.

Risk UK: What are the key issues to remember around ownership of a UPS system and how can firms avoid potential failures?
Leo Craig: While a UPS is an essential piece of power protection equipment for businesses of all shapes and sizes, it’s by no means perfect. Indeed, no safeguard can ever be 100% infallible. A UPS unit is a complex machine and, over time, parts will fail or components such as batteries or fans will need replacing.

Once a UPS has been installed, it’s the ongoing monitoring, maintenance and servicing that keeps it operating at peak performance. A well-maintained UPS obviously helps to minimise downtime and promote uptime, which is the ultimate goal of the host company.

Risk UK: What are the biggest obstructions to UPS maintenance?
Leo Craig: More than two-thirds of downtime incidents are actually thought to be preventable in the first place, with poor maintenance highlighted as one of the key culprits. Basic human error is the most common cause. At the simplest level, ensuring labels are clear and that switching procedure documentation is easy to understand can avert possible disaster. Incorporating castell interlocks into the initial system design will help to ensure that switches are thrown in a controlled and safe fashion. In the most critical environments, a pilot/co-pilot arrangement (whereby two engineers both check a procedure before ever carrying out the action) can reduce the risk of human failure.
The best way to eliminate such a threat is by making sure you work alongside a dependable UPS maintenance supplier that only uses fully-trained and competent field engineers.

Risk UK: What should a business look for in a UPS maintenance package and what are the most important issues to bear in mind here?
Leo Craig: Sadly, not all UPS maintenance agreements are the same. Too many contracts are full of big promises that, in reality, don’t live up to expectations. It’s crucial that you clarify several key issues before signing up.

The first point to cover is emergency response times – how quickly will you receive help if disaster strikes? Options tend to range from 8 or 12 working hours down to four clock hours. Just as importantly, find out exactly what that ‘response’ is. Is it an automated message, a phone call from tech support or a certified UPS engineer fixing the problem on site?

Availability of replacement parts is also something to consider. Ask whether your supplier stores spares in several different locations such that they can be with you as quickly as possible. Even better still, do they provide ‘crash kits’ of the most common spare parts that you can keep at your location ready for use in case of an emergency scenario?

Finally, you need to be sure that the person you’re entrusting to service your UPS unit knows exactly what they’re doing. Field engineers should successfully pass a challenging Certified Engineer training programme in order to prove their competence.

Risk UK: How about energy wastage through UPS? Is this a problem and is there a way in which wastage can be reduced to lower carbon emissions and cut back on cost?
Leo Craig: The rise in popularity of modular UPS systems is helping to improve energy efficiency. Moving away from larger static UPS to a more modular approach means that loads can be configured more closely to the business’ actual power requirements, in turn ensuring there’s less wasted capacity without compromising on performance or redundancy. If and when the client needs to scale-up, they can simply ‘Pay as you Grow’ by adding in extra modules. Compact modular UPS solutions also produce far less heat, thereby reducing the reliance on energy-intensive cooling.

We recently worked on a major Data Centre upgrade that saw several larger static UPS replaced with more modern modular units. The client benefited from a 72% reduction in annual CO2 emissions and saved more than £335,000 per annum on its UPS and air conditioning costs. This is conclusive proof that there are significant efficiency savings to be made.

Risk UK: Are there any other applications for UPS that haven’t yet been widely adopted?
Leo Craig: Although it will need something of a shift in mindset across our industry, there’s definitely merit in embracing the move towards demand side response by using the untapped potential of UPS batteries to store electricity and feed it into the National Grid.

The move to Lithium-Ion batteries makes this a real possibility and offers obvious ‘wins’ for both sides. With demands for electricity only ever going to increase, energy harnessed from UPS units could become a valuable additional source of renewable power to add to the nation’s energy mix. From the host organisation’s perspective, it’ll help reduce their environmental footprint as well as providing an extra revenue stream.

At present, mission-critical businesses tend to be risk-averse. UPS resilience is by far and away their foremost priority. Even something seemingly straightforward such as harnessing power from back-up generators hasn’t gained much traction yet, so asking these businesses to go beyond that and adopt UPS energy storage will need a major change in mentality. It’s up to us as a sector to keep pushing the environmental and economic benefits.

Risk UK: Where is the industry heading now? Have there been any recent developments or technological advances in UPS systems?
Leo Craig: The aforementioned move to Lithium-Ion batteries has been very positive. Compared to the more traditional sealed lead acid (SLA) batteries, they offer several advantages. Lithium-Ion versions take up half the space, but provide a much higher power density. They charge far quicker and can be recharged many more times than SLA batteries.

Lithium-Ion batteries can operate effectively at 40oC, twice the recommendation for SLA types, which also happens to be closer to the optimum temperature at which a UPS should operate. This means there’s less need for costly air conditioning to keep the unit/batteries cool.

About the Author
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI, Editor, Risk UK (Pro-Activ Publications) Beginning his career in professional journalism at The Builder Group in March 1992, Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today in November 2000 having spent eight years in engineering journalism across two titles: Building Services Journal and Light & Lighting. In 2005, Brian received the BSIA Chairman’s Award for Promoting The Security Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was The Security Institute’s nomination for the Association of Security Consultants’ highly prestigious Imbert Prize and, in 2013, was a nominated finalist for the Institute's George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute, Brian serves as a Judge for the BSIA’s Security Personnel of the Year Awards and the Securitas Good Customer Award. Between 2008 and 2014, Brian pioneered the use of digital media across the security sector, including webinars and Audio Shows. Brian’s actively involved in 50-plus security groups on LinkedIn and hosts the popular Risk UK Twitter site. Brian is a frequent speaker on the conference circuit. He has organised and chaired conference programmes for both IFSEC International and ASIS International and has been published in the national media. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk UK at Pro-Activ Publications in July 2014 and as Editor of The Paper (Pro-Activ Publications' dedicated business newspaper for security professionals) in September 2015. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk Xtra at Pro-Activ Publications in May 2018.

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