With severe weather on the rise, so too are power outages. The Executive Office of the President reports severe weather-related outages cost the economy anywhere from $18 to $33 billion a year, with costs rising as high as $75 billion during years with major storms the like of Hurricane Ike and Superstorm Sandy.
Severe weather isn’t the only cause of outages. An aging infrastructure, coupled with increased demands for energy by businesses and residences, has led to a rise in small, frequent outages. Any business without a back-up generator risks the cost of lost output, spoiled inventory, inconvenience, and delays in production. Fortunately, you can negate these issues with the careful selection, installation, and use of a backup generator. So don’t worry—we’ve got you covered with these simple tips!
1. Assess Your Needs
During an extended outage, you only want power supplied to your vital systems. Powering nonessential systems will only waste fuel, which may be scarce during a major storm or disaster. Essential systems will vary with each business, but generally speaking include the following:
- Alarm systems
- Computers and office equipment
- Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC)
- Industrial equipment
- Major appliances, including freezers and refrigerators
- Sump pumps (especially in the event of flooding).
Once you determine how much power you need to operate essential systems, you can select an appropriate backup system, main transfer switch and electrical panel.
2. Systems Need More Energy to Start than to Run
The initial startup of any electrical system or equipment consumes more power than is needed to operate said system. Your backup generator must be able to meet both startup and operating needs.
If your generator cannot power up all systems simultaneously, you can minimize the power needed by restarting systems in sequence, rather than at the same time. This isn’t an ideal system, but may be necessary if space or financial constraints limit your choice of generator.
3. Choose a Safe Location
No matter how efficient your backup generator, it does you no good if it’s flooded or damaged by high winds. Choose a sheltered, outdoor location for your generator, using concrete blocks to raise it above any expected flooding. Avoid locating your generator in enclosed areas, where dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can build up.
4. Stock up on Fuel.
Maintain enough fuel on-site for an extended power interruption. Exactly how long an outage you can expect can be estimated from your location’s history of outages and severe weather.
Backup generators run on a variety of fuels, including natural gas, propane, and diesel. Diesel generators provide the fastest startup times—an important consideration if you experience frequent, short outages.
5. Proper Installation
Of the thousands of backup generators in business across the country, relatively few are properly installed. Be sure to have a licensed professional install your generator, for both efficiency and safety. This includes installation of a transfer switch to prevent electricity from your generator travelling back down public power lines, which can endanger both your staff and utility workers trying to restore power.
6. Schedule Regular Maintenance
Hopefully, you’ll rarely use your backup generator, but lack of use doesn’t mean it can be neglected. Schedule regular oil and filter changes and stay up to date on service contracts. Electrical and safety codes require you periodically run the generator to ensure it will work in an emergency, because the last thing you need in a power outage is an unresponsive backup unit.
7. Recheck Your Load
Few businesses remain stagnant. Over time you may add new equipment that places new demands on your power supply. Such changes could require an upgrade from your existing generator, or at the least changes to your switchgear.
8. Consider Rental Power
If space constraints mean you cannot install your own generator, or if your existing generator can no longer meet the needs of your essential systems, consider contracting with a firm that provides power during outages. A small investment now could pay dividends in the event of a major power interruption.