Surviving a Lengthy Electrical Power Outage

Winter brings an interesting set of challenges to business continuity. Temperatures drop and infrastructure gets covered in ice and snow. Maintenance crews have a much harder time gaining access to things in need of repair, including wires, underground transformers, and conduits. Power and drainage problems happen almost predictably every year. It’s not about if, it’s about when and how often.

If your business has been interrupted due to lengthy blackout this winter, or if you are justifiably worried about it, one of things you might consider is installing a backup generator.  These generators can be powered by either bottled gas (propane) or natural gas.  While diesel and gasoline powered generates are available, and usually slightly less expensive, you might want to avoid those due to the fact that the local gas station will be impacted by the same blackout unless you are prepared to store sufficient quantities of the fuel – and that means you may need permits to store more than a few minutes worth. There is value in those, don’t get me wrong. They’ll let you do a clean shut-down of your operation, but you should not depend on them for running your business during a lengthy outage.

Don’t be tempted to hook up a standby generator to your electrical system during an outage, if the power comes back on you can be electrocuted, destroy the generator or burn out any equipment that is hooked up. If you use a standby generator run it outside due to carbon monoxide and run a sufficient size extension cord directly to any equipment you need powered.

The next step is to determine the size of the generator you need. In a home you would take into account things like refrigerators and freezers, heating / cooling, sump or well pumps, internet, television / radio / phones, lighting and anything else you would like powered during a lengthy outage. At your office, think about what systems need to stay running – if you are running a factory, remember to include not only the power tools, but health and safety equipment.

These standby generators can be hooked up to the electrical system with an automatic transfer switch to turn off the utility power while the generator is running.  They have battery start and can have automatic testing on a weekly basis – a crucial feature in our opinion otherwise you might find you have just a very expensive decoration.  Natural gas and propane generators are manufactured by companies like GE, Generac, Cummins, Kohler, and Winco. The smallest units start around $2000 without installation for a 7000 watt unit. Some propane generators may be installed inside your well ventilated factory, but always check the manuals and regulations in your area first.

Stand-by generators generally will start running within minutes of the power going out – they take time to get going and stabilize – so you may still need UPS power for critical items, like servers and phone systems, that need continuous power. There will also be a short interruption when the utility power returns, which UPS devices will also handle.

Assess your needs and know how much power you need and when. Don’t get caught wishing that you were the one who bought that last generator instead of the person in line ahead of you who did.