Gas, On-Site Power, Reciprocating Engines

On-site Power: September is Disaster Preparedness Month

Dorian is baring down on Florida as you are reading this over the Labor Day weekend.  

Electric grids are possibly getting slammed, lines knocked down, substations flooded and customers are losing power. Some of those could be hospitals, nursing homes, servers or other critical services.

They can be surprised by the severity of a storm, but they don’t have to be unprepared. September is National Disaster Preparedness Month, and two experts with a major supplier in the On-site Power space talked to Power Engineering about best practices for ensuring a mission-critical site has its backup gen-sets ready and in good working order when the bad mojo hits.

On-site fuel security and electricity reliability available at the ready before the storm sometimes can be the difference between life and death. After the fact is too late.

“Unfortunately what we typically see in the industry is after a disaster happens, people become aware again,” Ryan Murphy, business development manager-mission critical for on-site gen-set firm MTU America, said. “Some will act… Unfortunately it is short-lived. They should continue to evaluate their level of risk and exposure and act on that before the emergency.”

MTU, which is part of Rolls Royce Power Systems, provides backup diesel and gas-fired gen-sets around the world. As more climate disasters unfold across the U.S. and elsewhere, key sites such as hospitals and emergency responders should clearly understand the strengths and weaknesses of their backup generation plans.

“I think the most important part if making sure the equipment is maintained and in good working order,” Murphy said. “Exercise all aspects of on-site power generation, whether it’s the diesel or natural gas generators, all the way through the transfer switch to building load.”

Writing up a contingency plan in advance is important, he added, making sure that plenty of fuel and spare parts are on hand. Base the supplies on a worst-case scenario, whether that’s 45 hours or a week.

Investment is also a part of the equation. Whether to rent or own? Sometimes that the question. The financial and logistical impacts of rent v. own weigh heavily on a facility manager’s mind.

“If they’re using rented power, an outage is guaranteed…whether it’s several hours” or much longer, noted Brian Ponstein, senior application engineer for MTU America. “If you have installed power, the site can be back up and operating in a matter of seconds,” Ponstein added. “If they are a mission-critical facility that needs to have power constantly, having it installed at your site is highly recommended.”

Companies must evaluate the image risks and damage involved in losing power for an extended time, he said.

Past experience—or public trauma, if you prefer–have resulted in regulatory requirements in some states. In Florida, for instance, gas stations along evacuation routes must have backup generators.

For those, such as hospitals or data centers which deem it in their best interest to hard-wire the backup generation into their site, other considerations are necessary. Fuel must be stored on site or accessible via a pipeline, so site managers must determine what works best in their situation.

“Fuel storage is definitely a concern,” Murphy said. “Some have a minimum of 24 hours or 48 hours of fuel on site. You also have to be aware of the quality of fuel. Sometimes that fuel may have sat there for a number of years, so when it’s called on to run the equipment it may or may not run.”

Companies in the on-site power sector offer many types of generators, from diesel to natural gas and even hybrids.  Sometimes fuel diversity is the smart move.

“You can mix and match things,” Ponstein said. “Better to understand the effects of each fuel source and what is needed…From a load acceptance perspective, diesel engines out-perform anything else out there. They take building load very well.”

The common theme is to understand that a future catastrophe is highly possible, maybe even likely. So determine how it might impact your business or service and plan accordingly, Murphy and Ponstein concurred.

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On-site Power is a Summit content track at POWERGEN International, happening Nov. 19-21 in New Orleans. And MTU will be one of the presenters in the Decentralized Energy Knowledge Hub on the POWERGEN exhibition floor. Registration is open.