These days, Quebec winters are increasingly unpredictable: we’re seeing more and more temperature variations and natural disasters of all kinds, such as ice storms. As a result, the risk of power failure is on the rise, affecting not only personal residences, but also commercial and industrial buildings. As a business manager, it’s important to adopt some basic preventive measures to keep your premises safe, protect your building and your most critical operations and technologies in the event of a short- or long-term loss of the main power supply.
With the winter season fast approaching, in this article we present some of the options available, with the aim of raising your awareness.
What you need to know
At the very least, companies must have a specific procedure for responding to power failures. First of all, it’s essential to identify the equipment that needs to be maintained to ensure workplace safety and to continue your most critical operations in such a situation. Among other things, this limits the risk of injury and financial loss, ensures access control and surveillance, and reduces the possibility of criminal acts and damage to property, equipment and building infrastructures. Finally, such a procedure avoids omissions and structures the approach, especially if you need to coordinate your actions with external stakeholders (e.g. customers, suppliers, public authorities, emergency services, etc.).
Here are a few considerations:
1- Specific procedure in the event of a power failure
It’s important to detail what needs to be maintained, as well as workarounds and adaptations, in an operational procedure. This will enable you to sequence actions and assign tasks across all your teams, while specifying the steps to be followed. Some activities will have to be suspended, while others can only be partially maintained or remain functional with adjustments. To avoid improvising too much and omitting important aspects that could have significant consequences for the organization, you need to document everything. The procedure also makes it possible to take account of changing circumstances. For example, the tasks and actions to be carried out will differ depending on the duration of the electrical interruption. The procedure should therefore suggest a progressive approach, categorized according to the duration of the outage, while remaining flexible and allowing a fluid transition from one category to another. This approach could also determine a gradual approach in the event of load shedding (offloading) of your services, to limit the consequences of the outage.
Establishing a procedure in the event of a power failure is a practice that reassures your employees and customers, while enabling you to remain in control of the consequences for your organization. It adds value to your business.
2- Get a generator
A generator is a device for producing electrical energy from another form of energy, which starts up automatically following a power failure, or manually if not equipped with triggers. The most common generators run on gas (natural or propane) or petrol. Dual-energy models are also available. Before acquiring a generator, it’s important to obtain a report on the electrical loads to be carried by this equipment in the building, to determine where it will be installed, and to ensure that all other requirements are taken into account (e.g. air supply, exhaust gases, tanks, etc.). This work must be planned and carried out, among other things, with the help of a certified electrician.
If you already have a generator, but it’s no longer generating enough power for the electrical loads you need to support, you may want to consider replacing it. It might also be worth considering the possibility of having an external connector installed on the building, and renting an additional outdoor, mobile generator if necessary (in the event of an outage). However, in a crisis situation, if you wish to rent such a mobile generator, it usually works on a first-come, first-served basis from the supplier. However, this is a cost-effective solution to your electricity needs, bearing in mind that if your contract doesn’t include a priority clause, you may not have the mobile generator when you need it (e.g., in the event of a region-wide ice storm).
If you don’t have a generator, the mobile generator approach can also be considered.
3- Equip yourself with a power generator set
A power generator set is a self-contained device capable of temporarily maintaining a limited emergency power supply during a failure of the main power supply using batteries, and also of producing electricity via a generator. The main difference with a generator lies in the way they operate, and in their actuating and operating elements.
To simplify matters, there are generally two components in a power generator set: a UPS (or UPS units) and a generator.
The UPS (for “uninterruptible power supply”) is a device that regulates electrical voltage and is equipped with several batteries. When the main power supply fails, the equipment connected to these batteries is not interrupted. This keeps them operational for a few minutes (or hours, as the case may be), giving the generator time to start up and supply electricity. At this point, the equipment connected to the UPS is no longer powered by the batteries, but rather by the generator (without interruption). Meanwhile, the UPS batteries are recharging.
It is also possible to connect the most critical equipment to the power generator set, and others to the generator only. A risk analysis is also required before making this type of installation.
In some cases, it is also possible to use UPS only. However, the duration of the power supply and loads is much more limited.
4- Prevention, first and foremost
If your company already has a generator or power generator set, we invite you to ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the maintenance schedule for emergency equipment being followed?
- Is this equipment tested regularly, as recommended by the manufacturer?
- How long will the fuel reserves in the tank last?
- What is the load supported by the generator?
- Do you have a supply contract with a supplier?
Then, if you don’t have a generator, UPS or power generator set, ask yourself whether it’s acceptable for your operations to be completely interrupted during a power failure of unknown duration.
If your company doesn’t have a specific procedure for dealing with power failures, and you’d like help implementing one that’s tailored to your needs, don’t hesitate to contact us at [email protected]. As the cold weather approaches, it’s time to get properly prepared to avoid unpleasant surprises!