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Education, UPS

Knowledge is Power: 5 Key Truths about UPS Systems

Whether you’re considering upgrading your uninterruptible power system (UPS), investigating service options for an existing unit, or simply seeking to bolster your overall power protection proficiency, one thing is certain: knowledge is power. With that in mind, we’ve compiled five important details to add to your power system repertoire:

1. All UPS are not created equal. It is important to recognize that the three primary UPS topologies — standby, line-interactive and online —provide significant differences in performance and varying degrees of protection. A standby system, also referred to as an off-line or passive UPS, delivers the most basic level of security, making it best suited for less critical applications. While the low-cost units supply battery backup during a power outage, they do not buffer equipment against many common damaging power anomalies.

A line-interactive UPS system is designed to shield connected devices from five of the nine most common power problems, including under- and over- voltage conditions. Typically used to safeguard enterprise network and IT applications, a line-interactive UPS provides more protection than standby models, with better power conditioning and regulation that helps prolong battery life.

Finally, the online or double-conversion topology delivers continuous protection against all nine common power problems, supplying consistent power quality regardless of incoming instabilities. Online UPSs are the optimal choice for critical applications or those involving highly sensitive equipment, such as data centers, communications hubs and other mission-critical installations where continuous, clean power is a business-critical requirement.

2. A UPS won’t necessarily include power conditioning. While either device can offer various forms of power filtering, the primary distinction between the two is that a UPS system has a battery, while a power conditioner does not. In addition to providing battery backup, some UPSs also combine power filtering into a single unit; however, the UPS must be either line-interactive or online topology and include true sine wave output. However, if your UPS doesn’t incorporate the necessary level of power conditioning, it is possible to add a separate power conditioner to the unit.

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3. No matter how well you care for your UPS, certain components will eventually fail. While some UPS systems may last 15 or more years, there are several principal components that are subject to failure far earlier; most notably, the batteries, fans and capacitors. The majority of UPS batteries have an expected lifespan of three to five years under ambient conditions, but can fail much faster in environments that exceed a temperature of 77°F, or where recurrent power problems cause them to cycle frequently. Fans have a typical lifespan of six to seven years, and most capacitors will last seven to 10 years before needing to be replaced. To avoid unexpected downtime or damage to critical equipment, make sure you understand the lifecycle and maintenance requirements of these key UPS components.

4. Regular preventive maintenance is essential. Routine preventive maintenance has been shown to be one of the most successful and cost-effective ways to ensure the longevity — and reliability — of your UPS system. This proactive maintenance approach monitors ongoing UPS health through regular checkups, helping to ensure that the system will continue to operate at peak performance. In addition to batteries, capacitors and fans, a UPS’s semi-conductors, wiring, resistors and breakers all require regular attention in order to achieve optimal performance and efficiency. Without scheduled preventive maintenance, there is no way to mitigate the possibility of part and component failures, leaving equipment vulnerable to downtime and premature failure.

5. Maximizing UPS efficiency can lower your energy costs. Did you know that even small boosts to UPS efficiency can result in thousands of dollars in savings? That’s because high-efficiency UPS models achieve more real power while lowering power and cooling requirements— an especially important factor considering utility costs are long-term, ongoing expenses. While actual savings depend on utility rates, the size of the UPS system and the load supported, increasing efficiency by as little as 1 percent can translate to tens of thousands of dollars in annual savings. And the Department of Energy estimates that a 15,000-square-foot data center operating at 100W/square foot would pocket $90,000 per year just by increasing the efficiency of its UPS from 90 to 95 percent.

While these key factors are intended to bolster your overall UPS system knowledge, we at Unified Power also understand that UPS’s can be complex devices.

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DC Power

The Main Components of a DC Power System

While the majority of power infrastructure operates on AC (alternating current) power, certain applications and industries are better suited for DC (direct current), especially those that require either a long duration discharge or low amperage output over an extended period of time. This is due to the fact that with DC power, the current consistently flows in one direction. Conversely, with AC power, the electric current periodically reverses direction. DC power is widely used in applications such as telecom, automotive, aircraft and other low-voltage, low-current applications.

In a DC power system, the uninterruptible power system (UPS) takes in primary power — usually utility AC — and outputs DC voltage while providing backup power from the integrated batteries in the event of an extended power outage. Although DC units may vary depending on the type of application they are designed for, most systems consist of five main components:  

1. Rectifier / Charger — An electrical device that converts alternating current, the rectifier has two main purposes. Its primary job is to provide DC power to the supported loads, with a secondary role of charging and maintaining the batteries to ensure the system will perform in the event of a power failure. When selecting a rectifier, consider whether the system that is being backed up requires redundancy, efficiency and/or scalability.

2. Controller – The brains of a DC power system, the controller provides logic to the system, commanding the various components and providing insight into the UPS’s status and functionality. Some DC systems may have a separate controller. To ensure compatibility, the controller must be able to communicate with the network; for instance, tie into a building automation system or connect via SNMP or another communication protocol.

3. Batteries — Depending on the application, a DC system may use VRLA, lithium-ion, NICAD or wet cell batteries, with almost all batteries running in a series due to the amount of power needed. Selecting a battery type will depend on a number of factors, including whether a long duration discharge is needed, the environment of the facility (such as high heat or humidity), life cycle cost and any footprint limitations at the site.

4. Distribution system — Many DC applications have specific requirements around distribution, with one of the most common considerations being future load requirements. The distribution is usually integrated into the rectifier enclosure, but it can also be external.

5. Enclosure — There are a variety of enclosure designs available for DC systems, including rack-mount and shelf-mount. In some installations, batteries are included within the enclosure, while other times they are deployed in a separate rack.

When choosing the optimal DC power system for your environment, it is important to take into account all of these considerations. Since DC UPSs can differ depending on the application they are intended for, it is critical to understand the critical system components to ensure your backup solution will perform as expected.

Education, UPS

Five Critical Steps To UPS Deployment

Deploying an uninterruptible power system (UPS) is an increasingly important decision for today’s organizations, regardless of the size or sector. Relied upon to provide continuous, clean power to a connected load — as well as battery backup in the event of a power outage —UPSs are imperative to achieving uptime and business continuity. As a result, it’s important to put some thought before procuring a new solution. Because UPSs are specialized systems that must be seamlessly integrated with other equipment, it’s best to detail a thorough plan upfront. This will help facilitate a smooth deployment from start to finish, ultimately optimizing the lifespan of your unit.

Here are five factors to take into account:

1. Select the right partner. First and foremost, it is important to work with a true UPS expert who can help guide you through the entire decision-making process. Make sure the company has a solid reputation and specializes in UPS and power-related equipment.

2. Conduct a site survey. Prior to choosing a UPS, it is wise to complete a site survey. Doing so ensures that all power requirements have been taken into account prior to installation, as well as other considerations such as room layout, available space, temperature and humidity control. Once the assessment is complete, you will be better prepared to select the optimal UPS — as well as any supplemental equipment such as PDUs or surge suppressors — to meet your unique needs and environment.

Need help deciding on a UPS? Get a free site assessment!

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3. Determine the ideal UPS for your environment. UPSs come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and there are numerous questions to ask when selecting the best model for your organization. For instance, how critical are the loads being protected? What is your desired runtime? How reliable is the incoming utility power? Do you expect significant load growth in the coming years? And perhaps most important, what would the effects be if your company were to endure unexpected downtime?

For some installations, a single UPS may provide sufficient protection, while other applications require redundancy. Scalable, modular systems can benefit organizations that anticipate future growth in load demand. Many times, a certified pre-owned UPS will provide lower total cost of ownership (TCO) than a brand new unit. A qualified partner can be especially valuable to assist you in determining precisely what you need in a power protection solution.

4. Install the system. Once the UPS model has been selected, subsequent project management and commissioning are key to a successful installation. Confirm with your partner the timeline for delivery, any risks associated with the project, and if a planned power outage is required during installation.  

5. Sign up for service. While most UPSs feature a standard factory warranty, the majority of policies don’t include routine preventive maintenance (PM). However, because regular checkups have been proven to be one of the most effective ways to avert UPS failure, a service plan is a crucial step to protecting your investment. Make sure you engage with a service provider that provides highly skilled technicians, prompt emergency response service, and a well-stocked warehouse to ensure quick access to replacement parts.

Installing a UPS solution goes a long way toward safeguarding your organization against potentially devastating downtime, equipment damage and data loss. To avoid snags along the way, make sure you form a solid game plan before you deploy a new solution.

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How Long Will A UPS Last?

When Aristotle articulated that, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” he obviously wasn’t referring to uninterruptible power systems (UPSs) — but he could have been. The famous quote, which suggests that individual parts connected together to form one entity are more valuable than if the parts remained separate, can certainly be applied to backup power solutions. Yet ironically, when trying to determine the lifespan of a UPS, it is those individual parts that must be closely considered.

Just how long will the average UPS operate and when are you at risk for failure? It’s a common question whose answer depends on a number of different variables, including the batteries, fans and capacitors. While some UPS systems can last 15 or more years before needing to be replaced, these primary components are subject to failure far earlier. To avoid downtime or damage to critical equipment, make sure you understand the lifecycle and maintenance requirements of a UPS’s key components. A little knowledge of your UPS’s primary parts will go a long way toward extending its lifespan.

1. Batteries — The heart of any UPS system, batteries are electrochemical energy storage devices that convert chemical energy into the electrical energy UPSs use to operate. Because the chemicals deplete over time, even UPS batteries that are well cared for will still need to be replaced. Most batteries have an expected lifespan of three to five years under ambient conditions. However, they can fail much faster in environments such as those that exceed an ambient temperature of 77°F, or where recurrent power problems cause batteries to cycle frequently. Battery life can also be significantly reduced if an organization doesn’t engage in regular service and maintenance. To learn more about the factors that influence UPS battery life, please check out our earlier blog on this topic.

Need help deciding on a UPS? Get a free site assessment!

Click above to get started or call 240.772.1710 for instant help.

2. Fans —One of the few UPS components that is mechanical in nature, a fan will wear out over time and eventually need to be replaced, usually between seven and ten years . Like other components, a UPS fan’s lifespan can vary on factors that include temperature, humidity, particulates, clogged air filters and how much rated power capacity the UPS is operating under. Avoid fan failures with proactive replacements.

3. Capacitors —Responsible for smoothing and filtering voltage fluctuations, capacitors typically need to be replaced every seven to 10 years. However, under unfavorable circumstances, they may operate for a much shorter time. Don’t wait until your UPS capacitors reach the end of their rated service life to start preparing for their replacement. Instead, request replacement quotes when they approach seven years old to ensure you are prepared, and take the time to read service reports closely. If there are any impending signs of failure, take steps to replace the capacitors immediately. For more information on capacitors, please refer to our previous blog on this component.

While the sum of a UPS’s parts represents the key to its successful operation, it is the individual parts that will determine how long the unit will last. Understanding the life cycle of key components will help you better assess the longevity of your UPS. Sometimes other factors will influence the best time to upgrade your unit. In our next blog, we will explore several considerations when replacing your UPS solution.

Still have questions? Get a response immediately.

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Batteries, UPS

Knowledge is Power: Understanding UPS battery options

When it comes to the batteries within uninterruptible power systems (UPSs), one size doesn’t fit all.

In fact, for decades, most smaller standby systems have used sealed VRLA batteries, while larger double-conversion systems have typically relied on flooded-cell VLA batteries.

There’s also a relative newcomer to the family, as lithium-ion has joined the two decades-old siblings. Here, we break down the UPS battery family tree:

1. Valve Regulated Lead Acid (VRLA). Commonly referred to as sealed lead-acid (SLA) or maintenance-free, VRLA batteries are the most common type of UPS battery.

Lower upfront costs, relative safety, easy availability and minimal maintenance are the primary advantages of this battery. However, deeming VRLA batteries “maintenance-free” is slightly inaccurate, as they still require regular cleaning and testing.

On the downside, sealed batteries have a short lifespan of about 3 to 7 years. The term ‘valve regulated’ represents the manner in which gas is released from a VRLA battery; if pressure becomes too great, a valve will vent the gas.

Because heat is detrimental to this type of battery, their optimal environment is a dry, temperature-controlled area of 77 degrees or lower.

It is important to note that since water cannot be added to most VRLA batteries, anything that increases the rate of evaporation or water loss — such as temperature or heat from the charging current — will subsequently reduce the life of the battery.

a. Absorbent glass mat (AGM). AGM batteries are a subtype of VRLA batteries. In AGM batteries the electrolyte is held in woven glass fiber mats.
This design allows for flexibility of design, improved self-discharge rates, and a wider operational temperature range.
b. Gel Cell. The second VRLA subtype. Originally conceived during the early 1930s for use in portable electronics early gel cells were less likely to leak when handled roughly.
A modern gel cell uses an electrolyte mixture usually comprised of sulfuric acid mixed with pyrogenic silica resulting in a gel like substance.
Gel cells are known for increased tolerance to vibration, as well as allowing for the lower cost 1-12 Amp hour range VRLA batteries found in smaller UPS systems.

2. Vented Lead Acid (VLA). Also known as flooded or wet cell batteries, VLA not only boast exceptional reliability, but an average lifespan of 20 years.

Composed of thick, lead-based plates flooded with electrolyte acid, these batteries typically have higher upfront costs than their VRLA counterparts, as well as pose a number of safety concerns.

As a result, they require regular maintenance and careful handling because their liquid is corrosive and can be set off by forceful movement.

Wet cell batteries should only be used in areas with proper ventilation and must be adequately protected against vibration and shaking due to the possibility of liquid spilling. In addition, they are prone to damage in extreme climates as the water inside can evaporate or freeze.

Even though wet cell batteries require more maintenance and are more expensive to replace, they are a highly reliable power source for double-conversion UPSs.

3. Lithium-ion. The new kid on the block when it comes to UPS applications, lithium-ion batteries have matured significantly in recent years, both in their design and range of potential uses.

Lithium-ion creates a safe and stable alternative battery option for UPSs, with benefits that include longer lifespan, weight reduction, smaller footprint and expanded warranty coverage.

While originally deployed as battery cabinets in three-phase UPS installations, there are now smaller single-phase lithium-powered UPSs on the market.

Although this type of battery tends to be more expensive than the other two options — which is expected to change as adoption rates become more widespread — lithium-ion batteries offer lower long term operational expenses since they last longer.

While each of the three types of UPS battery has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, it is important to understand your options — not to mention, how to best manage and maintain them.

One battery pitfall to avoid at all costs is thermal runaway, a topic we explored in our last blog.

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