For many organizations, an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) can represent a significant capital investment. As a result, it’s important to have a general idea of how many years that investment will last. When it comes to power solutions, determining longevity lies in understanding the lifecycle of the UPS’s key components, such as batteries, fans, and capacitors. This knowledge is essential to not only assess how long your UPS will operate but to recognize critical service parameters including preventive maintenance requirements, the optimal time for battery replacement, and knowing when you are most at risk for a UPS unit failure.
The heart of any UPS system, batteries are electrochemical energy storage devices that convert chemical energy into the electrical energy that the UPS relies on to operate during a power loss. Because their chemicals naturally deplete over time, even UPS batteries that are well cared for and properly maintained will still need to be periodically replaced, generally every three to five years.
UPS Battery Function
While the main function of a UPS battery is to take over the connected load if the power goes out, batteries also enhance system reliability during normal operations. With the ability to recognize even small fluctuations in the incoming power supply, the UPS switches to DC power and converts it to AC power when incoming utility power drops below or surges above safe voltage levels. In this way, the UPS batteries prevent dirty power from reaching sensitive electronic equipment ── especially important in rural areas and other environments where the power supply is often unstable.
Factors Affecting Battery Longevity
When operating under ambient conditions (68° to 77° F), most UPS batteries have an expected lifespan of three to five years. However, batteries can fail much faster in conditions outside the recommended parameters for a UPS system. In addition, a UPS that operates in an environment with poor quality utility power is another factor that can reduce lifespan, as this can cause batteries to cycle frequently. Battery life can also be significantly reduced if an organization doesn’t engage in regular service and preventive maintenance.
Signs of Battery Failure
Unfortunately, UPS batteries can fail without warning ── which can be devastating if a power outage occurs and takes down the critical load at the same time. Batteries that are approaching the end of their useful life may display warning signs such as repeating alarms, flashing panel lights and abnormal terminal displays. To ensure ongoing reliability and uptime, the optimal approach is to engage in regular battery service and replacement.
Fans are located throughout uninterruptible power supplies and play an important role in cooling critical electronic components such as the inverter and rectifier. In general, the larger the UPS, the more fans it will have. Like other components, the lifespan of a UPS fan will vary based on factors such as temperature, humidity, particulates, clogged air filters and how much rated power capacity the UPS is operating under. If the fans aren’t working efficiently, it can cause the components to run hotter and consequently deteriorate much faster. One of the few UPS components that is mechanical in nature, a fan will wear out over time and need to be replaced.
The sealed bearings within fans contain grease, which dissipates over time and slows fan speed, creating additional heat and noise. Another factor is dust in the atmosphere, which forces fans to work harder to keep air flowing. In addition, component switching inside of a UPS generates significant amounts of heat, which can further impact fans. While a UPS fan has a typical service life of five to seven years if operating in optimum environmental conditions, it is advised to proactively replace fans before the end of service life to minimize the risk of serious failure.
A UPS is comprised of dozens of capacitors in a variety of sizes. Responsible for smoothing and filtering voltage fluctuations, UPS capacitors contain a pair of conducting surfaces, usually electrodes or metallic plates, enclosed in aluminum or chromium-plated cylinders. Capacitors typically need to be replaced every seven to 10 years. However, when operating under unfavorable circumstances, they can fail much more quickly. 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 capacitors approach seven years 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.
How to Extend the Life of Your UPS
With proper servicing, a UPS can operate safely and reliably for more than a decade. Routine preventive maintenance has been proven to be among the leading factors of UPS system reliability, enabling technicians to detect potential points of failure before they become expensive problems. Engaging in routine service minimizes the threat of expensive and potentially devastating downtime, reduces emergency service calls and lowers overall service expenses by 50 percent or more.
During a preventive maintenance service call, the technician will complete a number of vital assessments, such as measuring cell voltage levels, checking batteries for loose connections, and visually inspecting for battery leakage, swelling and corrosion. In addition to helping ensure that batteries operate at 100% capacity, routine service helps to reduce battery replacement rate and frequency.
When to Replace Your UPS System
Even UPSs that have been impeccably maintained and serviced will eventually reach the end of their useful life. Because the decision to replace a UPS can be complicated ── and expensive ── it is important to consider numerous factors. Among them are return on investment (ROI), desired technology and future load requirements.
Calculating a UPS’s precise ROI can be difficult since it is tough to put a price tag on reliability. However, if a power solution is operating at less than 50% load, it is generally a good candidate for replacement. Doing so will likely lower both CapEx and OpEx, while also increasing power usage effectiveness (PUE) ── all of which contribute to lower total cost of ownership (TCO). Another consideration is if it’s time to replace the batteries, as the cost of a battery replacement service can instead be applied to a new UPS. Also, the age of the existing UPS can significantly impact ongoing service costs, as replacement parts are more difficult to find and typically higher once end of life occurs. For customers without a service contract, the risk of time and material charges will also likely increase proportionally with the age of the UPS.
In addition, advances in technology have created power systems with a slew of attractive new features, such as power factor corrected rectifiers that yield reduced demand charges, energy saver systems that improve UPS efficiency up to 99% and compact models with reduced footprint for space savings. Organizations operating older UPS equipment without these types of enhancements may find that upgrading is an appealing option. Finally, if your organization is operating its existing UPS at capacity and/or has plans to expand, a new UPS may be in order.
Maintain Your UPS System with Unified Power
For more than two decades, Unified Power has been a trusted provider of world-class UPS services that optimize the reliability and performance of critical power equipment. Regardless of the age of your UPS, Unified Power’s experienced, knowledgeable technicians are dedicated to helping extend the life of your power systems, providing unparalleled quality and an affordable service alternative to OEMs.
Professionally trained on all major manufacturers’ equipment, our technicians are located across the nation and are ready to perform the services you need at your convenience ── whether it’s the middle of the night or during regular business hours. Our comprehensive offering includes UPS preventive maintenance plans; generator maintenance; emergency service; battery preventive maintenance, battery capacity testing and recycling; UPS capacitor service; and UPS rentals.