Do I need back up power?


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Do I need Backup Power

When I tell my friends and family what I do for a living the conversation almost always go to a place where they ask me the question- “Do I need backup power?”  Or they will say something like- “I’ve thought about getting a generator.”  Of course the sales guy in me wants to always answer “Yes you ABSOLUTELY need backup power” but the reality is, as much as I really want to sell something to someone, not everyone NEEDS backup power.  In fact, we can all use a little “offline” downtime in life, so maybe we should take advantage of that when our power goes out.   While the answer to this question is ultimately your choice, sometimes it’s easy to determine if the investment in an emergency backup power system really makes sense.  I’ll try to expand a little based on the experience our team at CCPS has in providing backup power solutions for all types of clients from houses, to hospitals, and everything in between.

So what is backup power?  To us- we define it as any type of system that produces electricity that is not the grid power, or utility power.  It can be something as small as a battery pack that keeps hallway lights on at a hotel or an apartment building.  Or it can be a diesel generator as large as a semi truck keeping the stadium powered during the big game, in case the power goes out.  If you want to learn more about all the different types of backup power systems available, you can read more about it here in our article called backup power types- which one is right for me?  But let’s stick to the question at hand.  

Different people and places value different things so this question seems to speak to all types of people.  I will break down some pretty common scenarios we see from a homeowner, a business, and manufacturer, and a hotel.

Homeowner power outage-

When the power goes out at someone’s house, more often than not it is just an annoyance because it usually doesn’t last very long, and you just have to go around resetting all the appliances with clocks on them- the stove, microwave, coffee pot, and maybe an alarm or something.  While this is annoying, it probably doesn’t justify spending a good amount of money on a backup power system.  But let’s say you are in a rural area, and your water source is a well with an electric pump.  When the power goes out for an extended period so does your water- no washing hands or dishes, and no flushing the toilet either!  This could become a major issue if you are in an area with an unreliable grid, or in an area that is subject to crazy weather.  In this case, you will usually see a small portable propane or gas generator that is able to be brought over to the water well and plugged in if needed.  If loss or power is a more regular occurrence in your area, it may make better sense to have a permanently mounted generator, and an automatic transfer switch (ATS) installed.  The generator could run off of natural gas (if available), plumbed to an existing propane tank, or even run off of diesel fuel.  And the sizes can range from something as small as 6kW all the way up to 100kW or bigger depending on all the things you want to keep power to (How to size my generator).  Some homes have wine cellars with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of rare wines, or fish tanks with exotic fish, or high tech security systems, among other things.  These types of things help certain people answer the question of when to invest in a backup power solution.

Business Power Outage-

The way business operates seems to be an ever changing thing these days.  I have a client that is does most of their sales online or by phone orders.  Their sales average about $45,000 a day, and when the power goes out, they still have to pay those people who came in to work to help process those orders.  Not only are they losing the revenue from sales, they have the added loss of not covering their overhead.  This is scenario when it is easy to determine that there is backup power like a generator needed.  Grocery stores carry a lot of perishable items, most of which they usually have to buy ahead of time.  When the power goes out, they risk losing all of that inventory they have invested in.  Again, another easy determination of needing something like a generator to keep the power on.  

A research laboratory for a startup may have millions of dollars invested in specimens and samples of product they are in the process of developing.  Those people definitely do not want to jeopardize losing someone’s life work, and lot’s of investor’s capital.  Whereas on the other hand, you may be a small boutique flower shop, or photography studio, or a bar- It’s not very common to see those types of places make large investments in backup power (although a photography/ design studio may have a small battery backup system known as a UPS for their computer so they don’t lose their work.  The UPS gives them a limited supply of power, usually enough time for them to save their work, and safely shut down their computer system).

Manufacturer Power Outage-

This is a different animal. There are so many different variables when it comes to determining whether or not it makes sense to invest in backup power as a manufacturer.  Are you working with raw materials or manufacturing products that have to be kept in certain climates?  Are there production deadlines that will be impacted when you have an outage?  Do you have sensitive tooling or machines that need to stay online and calibrated?  Are there special tools or machines that require more power than your facility provides certain times of year? All of these and more will be factors in making the decision for or against backup power.  I mentioned my client  above that relies on phones and internet to make sales- they also manufacture their own products they sell.  However, when sizing the generator, transfer switch, and UPS they made the determination to not back up their manufacturing and assembly lines.  In the event of an outage then they would just shut that down for the day and continue to make sales.  Of course all this is subject to what is best for your business.

Hotel Power Outage-

I remember one time my in-laws treated the entire family to a vacation at Disneyland and we got to stay at the Grand Californian.  This is Disney’s showpiece resort in California and the rooms cost a pretty penny to say the least.  Everything is top notch and it is just like staying at Disneyland itself.  Although it wasn’t a power outage, I will never forget that in the middle of the night, the fire alarms sounded and the entire hotel was evacuated into the parking lot, in December (the coldest month of the year in Southern California).  From that point on, I always associate my stay there with being inconvenienced with my little kids and wife.  And that was just a (false) fire alarm!  I can’t imagine if I was staying at a hotel that lost power.  What an incredible inconvenience to anyone that may be staying somewhere that loses power.  Most if not all hotels, choose to invest in backup power systems that spare their guests the unfavorable memory of the power going out.  To hotels, it is a cheap insurance policy keeps patrons from having a negative association with their name.  

In addition to deciding to invest in buying and installing a backup power solution that helps you keep power to things that are important to you.  There is also an added investment in making sure that your system is kept up and operational the times you need it most.  But that’s a whole different topic!