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Opinion Piece Customised full-service generator solutions essential in maintaining productivity during extended outages

28 August 2014

By Marco da Silva, Managing Director of Jasco Power 

Unstable power and extended power outages can have disastrous consequences for businesses across many industries, from ICT and commercial enterprises to industrial, manufacturing and even parastatals. The ability to work through these outages is critical, and a UPS alone is not sufficient to provide enough run time. Generator sets, more commonly referred to simply as generators, have thus become essential equipment for many South African organisations. However, generator sets are not a ‘one size fits all’ technology, and there are many considerations and factors to bear in mind to ensure generators deliver as required, ensuring automatic start up with rapid carry over and providing enough electricity for all equipment during power outages.


For small businesses, a simple generator solution is often sufficient and does not require significant engineering. However, in larger enterprises with power consumption requirements of 30kVa and more, there is a high level of engineering required in order to ensure the correct solution is supplied and configured for optimal functionality. From site assessment to bespoke application engineering, implementation including electrical reticulation, distribution board installation and rigging, as well as testing and commissioning, and related equipment such as UPSs and Automatic Voltage Regulators (AVRs), generator solutions need to be customised and tailored to the unique needs of an individual organisation. On top of this, cloud-based services such as fuel monitoring can be implemented for additional value and functionality. A bespoke, full service solution from an expert service provider will help to avoid the numerous pitfalls of getting this often-expensive investment wrong.


The first step in a full service solution is the site assessment. This is crucial for a number of reasons. Firstly, the location of the generator needs to be determined, both for delivery and installation. Cable runs and lengths of cabling from the generator to the load need to be established, and an assessment must be made to determine whether or not an extra distribution board is necessary for the generator installation. The service provider can also provide advise on the brand of generator the customer should consider in order to meet their requirements and budget. In addition, a site assessment enables the provider to accurately calculate the load requirements for the customer, which then enables the correct sizing of the generator in terms of kVa.


Underestimating the load requirement wrong can have disastrous consequences, including the inability to run all of the necessary equipment during an outage and additional investment to correct the problem. It is important to bear in mind here that if a UPS is connected to the generator, which is typically the case, the generator needs to be oversized between 1.2 to 1.5 times in order to ensure the UPS does not choke the generator on startup. Future growth should also be taken into account, although dramatically oversizing a generator also has a negative impact of the functionality of the generator. An under-loaded generator causes issues such as glazing of the ball bearings, which can cause the generator to seize. For this reason, if a generator is too far oversized, load banks or dummy loads need to be installed to prevent problems, causing further expense. As a result, it is critical to size the generator correctly up front.


Since all organisations are different, their power requirements and environments are also different. A thorough site assessment will enable a power expert to understand the dynamic situation and requirements of the customer. Bespoke application engineering can then be applied to design a solution from scratch, taking into account every facet of the environment and the various power requirements. A generator set tailored specifically to the exacting needs of the individual customer will ensure maximum functionality and return on investment.


Once a solution has been designed and manufactured according to the required specifications, tested and delivered, it can be implemented on site. This is not simply a matter of plugging the machinery in, but requires a comprehensive process to ensure health and safety requirements are met and full functionality is guaranteed. Firstly, the site needs to be prepared, which often involves the laying of a concrete plinth, given the size and sheer weight of generator sets for large applications. Given the large size and heavy weight of many generator solutions, specialist rigging or trucking is often required to move the generator from the factory to its final destination. This is a process that requires specialist knowledge and skills to manoeuvre the equipment safely into place.


When the generator is in place on site, additional distribution boards need to be installed if necessary and electrical reticulation needs to be completed to connect the generator to the distribution boards that feed the facility. Distribution boards should be designed and manufactured ahead of time with the correct circuits for the individual customer, and the circuit breakers need to be sized correctly for short circuits and overload situations to protect the distribution board and reticulation. Cabling must be run in trenches under the flooring, or along the walls and ceiling in cable trays, in order to meet operational health and safety considerations, which requires extra care to ensure cable lengths are accurate and properly designed. The generator should then be fuelled and commissioned, and then tested to ensure full functionality. A Service Level Agreement should then be concluded to ensure on-going maintenance is covered according to requirements.


In addition to a generator set, additional equipment such as Surge and Lightning protection should be installed on the distribution board to prevent damage from power surges. A UPS and an AVR are also considered essential equipment, and should ideally be obtained from the same service provider as the generator set. This ensures that a suitable turnkey solution can be delivered to the customer in terms of both power quality and power assurance to meet their configuration and loading needs. It will also prevent compatibility issues between the generator and the UPS, which can cause operational difficulties with the solution.


In order to deliver additional value and functionality, some service providers also offer a range of cloud-based solutions that enhance the generator set solution. This includes intelligent monitoring of run time, battery voltage, consumption mediums, fuel levels, fuel consumption, efficiency, when servicing is required and more. Using an IP-connected probe, which is submerged in the generator’s fuel tank and connected back to a cloud server via GPRS or satellite, a real-time online monitoring platform enables organisations to gain a more accurate picture of their generator solution. Designated users within the organisation can log in to view a variety of graphs related to their generator set as well as more details on alarms using tablets, smartphones or computers.


Fuel monitoring is particularly important to prevent theft, as if this is not monitored it can become a significant problem. Alarms can be configured to alert designated personnel to theft of fuel as well as contamination of the diesel with foreign content such as paraffin or water, a trick commonly used by thieves to disguise the missing diesel. Monitoring solutions can also alert organisations when fuel needs to be refilled, as well as when tanks are overfilled. Alerts are customised according to the exacting needs of the individual customer. This gives organisations a far greater level of control over their generator solution, which is essential in environments where generators are a critical piece of equipment. Intelligent technology and cloud-based solutions offer a number of value-added features and functionality that can help organisations to leverage maximum returns and ensure the highest possible levels of control over their solution.


Generators are fast becoming critical business equipment in South Africa, given the increases in frequency and duration of power outages and the likelihood that the situation will continue to deteriorate in the future. However, when it comes to procuring a generator set solution, there is no generic approach that will work for every organisation. Enterprises should examine not only the generator brand and technology, but also the supplier, their skills, expertise and ability, as well as the value added services and SLA capabilities on offer. It is vitally important that solutions are customised and developed to specification in terms of brand, model, form factor and output, in order to address the unique environmental challenges of each individual customer. A supplier that is agnostic with regard to engine and alternator brands, and has the capability to have the generator manufactured according to specifications, will be better positioned to deliver a solution that not only meets requirements, but also budgetary constraints as well.


Service Level Agreements are also essential, as generators require servicing to ensure they continue to function smoothly and efficiently. Bespoke full service generator solutions from an expert power provider with experience in both power assurance and power quality will help organisations to maximise cost effectiveness, efficiency and return on investment from their generator set.


About the author

Marco da Silva has more than a decade of experience in all areas of the power sector. He began his career as a sales and marketing executive at FerroTech. After just over two years in this position, he was appointed General Manager, in charge of overseeing all operational activities. He held this position for nearly seven years, and was then appointed Operations Director at FerroTech. FerroTech was acquired by the Jasco Group in 2012, and in February 2014 da Silva was appointed Managing Director of Jasco Power.