Power failure is a persistent threat to every business. It can shut down factories and entire transport systems, silence communications and plunge businesses into darkness. But even on a more modest scale in the office environment, loss of power can be catastrophic. Uninterrupted power supplies (UPS) are an effective protection against the immediate consequences but for wider and longer-lasting emergencies, backup generator installation can be a lifesaver.
An automatic standby generator is an extremely robust solution which kicks in very quickly and can provide power for several days at a time. It is not an alternative to UPS, which gives instant protection when a power failure strikes, because a generator can take a few moments to come into operation, but it does offer an essential longer-term safety net.
Preparations for Your Backup Generator Installation
This is a specialist job which should only be carried out by professionals, qualified engineers or electricians. This is important for several reasons. Firstly, unless correctly installed, it may not function properly, which defeats its purpose. Secondly, installation by unqualified personnel could invalidate the generator’s warranty. Thirdly a badly installed machine could be dangerous. While a business is not obliged to use NICEIC engineers as domestic users are, it is recommended that business customers use a similarly qualified service, which issues Risk Assessment and Method Statements and Health and Safety Policy declarations.
Placement of generator
If you’ve made the wise decision to install a standby generator at your business premises, one of the first questions to answer is where to site it. Should it be internal or external? If it is placed outside, will it be sufficiently sheltered from extreme weather and the dangers inherent in the build-up of grass and leaf debris? Are there local bye-laws on noise limitation? In addition, you’ll need to check whether planning permission is required before you start otherwise you could be served with an order for its removal.
If you decide that it will be safer inside the building, you need to find a location that has ample room for the unit and to allow adequate circulation of air. The obvious place would be somewhere near to your building’s electrical room so that electrical conduits can be kept to a minimum. It’s also common practice to install the generator’s automatic transfer switch in the control room.
Whether your backup generator installation is to be internal or external, you may require a specified generator environmental permit in order to meet air quality obligations. For the purposes of this government regulation, a generator is a combustion plant which generates electricity and includes engines, gas turbines and boilers which function as a combined heat and power combustion plant. You also need to consider whether the Medium Combustion Plant (MCP) Directive applies to your plans.
Since January 2019 emergency backup generators have been excluded from the permit scheme but may still need an MCP permit. Qualified installers will be able to advise you further.
Although the law is more permissive towards emergency equipment, it is important to be aware that there are strict limitations on the length of time for which you can test a generator, currently 50 hours per year. You can apply to your regulator for an extension but should not exceed the specified limit without express permission. Data centres are exempt from all these regulations.
Again, this is an issue with which you’ll need professional guidance before you commit to your backup generator installation. Relevant factors include the size and style of construction of the building but you should also consider how you’ll be using the generator. A small or medium-sized business will require an output of between 10kW and 20kW. If you intend to power the entire building, the generator you need will be much larger than one which is adequate to meet mission-critical loads. If you think you should be prepared for several days’ worth of backup power – if you’re in a remote location or somewhere with a history of unreliable power supplies – it’s important to factor in storage tanks for backup fuel.
A standby generator can be an expensive investment, but like any form of insurance, it is a price worth paying for peace of mind and the certainty of being able to continue trading in the most challenging of circumstances.