There are nine different kinds of electrical power problems that could damage electronic equipment and many power strips or uninterruptible power systems — better know as UPSs — protect against three or fewer of those problems.
That was one of the key messages delivered during the Cayman Islands Facility Management Association’s “Lunch and Learn” event at Camana Bay on Feb. 28. The two-hour educational session, which included a hot lunch from Champion House, was presented by the association’s treasurer, Dave Johnston, along with two representatives from Eaton, one of the world’s largest power management companies.
Johnston opened the event, which was attended by electricians, those who work in facility maintenance and electronics retailers, by explaining that one of the Facility Management Association’s goals was to offer training to its members.
“One of the big trends [on Grand Cayman] is that buildings are getting bigger and more complex and that requires higher levels of expertise to manage,” he said, noting that power management is a growing concern for businesses as well as individuals.
“Power quality is a big issue in Cayman and we thought it was a good opportunity to bring [Eaton representatives] down to explain some of the issues you may or may not be aware of and offer some ways to mitigate the risk.”
Lightning strikes cause damage very rarely, so don’t think of lightning strikes as the main reason you need a surge suppressor. Joe Mislan
Eaton’s Territory Business Manager for Power Quality in the Caribbean Joe Mislan said that most people have heard about some of the most common power problems like surges, but they don’t really understand that there are multiple risks.
“In Cayman, surges are not the biggest problem; brownouts are,” he said, noting that during a brownout appliances and other electronic equipment might operate on less voltage than they are designed for, damaging them.
In addition to surges and brownouts, other power problems include failures, sags (which are similar to brownouts, but for shorter periods), over-voltage (which are similar to surges, but for longer periods), line noise, frequency variation, switching transients and harmonic distortion. All of these power problems can damage electronic equipment and in many cases, the damage doesn’t happen from any one event, but occurs over time, which could make it difficult to detect.
“It’s easy to see catastrophic damage, but harder to spot the cumulative microscopic damage,” he said.
Although many people blame the utility company for power problems — and sometimes it is the source of the problem — often, it’s something in the home or business that causes the problems.
“Eighty per cent of all voltage transients originate internally,” Mislan said, noting that air conditioner compressors, imaging equipment and even light dimmers can create voltage variations in the home or business.
Mislan said a common misconception is that people need surge suppressors to protect against lightning strikes.
“Lightning strikes cause damage very rarely, so don’t think of lightning strikes as the main reason you need a surge suppressor,” he said. “There are many other power problems that can cause damage.”
Mislan said that Eaton recommends a “cascade approach” to power protection, adding at least two levels of protection. Specifically, Eaton recommends a large surge suppressor to be installed near the panel box, effectively offering a level of protection for the whole house or business, and smaller UPS units near specific electronic equipment.
When it comes to surge suppression, Mislan said there are three different ratings: surge current capacity, nominal discharge current and short circuit current. Depending on whether the application is residential, large commercial or large industrial, the recommended ratings will be different.
Eaton’s Sales Manager Latin America North Everton McKenzie spoke about three of his company’s UPS units, which all have batteries that will allow connected electronic devices to remain on for a while after a power failure.
McKenzie said Eaton’s UPS units are named for how many of the power problems each addresses. Thus, the Series 3 units protect against three power problems; the Series 5 units protect against five power problems; and the Series 9 units protect against all nine power problems. Choosing the right UPS for any given application depends on the location and the electrical devices it contains.
“There’s no one solution you want to subscribe to everybody,” he said.
The more power problems a UPS protects against, the more expensive it is, McKenzie said, noting that UPS units can also be damaged by power problems.
“So if you have an expensive surge protector, you may want to put a surge protector in front of it.”