If you’re wondering when you should start preparing for the next Public Safety Power Shut Off (PSPS), we’ve got your answer: Your preparation should start right away. The urgency will vary depending on the type of your business; however, the sooner you start, the better.
Many of us in California are breathing a sigh of relief now the rain has come; however, depending on your business, now may be the ideal time to start preparing for the next series of power outages in order to avoid being reactive (or in sheer panic) in July when you start receiving letters in the mail from the utility .
Extended power outages put data, productivity, equipment, and revenue at risk. With future PG&E planned power outages seemingly imminent, it is crucial for business and building owners to be prepared with a power shutoff management plan.
While the timing of PG&E outages can’t be predicted, with proper preparation, you can stay open for business during a prolonged power shutoff.
This is a big concern for my business, but I don’t know where to start.
When we work with clients, we first ask them to think about their business goals and needs. In some cases, simply moving to an area not impacted can be the solution; unfortunately, in many cases, this is not so simple. One we have the goals established, we then look at the other factors – constraints such as budget, local code(s) or regulatory requirements – then move on to prioritize according to business continuity, essentials, and, finally, ‘nice to have’s.’
It is always best to have a sliding scale of needs because, when it comes to implementations and the all-important budgeting, a well-thought-out list keeps you from making decisions under pressure.
I have a generator, but I don’t know what it powers or how long it will last.
One upside of the last PSPS was that this question was answered for many businesses, and the outcomes were not always good. For example, perhaps the lights stayed on, but the technology and communication systems shut off after 30 minutes.
To avoid such surprises, engage an engineer or contractor to evaluate your system. With any luck, the addition of back up power may be a simple project. In many cases, however, more extensive planning is required.
We are in a shared building. How can I get my landlord to add emergency power?
Occupying a building in a prolonged outage requires power for the basic building operations. For most businesses IT is the most essential system; this requires power for the system as well as for HVAC.
It is also important to check that the basic safety and security systems will be operable. Many security and alarm systems have battery backup, but they may only last a few hours.
I want to add backup power before the next PSPS. How long will it take to get installed?
This depends on the type of system and location; however, many of our clients are realizing they need to act NOW.
Particularly in the Bay Area, engineers and contractors are already very busy even before the PSPS so simply finding a good team can take time. The other potential roadblocks to consider are permitting and manufacturing of essential equipment such as transfer switches, generators, and batteries.
We want our business to be more sustainable. Is this a good opportunity for us to address two goals at the same time?
There has been much written about microgrids and other forms of distributed generation since the last PSPS. Overwhelmingly, the homes and businesses with microgrids installed performed very well during the shutoffs.
The advantage of having solar/battery storage options is that the system provides benefit to the organization continually – offsetting the Utility power (cost of which is increasing) used by the building all year long, as opposed to a diesel, or gas-powered generator which is a stranded asset until it is used on the important but rare occasions when it’s are required. It is also important to remember that generators require regular expert maintenance and use non-renewable energy to operate. A number of our clients have inquired about natural gas-powered generators; however, in some areas, PG&E also turned off the gas supply during the PSPS.
Even if you are not able to install renewables as part of your project, we always recommend our client install the infrastructure where possible to allow the future installation of a microgrid. At its simplest, this could be a spare breaker or conduit, but to add this later is significantly more expensive.
There are many grants available at state and local level, so always good to start investigating, as some can offset the full cost of storage for certain types of projects.
If I have a generator, do I need to do anything to get it ready for power outages?
Maintenance is critical. Generators should be regularly tested. In essential facilities, the testing is mandated in accordance with NFPA 110, but in non-essential facilities, the same maintenance regimen should be applied. While robust, tried, and tested, emergency generators have many components in systems that need to work together for them to operate. Furthermore, generators have ongoing operating costs and only provide value when running in an emergency situation, unlike solar storage systems, which provide ongoing value.
Building owners should check to make sure other loads have not been added to the generator without establishing that the generator can support these loads. An overloaded generator may immediately shut down.
There are solar panels on the roof of my building. Can they be used in the event of a power outage?
In most situations they cannot. During a power outage the solar panels system will shut down for safety reasons, preventing the solar panels inadvertently feeding on the utility network. This happens in accordance with PG&E Rule 21, the Interconnection Agreement.
I have batteries as part of my solar panel system. Will they operate in a power outage?
As with solar panels systems, solar/battery systems typically shut down in the event of a power outage, unless the system is specifically designed to ’grid form’. This will require some additional electrical infrastructure and agreement from the utility.
Once the system has ‘grid formed’, the building operates as a micro grid – separated from the macro grid (another way of saying utility) for as long as the microgrid has energy from batteries of on-site renewables, like solar panels, or even a fuel cell.
My company’s servers are backed up to a UPS (uninterruptible power supply). What do I need to consider in the event of an extended power outage?
As with generators, maintenance is critical.
Batteries do decay over time, and they need to be regularly tested.
In many buildings the servers are supported by a UPS and/or a generator. In a prolonged outage, it’s critical to consider HVAC; without cooling that’s connected to emergency power, the server room will be vulnerable to overheating.
What else should I consider when preparing my business continuity plan?
Providing emergency power systems is just part of the business continuity plan. Many outages are short duration, but future planned PG&E outages could once again leave areas without power for a number of days.The PG&E Guide provides a very good step-by-step plan.
Next steps to protect your business or property
CONTECH-CA specializes in working with clients to develop customized plans that will protect data, income, and other assets during extended power outages.
Get in touch to find out how we can help you be prepared.