Pre-empting Electrical Power Outages

Oct. 15, 2007
Start inside the facility. Nearly 80% of all business downtime is caused by internal electrical power problems.

While the first rule of power management is not to ignore the vital signs, the second rule is to maximize understanding and correction.

Power management is more than just "tweaking" a manufacturing process, says Adib Nasle, president of EDSA Micro Corp., a provider of the Paladin family of electrical power analytics solutions. "It involves a process of predicting and preventing power problems and presenting solutions to internally caused outages, surges and spikes."

Industry stakes are high. Losses from preventable electrical power problems annually penalize U.S. industry more than $150 billion, says Nasle.

The seriousness of a power outage to an individual company varies by industry and application -- ranging from "costly and disruptive" to "costly and life threatening." A study by Contingency Planning and Research reveals some industries are losing as much as $6.45 million per hour of business downtime, adds Nasle. And that's not an extreme instance. Consider an EDSA financial services customer, for example, where power problems could risk losses as high as $7 million per second.

Nasle says power management risks continue to mount. "Every day, production and operations facilities, valued in the millions, are built atop inadequate electrical infrastructures."

Partial solutions are attempted first. Many firms start with first-generation solutions that mitigate, but do not preempt the effects of electrical power problems. The approach couples monitoring and SCADA technologies with such things as fault-tolerant systems, uninterruptible power supplies, battery rooms and generators.

While offering the potential of fewer disruptions and less damage potential, some users become deluged with thousands of lines of information per second, warns Nasle. That makes it nearly impossible for facility operators, managers and technicians to gain an accurate understanding of the health of their mission-critical power system operation, he adds.

"Air bag technologies" is how EDSA refers to the partial, first-generation efforts. "They lessen the impact of the problem, but don't eliminate it," says Nasle. He likens EDSA's Power Analytics systems to automotive collision avoidance systems in terms of being able to pre-empt the basic problem. A more direct analogy is with business analytics, the complex mathematical models developed by risk analysis companies such as Experia and Fair Isaac that help financial institutions predict lending risks and prevent fraud.

Using sensory input, EDSA's Power Analytics systems predict power systems problems before they occur, explains Nasle. "Their real-time capability can diagnose whether the power system is stable, deteriorating or becoming overloaded."

Nasle cites mission-critical applications as diverse as manufacturing plants, data centers, petrochemical refineries and transportation networks. "In one customer's automated manufacturing facility, all process, assembly, monitoring and control systems interoperate within a private power grid specifically designed for those operations." Typically processes are synchronized to avoid voltage sags and spikes in the amount of current drawn, minimizing the potential critical power fluctuations and ultimately, an outright failure.

Applying the power analytics solution begins with Paladin's DesignBase, a software platform for electrical system design and simulation. Using the specifications from that design model, Paladin Live continuously probes the power system to maintain an awareness of potential problems and how to preempt them.

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