While 2020 has been a year of unprecedented challenges, it’s also led to some important learnings. Across industries, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of having contingency and maintenance plans in place for critical power systems -- and showed just how awry things can go when those plans don’t exist or are inadequate.
Take, for example, one national company with a site in South Carolina that utilized two large batteries. Though the company didn’t know it yet, prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the batteries had been installed improperly. The result was that they were not being charged.
In a different year, the company might have caught this problem in a first round of preventative maintenance and been able to correct it.
But it didn’t happen in another year. It happened in 2020, and shutdowns due to the pandemic meant that no personnel were at the plant to check for six months. And so, throughout that time, the improperly installed batteries discharged all the way down to the point that they completely consumed all of the sulfuric acid in the electrolyte.
The result? As we can relate from lead in the water supply from an environmental point of view, lead dissolves in water, meaning that once the problem was finally discovered, even attempting to recharge the batteries would be futile.
And so, the batteries were ruined. Completely spent. The company was forced to eat the costs of entirely replacing them.
This was all because a not altogether uncommon mistake -- improper installation due to a lack of technical knowledge -- was compounded by an unanticipated pandemic.
This story is just one of the countless ways that the pandemic has affected companies who rely on critical power.
In fact, many of our own clients have had to make changes in response to COVID-19 that have affected critical power, such as:
Moving to one vendor to consolidate people coming into the facility to adhere to safety measures
Limiting access to sites due to heightened security requirements
Deferment of critical maintenance work (which leads to higher costs later)
There’s no way for businesses to predict situations like the COVID-19 pandemic. But that doesn’t mean they can’t prepare for them.
If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted some major takeaways regarding necessary new ways to think about critical power:
1. Ensure you have comprehensive contingency and resiliency plans in place. Most plants are prepared for a natural disaster, but few were prepared for the effects of a potential pandemic. Now’s the time to dig into contingency and resiliency plans for critical power and think through anything else that could be missing—before it happens!
2. Look for independent partners for your systems instead of relying solely on often biased manufacturer-direct relationships. Because they were short on resources, many companies had already begun to start gravitating towards these partnerships, but the pandemic has highlighted just how important it is to have a brand-independent partner well-versed in the engineering of critical DC and UPS power systems.
3. Remember the importance of preventive maintenance. Many companies skip preventive maintenance (for budget reasons, safety reasons, and more). It’s often an understandable choice in the short-term, but as the pandemic compounded the consequences of any maintenance errors, the true long-term costs are starting to surface.
4. Choose vendors with trustworthy track records. As the South Carolina plant in our story learned, choosing a partner who didn’t have the necessary experience or expertise to install their two large batteries had the costly long-term effect of undermining their business. Vendors with technical expertise are in short supply, which can often mean some limited availability in times of crisis. Understandably, that’s not appealing to a lot of companies. But as the pandemic has shown, it’s often wiser — and cheaper in the long run! — to plan for quality and solidify your critical power supplier relationships.
5. Utilize remote services. One good thing about 2020 is that it has kickstarted services like virtual servicing and remote walkthroughs -- important considerations that may help catch and correct minor problems before they become major ones. This is a cost-effective way to service remote locations even in the best of times, so this should be helpful for many businesses.
There’s a reason they don’t call critical power “optional power.” So if your business or company relies on critical power, it’s equally critical that you have contingency plans in place to provide power in reserve no matter what unexpected situation arises.