Amongst the range of emergency power solutions available to businesses and public institutions, standby generators provide the most comprehensive service. While they are not instantly reactive of uninterruptible power supply (UPS) devices, they are up and running within minutes and can power operations for several days if necessary. While some of the most innovative models are powered by solar energy, most run on petrol, diesel, propane or natural gas. The basic maintenance practices for fuel-driven generators are essentially the same and in order to ensure the best performance, every facility manager should be familiar with them.
Preventive Maintenance for Emergency Power Solutions
Faults can originate long before they cause a system failure, but by observing the principles of preventive maintenance, they can be detected before they become dangerous. Not only does this guarantee that your emergency provision isn’t going to let you down but it will save you money in callout, parts and labour. Regular servicing by a qualified engineer is essential and is likely to form part of any warranty package, but there are several interim checks which can be carried out by in-house staff with only minimal training.
It’s easy to take your generator for granted but if it lies unused for a considerable length of time, then it’s a matter of concern. When you need it, you may find that the batteries have run down and could fail during the start-up procedure. Moreover, cables, connections and chargers can deteriorate which will prevent the necessary current reaching the battery. A careful visual inspection should be sufficient to reveal any leaks, general damage or the build-up of any debris, dirt or contaminants. You may be able to deal with some of this yourself, but otherwise, you should notify your maintenance provider as soon as possible.
By nature, emergency power solutions will be called into service only rarely. In a perfect world, you’d never use them. Any electrical equipment that remains dormant for any length of time may develop any number of minor problems which may not be significant on their own but together can cause a failure of the whole unit. For this reason, a facility manager should establish a regular testing regime in which the generator is powered up to confirm that it is in working order. A common problem is that the fuel in the generator can degrade over time or become stagnant. Diesel is particularly vulnerable because it can freeze in very low temperatures. There may be regulatory limits on the length of time for which a generator can be tested but even running it for a short period will be sufficient. If it is not tested regularly and six months or more have passed since its last check, then a professional technician should be called in.
Just like car engines, generators need various fluids including coolant and lubricant in addition to fuel. You should check the levels regularly because they can reduce as a result of ambient conditions. More seriously, a drop in fluid level could be a sign that there is a leak, in which case this should be reported to your maintenance provider who will be able to repair it.
It is easy for contaminating materials to find their way into the fuel tank or any of the generator’s reservoirs. You can check for obvious ones using a dipstick and regular running of the generator will help to flush anything out. If you’re concerned about anything you find, report it to the maintenance service.
Check the Control Panel
Like the dashboard of a car, your generator should have a control panel with status indicators to alert you to any problems such as low fluid levels or problems with the electrical current. Before you power up the generator, ensure that it’s in ‘auto mode’ as this is one of the most common causes of a generator failing to start.
How often should your generator be serviced? It depends on how often it is used but generally, you should aim to have it professionally inspected every six months or 400 hours of usage.
Most of this is common sense but that doesn’t make it any less important. It’s easy to neglect something out of sight, out of mind. Pay it regular attention and it will look after you.