As this year’s scorching summer pushes temperatures up throughout the nation, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that our power grids are under more strain than ever. But as much as we’d like to blame our sputtering energy supply on the heat, blackouts are occurring more frequently regardless of the time of year. Researchers determined that power grid failures across the U.S. increased by a whopping 60 percent between 2015 and 2021. The unfortunate reality is that power grids aren’t foolproof, which means that generators have become a necessity for commercial landlords and property owners.
Power outages can have severe and life-threatening consequences, as we saw last year when a winter storm decimated Texas’ aging power grid, causing hundreds of Texans to freeze to death. If your commercial property is without an on-site generator, then you are completely at the mercy of inevitable outages, which could have deadly consequences during a prolonged power outage. A commercial generator gives buildings self-sufficiency whenever needed, keeping occupiers safe whenever the power grid falters.
Watt’s going on here?
We already know that the flow of electricity from the power plant to your property can be easily disrupted whenever power lines get damaged. This can happen when the wildlife interferes or inclement weather strikes. But recent events are making this problem worse. Thanks to supply chain constraints, the war on Ukraine, and, in some markets, an unprecedented influx of construction, global power grids “are about to face their biggest test in decades with electricity generation strangled in the world’s largest economies,” according to the Insurance Journal. It’s not difficult for the power grid to become overloaded and succumb to a brownout or a full-on blackout. As long as you keep the generator running and fueled, the generator transfer switch automatically sends emergency power to the circuits you’ve identified as crucial. Generators have their own engines, therefore they don’t rely on the power grid.
As of now, most commercial properties don’t have commercial generators installed on their premises, but installing a generator is essential if you want to avoid the exorbitant expenses, disruptions to business continuity, and general safety and security issues that arise during a power outage.
Before you take it upon yourself to buy a generator, you need to figure out how much power your property will require when the flow of electricity from the power grid stops. Your property’s size and the type of business that’s operating within it will determine what type of generator will best suit your commercial property.
What kind of fuel they want to burn is frequently the first factor taken into account when buying a generator. Diesel, natural gas, propane, or a blend of fuels can all be used to power generators. You can swap between fuel types on some models.
Diesel-fueled generators are well known for their dependability and are simple to store on-site at your company. Given their quick kick-in time, diesel generators make excellent backups for mission-critical operations. But, diesel has its drawbacks. Diesel fuel has a higher rate of emissions compared to other options, which might pose a problem for your building’s decarbonization goals. Unfortunately, that’s not where the bad news ends. Diesel prices have skyrocketed upwards of 75 percent from last year, and prices are expected to keep rising.
Considering that diesel’s shelf life only lasts up to one year, affordability may be a bit of an issue.
Natural gas burns more cleanly than diesel, there are fewer emissions from generators that are powered by natural gas. When compared to diesel generators, natural gas generators are directly connected to the local natural gas pipeline. But, that also means that natural gas generators may not kick on as quickly as their diesel counterparts. Additionally, utility companies typically turn off the natural gas supply first after a natural or man-made disaster, such as an earthquake, hurricane, tornado, etc., to prevent potentially dangerous fires and explosions due to natural gas’ high flammability, so you may need to prepare yourself for the possibility of an interruption in operations when using a natural gas generator.
In 2019, diesel or natural gas powered almost 95 percent of backup generators used by commercial buildings, but propane’s distinction as a cleaner fuel is making propane generators more popular for commercial properties. Propane generators are ideal for more remote locations where other fuel sources might not be easily accessible. Although propane generators are frequently smaller than other types, larger units can be rather expensive. But unlike diesel fuel, propane can last for decades. But due to the pressurized tank it is stored in, propane is extremely combustible. Additionally, propane generators are more vulnerable to the elements. In the event of a freeze, a propane generator could be rendered inoperable until it defrosts.
Dual fuel generators simultaneously burn two distinct fuels, usually a combination of diesel and natural gas. Depending on the engine and the situation, these fuels can be used alone or in various combinations. Given that diesel has a far lower ignition temperature than natural gas, a dual fuel generator will typically need to start on just diesel. Because natural gas burns cleaner than diesel, a generator using a mix of fuels may produce fewer emissions than one using only diesel.
Size to power
Choosing the proper size generator for your commercial facility is crucial. As simple as it sounds, the first step in determining the appropriate size is to examine the environment of the building where your property is located. Altitude has a significant impact on the generator’s performance. At high altitudes, the air pressure drops, which lowers the air density. Since air is necessary for ignition in any form of generator, this could cause issues when trying to start one up.
The availability of ambient air to enable heat dissipation from the generator is another element that is affected. The combustion process generates a lot of heat, which must be released into the atmosphere in order to lower engine temperature. Due to the low air density at high altitudes, heat dissipation moves through the environment considerably more slowly than it would at sea level, causing engines to operate at high temperatures for extended periods of time. In such circumstances, overheating is a regular issue as the engine remains heated.
The ambient temperature and air density of the surrounding area is the next thing to take into consideration. Air density is directly proportional to air pressure and indirectly proportional to temperature. As pressure increases, with temperature constant, density increases. But low air density correlated with high temperatures could strain the generator as the insufficient air supply can muffle ignition. Without enough oxygen to burn, the generator’s engine could overheat and occasionally completely shut down entirely.
To understand what size generator is needed for a particular property, you first have to know how much electricity the generator will need to produce. All buildings will need power for things like lighting and security systems, but different occupiers have their own unique needs. Restaurants will need to keep their refrigeration units going, retail units will need to keep a few payment terminals live, offices will need to power their data servers, and so on.
After you’ve determined the geographical specs and specific device needs of your building, you will need to take a deep dive into how much power your building actually uses. Gather all of the previous year’s utility bills and comb through your building’s electricity usage. Examine the overall power consumption from those bills. This will assist you in figuring out the highest peak demand and how much reserve capacity to install. For best results, General Power advises that you find the highest peak demand over the previous year and then add 25 percent for reserve capacity.
Hello and standby
The decision of whether to purchase a stationary or portable generator is another distinction to be made when analyzing how to choose the best commercial generator for your building. Most commercial buildings should opt for a permanently positioned or standby generator. While portable generators can be powerful, efficient, and have longer operating times, they’re typically more desired in places like construction sites.
Depending on the size of the property, the price for residential property could range from $7,000 to $12,000 or more. The price of a standby generator for a commercial site can be considerably higher. Worldwide Power Products, a Houston-based full-service power generation provider, estimates that small- or medium-sized businesses will likely need a generator that can provide 10-20 kilowatts of energy. Larger businesses or industrial properties will need significantly more power, upwards of 500 kW to 1,000kW. Generators within that power range can cost anywhere from $350 to $450 per kW.
Standby generators are ready to kick on the second the grid’s power goes out since they are permanently connected to the building’s electrical system. They use an automatic transfer switch to quickly power on when they notice a power outage. Depending on the fuel, standby generators can run continuously for days without breaking down or wearing down.
Whichever generator you chose to install, planned maintenance and routine testing are essential to that generator’s dependability. The best method to guarantee that the entire generator system is prepared to operate when the next emergency arises is to have a certified generator technician inspect and test it. Make sure you’re conducting maintenance at regularly scheduled periods, and not just before a storm is about to hit or a weather advisory notice from your energy supplier pops up.
Not having an on-site generator at a time when power outages are becoming more commonplace is an unnecessary risk. Installing and properly maintaining a generator in your building is essential if you want to avoid the exorbitant expenses, disruptions to business continuity, and general safety and security issues that arise during a power outage. You may not be able to stop power outages by yourself, but you can control how prepared your property will be to handle them.