What is an Emergency Power System?

Malcolm Tatum

Also known as an emergency backup system, an emergency power system is a system designed to provide sufficient electrical current for the continued operation of a facility in the event of a power failure. A system of this type may include a wide range of devices, depending on the level of backup support needed for a main power source. The typical emergency power system may use everything from solar panels and storage devices to battery backups and even gasoline-powered generators.

Solar panels can provide emergency backup power.
Solar panels can provide emergency backup power.

For manufacturing environments, the emergency power system may be a complex blend of several different devices that help to provide backup power in the event of a temporary failure of the local power company. Larger plants will normally operate a private power station that is normally fed directly from the utility power grid. When that source fails, the power station can be switched to receive power from one or more alternative sources as a means of keeping the machinery, lights, and essential computer functions operating at a reduced but sufficient level. For example, the power station may be equipped with solar panels and collection batteries, and include an automatic cut-over mechanism that taps into the battery power when the supply from the grid is suddenly unavailable.

Offices are also likely to maintain some type of emergency power system, although the nature of that backup source of power may be different from larger operations. Most will include some type of uninterruptible power supply (UPS) backup for electrical devices such as desktop computers, telephone systems, and network servers. For general power to the office, one or more gas generators may be put into place and plugged into the wiring via customized outlets. Once in place, the gasoline-powered generators are started and provide electricity until the gasoline supply is exhausted. Owing to the fumes created by the gasoline-powered engines, most building and fire codes require that generators of this type be located outside the building, and normally connect with a plug by means of a heavy duty cable.

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Today, it is not unusual for an emergency power system to be configured with what is known as a switched-mode power supply. This feature makes it possible for an interruption in power to be detected immediately, triggering an automated switch to the backup power source. With some systems, the feature is so intuitive that it will continue to monitor the status of the main power source, automatically switching back to that source with the power is restored. This approach helps to decrease the amount of response time required to make the change from a main source to an auxiliary one, a factor that can sometimes minimize the opportunity for data to be lost or some essential aspect of a production process to be delayed or damaged in some manner.

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