Continuing standby power education

11/15/2013


Now more than ever

While standby generators are not automatically part of every project, they are inarguably becoming more important due to the ever-increasing demands placed on our antiquated power grid. Americans are using 400% more electricity now than they were in 1990, and each home uses seven times more power than the average home in 1950. What once was a practical option for some has rapidly become an absolute necessity for many. These realities are causing standby power to expand into new market segments at an increasing rate. 

What I learned in school today

A recent poll of attendees of Generac’s Engineering Power Symposium this year asked the engineers to share the most important thing they learned there. Their answers are provided in the following paragraphs and may help you create a roadmap for ongoing continuing education relative to standby power generation. 

Generator sizing: Proper sizing of generators was one of the biggest concerns. Today’s market constantly uses more power electronic devices that make sizing generators more challenging. Predicting the impact of VFDs, soft starters, UPSs, and other harmonically challenging devices on standby generators is an exercise in harmonic analysis with which most general consulting engineers are not familiar. When these challenges are combined with the transient effects of across-the-line motor starting, it’s no surprise that many system designers are looking for more sizing information and best in-class analytical tools. These concerns should be addressed by obtaining detailed training on these vital issues and comprehensive transient and harmonic analysis tools. If, through continuing education, a misapplication can be avoided, the education was well worth the time invested. 

Code requirements: Code requirements were, unsurprisingly, also a topic of high interest. The National Electrical Code was never written with on-site power generation as a particular focus, which can lead to confusion. NEC issues prompted several engaging discussions on requirements for disconnects on incoming generator feeders, separation of circuits, reliability of fuel, equipment installation locations, and fire pump overcurrent protection. Code compliance can be an exercise in detailed investigation while trying to avoid the landmines of interpretation and local norms. Having a deeper understanding of how the code works as a whole to address the correct implementation of on-site power is key. It is also essential to understand what causes confusion in the code, resulting in different interpretations and local market norms. 

Paralleled power generation: Paralleled power generation and the significant reliability and scalability that it offers is another area of keen interest. Changes in technology continue to bring integrated paralleling solutions into all applications. Most engineers don’t have much experience with the basic concepts of synchronization, real and reactive power balancing, and how these are achieved within traditional and integrated solutions. Only through a thorough understanding of the concepts and various implementation technologies can an engineer achieve an optimized solution to meet the unique requirements of each application.

Opportunities for continued education

Standby power is a unique product category that requires consulting engineers to reach into the marketplace for additional knowledge. Continued education is available via trade groups such as EGSA, 7x24, and ASHE. Education is also available from multiple suppliers in the market. It is through the combined efforts of trade groups and manufacturers that an engineer can fully explore standby power through multiple perspectives. 

Never stop learning

There is always a balance in every profession between occupying your professional comfort level and keeping your skills fresh by stretching out and continuing your education. Luckily, there are a number of avenues available to pursue that education, many of them at a low cost or even free. 

Because this article started with a quote from Mark Twain, it is only appropriate that he should have the last word: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing you can do is keep your mind young.”

Who are we to argue with Mark Twain?


Michael Kirchner is technical support manager for Generac Power Systems, Waukesha, Wis., where he supports and trains on all industrial products. He has a BSEE and an MBA from the University of Wisconsin. He has been with Generac Power Systems since 1999.


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