The benefits of consulting an energy expert before investing in back-up power infrastructure

The arrival of the colder winter months in South Africa heralds the increasing threat of load shedding as the country’s power utility struggles to keep up with the growing demand for electricity. Owing to failing infrastructure at the power plants and dwindling coal reserves, 2020 was recorded as the worst year for power supply, with Eskom reporting more than 1 500-gigawatt hours’ worth of total power outages.

Predictions that 2021 will not be any better are convincing more and more companies to invest in generators and other forms of standby power as a means to mitigate the negative impacts of unreliable and unpredictable power supply on their companies.

“Without power, business owners are rendered helpless and risk losing thousands of Rands with each instance of load shedding. Fortunately, alternative power options such as solar energy, back-up batteries, inverters and generators have become readily available for business owners looking for long-term solutions to sustain their businesses through South Africa’s energy crisis. Thanks to improved technology, the cost of installing and maintaining these alternative energy sources has dropped dramatically and is now more financially viable,” says David Petrie, Technical Manager: Utilities at FM Solutions.

As a specialist in energy efficiency and energy management, Petrie explains that each company’s electricity needs are unique.

Whatever source of power you select, it is important to ensure that it is fit for purpose. There are many different options available on the market today – each with its own pros and cons. Investing in a generator might seem like an obvious choice, but an inverter or a battery system might be more suitable to your particular needs because it is neater and quieter. It is also important to remember that there are certain legislative and OHSE issues that could influence your selection. For example, some office parks prohibit the use of generators due to the noise they create,” Petrie explains.

Guiding their customers through the maze of different power, price and performance options, FM Solutions begin the process with understanding each company’s individual energy requirements by analysing electrical meter readings and tariffs.

A site inspection helps identify areas where the plant could be optimized and usage reduced, by installing more energy-efficient appliances. Where necessary, suggestions are made for behavioural intervention as part of a detailed energy profile that is created to support the company’s business strategy, daily operations and future expansion plans. A short list of the most suitable energy options is then presented, detailing each one’s pros and cons, costs, warranties and maintenance requirements. The client then has the option to have the alternative power supply purchased and installed by their own electricians, or to outsource this responsibility to FM Solutions.

“Much like an HVAC system or a vehicle, generators have various moving parts that require regular preventative maintenance that are best left to professionals. For this reason, we have seen a marked increase in the number of clients who are eager to outsource the responsibility of maintaining these machines to a specialist service provider such as ourselves,” Petrie says.

FMS offer this service as part of their regular technical maintenance / handyman service offering, but also has back-to-back Service Level Agreements (SLA’s) with third party service providers should bigger repair and replacement jobs be required

“We monitor the generator runtime and efficiency, which will then be logged and reported on in relation to the maintenance plan. Our service includes checking and changing the oil when required, ensuring the fuel is kept clean and topped up, cleaning the engine and air filters, repairing oil leaks, tightening loose components caused by vibration and replacing spark plugs when necessary,” he explains.

The FM Solutions team will check the generator’s load capacity and windings to ensure it is within tolerances. Close attention is paid to the electrical connections by conducting an annual thermal scan to eliminate the risk of a fire caused by faulty electrical connections or incorrect voltages.
“It is clear that loadshedding is not going to disappear in the near future and that we have to prepare for ongoing disruptions in our power supply for several more years to come. We assist companies by assessing their energy requirements and help them understand the options for a feasible energy solution. When we consult with our clients, we draft a needs analysis and provide multiple solutions that are aligned to their strategic intent,” Petrie expounds.

Whatever the motivation and ultimate objective, FM Solutions is on hand to assist companies with making the right decision that will keep their businesses running optimally for many years to come – one lightbulb at a time!

David Petrie,
Technical Manager:
Utilities at FM Solutions
(BSc in Electro-Mechanical Engineering)