Retrofitting On-Site Power Systems

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Shane Wolfram is Vice President of Sales for SAI Advanced Power Solutions.

SWolframSHANE WOLFRAM
SAI Advanced Power Solutions

As Newton’s Third Law holds, every action has an equal but opposite reaction. The law suggests data center executives ought to ponder the potential reaction of yesterday’s on-site power systems to today’s demand for quick response and reliable operation. The equal but opposite reaction in this case is an increased chance of downtime.

Replacing legacy equipment, however, would consume a significant chunk of a facility’s budget so decisions to “build new” tend to be delayed until the next fiscal year. And perhaps even the year after that. Sooner or later, Newton’s Third Law, if not Murphy’s (“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”) will play out.

Retrofits Can Be Cost-Effective

But, it’s not all doom and gloom for decision makers wanting to maintain power reliability. Retrofitting, rather than replacing, an on-site power system provides three benefits to executives feeling budget pressure. Renewing or modernizing equipment costs a fraction of replacing an entire on-site power system. It expedites installation and is less disruptive to a facility’s operations.

This approach helps decision makers hurdle shrinking capital and O&M budgets, while maintaining business continuity. Since retrofitting existing equipment costs roughly half of new equipment, executives have more flexibility when choosing to upgrade on-site power system equipment. When collateral tasks (electrical, rigging, mechanical, structural, temporary generator rental, etc.) are calculated into the project, new construction can cost nearly 70 percent more than a retrofit.

Reliability Rules

Affordable retrofitting also improves power reliability, can increase redundancy and extend the system’s lifecycle. Investing to extend the on-site power system’s lifecycle could provide serious ROI (Return on Investment) if the retrofitted equipment prevents downtime just once.

At the 2011 Uptime Institute Symposium in Santa Clara, Calif., new information suggests that data center downtime averages nearly $5,000 per minute. That’s $300,000 per hour. The cost of one hour of downtime could upgrade a significant portion of an existing on-site power system. Considering an average downtime incident lasts 90 minutes, avoiding a single incident would completely pay for a retrofit.

Retrofitting means enhancing existing equipment. New, innovative digital technologies replace analog and mechanical components. Specifically, cutting-edge communications, controls and monitoring equipment replace obsolete technologies.

Retrofitting also means saving much of what already is in place. Metal enclosures, bus bars and other equipment within a switchboard can continue to serve effectively. Engine-generators, fuel systems, main electrical wires and in most cases circuit breakers also are retained during an upgrade. All this equipment oftentimes is in good condition so why replace it?

If I could offer a corollary to Newton’s Third Law, it would be: In a down economy, it pays for the on-site power system to be prepared for the equal but opposite reaction of potential downtime. Don’t find yourself left in the dark with an unwanted reaction.

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