Standby power on demand

The battery is vital to starting a standby generator in an emergency, so it should be treated with care and respect.
Even worse than disruption caused by a mains power failure is a standby generator that refuses to start. Lorraine John offers advice on how to minimise such problems.Every generator should be covered by a rapid-response service contract. However, rather than let an emergency arise, there are some basic checks that can be taken which can go a long way to ensuring that in the depths of winter your generator will always start — thereby guaranteeing a reliable source of emergency power. This article looks at some of the common causes of generator failure and the checks that can be carried out to help ensure your generator always starts first time, every time. The battery One of the most common causes of generator failure is a faulty or discharged battery. As the only power source to start the generator in an emergency, the battery should always be treated with care and respect. When the mains supply is connected, the battery is kept fully charged through a dedicated charger. The first thing to check is whether the charger is working? Also ensure that the indicators/meters on the generator control panel are functioning and test the condition and tightness of the battery terminals.

If the emergency stop button is pressed by accident, an emergency generator may not be able to start. The answer is to check the control panel for alarms.

Despite their appearance, batteries are surprisingly fragile and should be treated with care. Keep the battery clean by wiping it with a soft dry cloth to remove any dirt/grease, particularly from the top. This will help prevent tracking and self-discharge. Any rough handling can damage the case and cracking can occur, which can allow the electrolyte to escape. This will not only shorten the life of the battery but also, in extreme cases, can result in external short circuits, which can be a fire hazard. Emergency stop button All generators are fitted with an external emergency stop button (‘the red mushroom’). These get pressed by accident and, as the name implies, they will either stop the generator if it is running or prevent it starting. Check the control panel for any alarms or indications that the button has been pushed; if necessary reset the panel and the button. Fuel contamination Another common problem that causes starting and running problems is fuel contamination. This can take a number of forms, but the most common is water. Check the fuel system and any external bulk storage tank for likely access points. In particular pay attention to laying water, exposed pipework, gauges etc. Diesel fuel that lays dormant in a storage tank for long periods can be contaminated by water and can get infected by a form of bacteria. Over time this can create a ‘sludge’ that settles in the bottom of the tank. This blocks or restricts fuel pipes and can prevent the generator starting. Removal should be undertaken by a specialist external filtering system. Exhaust cap Water can collect inside the engine through a faulty exhaust rain cap. Ensure the cap opens and closes freely without obstruction. Regular testing Regular starting and testing of the set will help identify any potential problems well before they become serious reliability issues. A remote system for monitoring and diagnosis, an example is Merlin’s own Hawkeye, will carry out these important tasks automatically. It will continually monitor and start the generating set once a week to check its operation (including fuel levels and emergency stop button) and report the results back to a central control headquarters.

A rapid-response service contract is no substitute for a standby generator that fails to start when required — and basic checks can avoid many problems.

Service and maintenance companies like Merlin Power Management should always be employed to carry out regular maintenance checks on all generators and to respond in the event of a generator failure. However, by undertaking these basic checks before the worst of the winter weather arrives you may well prevent disruption to your business should power cuts occur. Lorraine John is services manager with Merlin Power Management.

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