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Surge suppression devices: Worth the investment?

There are many ways that a facility can save energy and reduce maintenance costs, including energy retrofits (lighting, HVAC/R, etc.) and conservation measures. But many companies neglect the power quality side of the issue, leaving them vulnerable to electrical surges and subsequent power failures. According to John Shamess, Manager of Technical Services, Total Protection Solutions (TPS) Canada—a company that produces surge suppression products and solutions—surge suppression is a critical issue for facilities. Many facility managers, however, lack awareness of the issue.


November 25, 2010
By John Gilson

“A lot of the time, the customer doesn’t know or have a good understanding of suppression devices,” said Shamess. “Instead of properly addressing the problem, they will look for the least expensive unit, which doesn’t provide them with the level of protection they need.”

When many people think of surges—which are short, fast electrical transients in voltage, current or transferred energy in an electrical circuit—they think of something outside of their control; for example, lightning strikes and other dramatic natural events, and power outages. However, 80% of surges occur inside a facility, says Shamess, caused by tripped circuit breakers, inductive spikes and faulty transformers.

Surges can be unpredictable and far in between—a reason why this issue may be overlooked. When they do occur they are quick and can cause plenty of damage. “We’ve seen power surges of over 6,000 volts,” said Shamess. “And it’s very quick when it happens. You need a suppression device that not only reacts quickly, but can reduce the excess voltage to a safe level so the client’s equipment is not damaged.”

Why is surge protection important?

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As technology becomes increasingly more sophisticated, quality surge protection has also grown in importance. For example, a typical modern facility is equipped with energy-efficient solid state lighting, energy management systems, telecommunications, HVAC/R systems, and fire alarm and security systems. These features are often critically important to a facility’s operations and can easily be affected by surges. In addition, TPS Canada says the use of sensitive modern equipment—computers, laser printers, copiers, etc.—will require that a facility’s electrical system be free of transients and surges, both now and in the future.

Government-mandated electronic ballast lighting has also produced some problems, according to Shamess. Though this was good for reducing energy costs, Shamess says that many neglected to look at power quality side of electronic ballast lighting. As a result, companies that are relamping often find that the lights and ballasts don’t last as long as expected.

Reducing costs with surge suppression devices

Surge suppression devices can save companies money. According to TPS Canada, electrical disturbances cost North American companies more than $26 billion each year, adding that for large businesses, even a few minutes in operational disruption can cost millions of dollars in lost information and revenue. Even seemingly minute problems can result in increased costs.

“At a distribution facility, one changed light bulb can cost approximately $250,” said Shamess.

Currently, TPS Canada is conducting some tests on lighting systems, saying they have proven that quality surge suppression can reduce power failures by as much as 60%. The company says that maintenance costs are reduced, as well as the cost of discarding the cost of discarding lights, as there is a tipping for gas-filled lighting. “At a distribution facility, one changed light bulb can cost approximately $250,” said Shamess.

A pro-active approach

Shamess says his company often sees things after they fail, at a point when the affected facility has already taken a considerable financial hit. Shamess says that he encourages these companies to adopt a more pro-active approach, preparing for disasters before they actually happen.

Despite the damage that can be caused by a sudden surge, there are still many facilities that choose to ignore this issue due largely to the costs associated with implementation. Shamess cites condominiums as among the worst offenders, as many of these facilities are more concerned about short-term fixes and saving immediate costs. “They often don’t want to pay the money. They often buy the cheapest transformers and in most instances don’t have any surge protection.”

As a result of these actions, Shamess says the costs are unfairly downloaded onto the condominium owners when their computers, televisions and other expensive equipment stop working after a power failure.

On the other side of the spectrum are police and fire stations—facilities that don’t mind paying the extra costs for quality surge protection. These facilities, says Shamess, rather pay the front-end costs to save on the back end.

For more information on TPS Canada, go to www.tpscanada.ca.


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