Automating emergency generator testing makes you smarter about maintaining and supporting your EPSS.
By: Allan Evora
Automation of emergency generator tests is something we’re seeing a higher demand for in the healthcare industry, and I feel it’s important to discuss. Not only does automating testing and reporting reduce the resources required to conduct tests, it also provides some insights into possible predictive maintenance necessary on emergency power supply systems (EPSS).
An EPSS is typically composed of one or more generators, along with electrical switchgear and automatic transfer switches that switch between normal and emergency power based on the availability of normal power.
Why is testing important?
Statistics have shown that since 1984, power outages have increased at least 265%. This also means the need for emergency power is on the rise. The problem is, 1 in 5 generators fails to start when called upon!
These problems prompted the need for regulated testing. But compliance with the testing standards have introduced new problems for healthcare facilities.
Automating that testing can help mitigate those problems and reduce the likelihood your emergency generator will fail to start.
Quick code and standards review
Codes and standards are the drivers behind why healthcare facilities are asked or required to perform regular testing of their EPSS.
The most relevant code for EPSS testing is the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) 110, which is the Standard for Emergency and Standby Power Systems.
Compliance standards are enforced by different agencies like the Joint Commission (Joint Commission for the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations), and other authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) like state and local agencies.
A note about EPSS levels
The type of testing and automation required for your environment totally depends on your EPSS level, distinguished by NFPA. Level 1 is an EPSS whose failure could result in a loss of life or serious injury, while Level 2 covers other systems whose failure may not be critical to human life or safety.
In our experience, customers with Level 1 requirements have the greatest value benefit from an automated testing and reporting system.
High level NFPA 110 guidelines
I’m not going to review each NFPA 110 guideline but you should really be familiar with three key concepts repeated throughout the standard:
- Tests include generators and automatic transfer switches (ATS), and must be done on a regular basis: At least 12 times per year, no sooner than 20 days and no more than 40 days between tests.
- Tests must be done under load for a certain duration: At least 30% of the generator nameplate, and conducted over 30 minutes
- There must be a written record of any test, inspection, and performance: In fact, in NFPA 110 recommended procedure, it mentions records nine separate times.
Manual or automatic EPSS testing?
The majority of owners primarily test manually. They use stopwatches and clipboards to record test results. But manual recording has a few problems…
- Manual recording can present accuracy and timing challenges.
- Manual recording means personnel are removed from normal duties during tests
- Manual recording means data isn’t transferred to computers for trend analysis
We’re finding as systems become more complicated, as fewer resources are available to conduct tests, and with more requirements during tests, facility managers are looking for automation. Not only to more accurately record the test, but to also have a way to validate the results in a timely manner.
Schneider Electric Power Monitoring Expert automates generator testing
One solution we recommend to many critical power customers in the healthcare industry is Schneider Electric’s Power Monitoring Expert, specifically the generator performance module. This particular module, when combined with a Schneider Electric Electrical Power Management System (EPMS) allows the recording of EPSS tests automatically.
All documentation required for compliance reporting is automatically generated, and can be saved or emailed to the appropriate locations within your organization.
How do I set up an automated testing and reporting system?
Implementation requires the installation of submetering at both the emergency generator and ATS.
Those submeters provide valuable information to the generator performance module such as:
- Analog information related to generated power
- Information on the transfer switches and loads supplied through the transfer switches
- Inputs to the system that record certain statuses, like generator running, generator supplying power to the load, and transfer switch in emergency
- Voltage of starter batteries
What’s required to run a generator test report?
There are four ways a test can be initiated.
- At the ATS. There’s a test initiation button that sends a signal to the generator.
- At the generator. Using the run contact or run input on the generator.
- Through software. Using the generator performance module incorporated into the Schneider Electric Power Monitoring Expert software to initiate tests remotely.
- During a real-life power condition. This is an often-overlooked methodology for generator testing. If you undergo a loss of power and the generator meets NFPA qualifications (30% of nameplate, in between 20 days and 40 days) then that particular instance can qualify as a performance test for your generator. The generator performance module automatically records the event, validates that test, and alerts you that one of your required tests is now covered.
Reports provide diagnostic information for troubleshooting
Reports are built in to the generator performance module, and supply all the necessary information you’d need to turn over to your AHJ in an organized manner. Reports are automatically saved, can be emailed to appropriate personnel, and can also be brought up for inspection during an AHJ audit.
All reports provide you with a pass/fail indication and graphical display to show at which level the generator ran. Reports show interval data, min/max/average values, and phase current, voltage, and apparent power.
One of the primary reasons for having an automated means to conduct tests and reports is so you can incorporate other diagnostics that help mitigate the potential failure of any portion of your EPSS system. Anything monitored through submeter inputs is automatically recorded and timestamped. You always have access to a sequence of events that shows you, down to the tenth of a second, what’s happening in your EPSS. These details can be especially helpful when root causing or troubleshooting events.
Types of reports included inside the generator performance module include:
- Generator test report
- Generator activity report
- Load summary report
- ATS testing report
- Generator exhaust gas temperature report
- Battery health report
The benefits of automating generator testing
It’s not just about saving time and lessening the workload of maintenance personnel. Having all that valuable information recorded in the background also makes you smarter about maintaining and supporting your EPSS.
The generator performance module serves as a diagnostic tool for increasing longevity and performance of your generator. It can help identify premature failure or potential maintenance that should occur on the generator ahead of scheduled maintenance.
Interested in learning more about Schneider Electric’s Power Monitoring Expert for generator testing? Affinity Energy is a certified Schneider Electric EcoXpert for critical power customers (what is an EcoXpert?), and we’re ready to help any healthcare facility with their automated EPSS testing and reporting!
Allan D. Evora is a leading expert in control systems integration and president of Affinity Energy with over 20 years of industry experience working in every capacity of the power automation project life cycle. With a background at Boeing Company and General Electric, Allan made the decision to establish Affinity Energy in 2002. Allan is an alumnus of Syracuse University with a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering, graduate of the NC State Energy Management program, and qualified as a Certified Measurement & Verification Professional (CMVP).
Throughout his career, Allan has demonstrated his passion for providing solutions. In 1990, he developed FIRST (Fast InfraRed Signature Technique), a preliminary design software tool used to rapidly assess rotary craft infrared signatures. In 2008, Allan was the driving force behind the development of Affinity Energy's Utilitrend; a commercially available, cloud-based utility resource trending, tracking, and reporting software.
Allan has been instrumental on large scale integration projects for utilities, universities, airports, financial institutions, medical campus utility plants, and manufacturing corporations, and has worked with SCADA systems since the early ‘90s. A passion for data acquisition, specialty networks, and custom software drives him to incorporate openness, simplicity, and integrity into every design in which he is involved.