Back up Power: A Vital Measure

18 October 2010 (Last Updated October 18th, 2010 18:30)

Devastation after natural disasters like the New Orleans floods casts a stark light on our dependency on electricity. Ian McInnes reports on the vital importance of maintaining a constant energy supply to hospitals.

Back up Power: A Vital Measure

In August 2010, the BBC reported that a surgeon in the UK had to resort to using torches to continue an operation at the Gloucester Royal Hospital during a power failure on 13 March 2010. The failure occurred during a routine testing exercise of the hospital's back-up generators, which failed to start; some emergency lighting reportedly failed too. The incident was short-lived and staff coped well.

Robin Koffler, general manager of Riello UPS (uninterruptible power supply) put the importance of hospital back-up power into perspective. "While one second without power can cost a business millions, power disturbances to healthcare services can cost lives.

"Generators, UPSs, batteries and even flywheel energy storage devices can all be used to maintain a continuous power supply to critical environments such as operating theatres and intensive care units, where power failures can have immediate and dire consequences," said Koffler. "But as part of a complete power continuity plan, consideration must also be given to protecting other areas of a hospital's infrastructure, including data storage and communications, where the consequences of power disruptions may not be immediately apparent but are equally devastating."

"While one second without power can cost a business millions, power disturbances to healthcare services can cost lives."

Riello says that while back-up generators can be deployed on standby in the event of a mains failure, critical areas such as operating theatres and post-operative recovery rooms should be further protected by online UPS technology, incorporating power cells, an external maintenance by-pass and UPS monitoring software. Riello claims it was the first UPS systems supplier in the UK to be accredited with ISO 9001:2000, ISO 14001, OHSAS 18001 and SAFEcontractor.

UPS back-up can be very flexible and is capable of using environmentally-friendly power generation, UPS fuel cells can be recharged by conventional mains, generator, solar or even wind power; some units are approved and ruggedised to military standards and can be deployed to disaster areas at very short notice.

Ultimate back-up

While UPS can usually take the initial strain, a larger solution is required too. Cummins Power Generation provides power solutions all over the world. Recently, the company provided a standby 100% operability back-up power solution for the new Edith Cavell Hospital for the Stamford and Peterborough Hospitals Foundation Trust. The Cummins system consisted of three generator sets, model C2250D5 at 11kV for a total of 2,680kW, one neutral earthing resistor (NER) with three contactors, a DMC300 digital master control system with hot programmable logic controller (plc) standby and full building management service (BMS) interface, three sets of inlet and discharge attenuation and three day tanks and connective fuel systems.

Cummins said part of the reason it was selected for the contract was the ability of the system to get online and take critical building load within the 15 seconds that the C44 hospital specification requires, along with the company's established technical ability and its capacity to deliver an expandable system within a short time frame.

Another provider, Network Security Systems Europe (NSSE) is an established power solutions provider for many clients, including hospitals. Systems that NSSE installs and maintains for hospitals usually comprise of "UPS, along with a standby generator system," said NSSE sales director, David Miller. "The UPS systems range from small 10kVA systems, often used in intensive care units (ITU), up to large 400kVA N+1 (redundant or high-power paralleled outputs) solutions for the protection of the main hospital data centre."

'As part of a complete power continuity plan, consideration must also be given to protecting other areas of a hospital's infrastructure, including data storage and communications.'

NSSE is also working with Borri UPS "to provide a far greener UPS solution, which allows the systems to run more efficiently, thereby giving a substantial saving in running costs and reducing carbon footprints," said Miller, who also pointed out that one size does not fit all. Systems for IT and facilities / estates do not always work well together; purchasing, control and maintenance of each requirement is usually separate, Miller stresses.

As for hospital back-up power in action on perhaps a more regular basis than most, in July 2010, a fault at a transformer on the Isle of Skye blacked out the whole of the Western Isles for more than an hour; winter power outages for the Isles are common. The NHS Western Isles (NWI) is making changes. "We have UPSs on all important vulnerable items, medical 1, theatre, laboratory, IT, and so on, for seamless change over, and to prevent disruption to services," said NWI spokesperson, Maggie Fraser. Fraser also said that the board had purchased eight 6.5kVA generators - five for the Western Isles Hospital in Stornoway, two for Uist and Barra Hospitals and one for St Brendans.

"In addition, we have purchased three 2kVA suitcase generators," said Fraser. "They are light enough to be carried to any location for emergency use." Furthermore, the board is installing an additional 730kVA emergency generator allowing the Western Isles Hospital to run all of its services in the event of an outage. With power increasingly in the spotlight from the ability to deliver to the greenness of the source, hospital trusts will need to keep an eye on what is required and what is available.