Any business that provides a service that is dependent on a continual power supply knows the importance of reliable and adequate backup power. There are businesses in virtually every industry that rely on some degree of power uptime. For some businesses, such as data centers, they might require uninterrupted power because any amount of downtime is very costly and may risk the security of sensitive information. For other businesses, such as hospitals, downtime doesn’t just mean the lights go out and everyone is frustrated – it could mean that there is not an adequate power supply for life-saving equipment. Reacting to these power failures can take seconds, minutes, hours, or days. But, even if a power failure only lasts a few seconds, it could still lead to costly, or possibly catastrophic, losses. There are many types of backup power but, regardless of what type of backup power supply you leverage, one of the best things you can do to maximize uptime is preventive maintenance.
Average Lifespan of an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS)
Every backup power supply or Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) has an estimated lifespan determined by the manufacturer. Lifespan expectancy varies depending on your specific UPS but, most UPS systems last anywhere from 3 – 5 years. It is important to note, though, that this is an “expectation” that is calculated by your UPS manufacturer based on your UPS being kept in ideal conditions with consistent maintenance. Should your UPS experience a change in environment (such as temperature variations), the lifespan may be diminished. This means that you should not rely on UPS life expectancy as an indicator of when to replace. Rather, have peace of mind that you have done everything you can to ensure power supply uptime in mission-critical applications.
Factors That Decrease Backup Power Supply Lifespan
The unfortunate reality is that, despite a pre-determined life expectancy, most batteries or backup power supplies will not last as long as anticipated. That is because there is a multitude of factors that could decrease the lifespan of your UPS. How many of these factors your UPS system experiences is not purely dependent on coincidence – many of them can be prevented! For this reason, it is important to learn what could potentially diminish the lifespan of your UPS so that you can take preventive measures, including maintenance, to reduce those factors and maximize the lifespan and reliability of your UPS system.
Factors That Decrease UPS Lifespan
- This is the first, and, most obvious factor that can shorten the lifespan of your UPS. Your UPS system depends on the electrochemical storage of the battery but, naturally, as your UPS ages, the chemicals in the battery age also and decrease concentration/efficacy. Even with perfect placement, care, and preventive maintenance, at some point, your UPS battery will need to be replaced based on age alone.
- Ambient Conditions
- Aside from age, ambient conditions and, more specifically, the temperature is one of the most common reasons a UPS battery lifespan may be shortened. Most UPS batteries should be kept as close to 77°F at all times. But, as we all know, the average ambient temperature can not only fluctuate in small degrees (which still chip away at a battery’s lifespan over time), but the ambient temperature can have larger shifts as it is not a simple task to keep an IT room, data center, or other location where electrical equipment is stored, cool and consistent. As noted, it is not temperature alone that can deplete a UPS battery, things like humidity/moisture, dust, or other fumes, etc. that can negatively impact a UPS battery. The more specifically you can control the ambient conditions in which your UPS battery is stored, the longer the lifespan and more likely it will discharge when you need it the most.
- Number of Discharges
- The whole point of a UPS is that it can discharge power at the moment(s) you need it. And, while anyone will be relieved when a UPS succeeds, this is known as the discharge cycle and the more that a UPS battery has to go through the discharge cycle of deployment and recharging, the more quickly your battery will be depleted. Further, your battery’s discharge ability/strength/quality will decrease over time just from being plugged in and at-the-ready.
- Load Size
- It can be tempting to (theoretically) save money by purchasing a UPS that has the bare minimum capacity to handle your potential load. But, load size frequently changes over time and, more often than not, that change is an increase not a decrease. This means your UPS will not have an adequate power supply to support your power requirements at the moment of deployment. However, a common reaction to this fear is to significantly oversize their UPS for their needs which isn’t necessarily an improvement and may just be a waste of investment that you will then have to try to maintain.
- Preventive UPS Maintenance
- The frequency, quality, and comprehensiveness of your preventive UPS maintenance will deeply impact the lifespan of your UPS battery and overall system. There are preventive maintenance tasks that should occur monthly, quarterly, and annually to maximize your UPS life.
Importance of Routine Visual Inspections, Cleaning, and Testing
While all businesses are concerned with the bottom-line and being as cost-efficient as possible, there are some relatively inexpensive ways to make a big impact on the lifespan of a UPS system. And, it is important to note that if you can prolong the lifespan of your UPS by 6 months – 1 year, that will delay another big investment in a new UPS system. Many businesses and IT managers underestimate the power of something as simple as consistent visual inspections, cleaning, and testing in prolonging the lifespan of a UPS system.
It is easy to let these things fall by the wayside amidst other more pressing concerns, which is understandable. But, one of the easiest ways to maintain consistency is to implement an infrastructure management and maintenance plan. With a plan that the entire team is aware of, and knows their role in, keeping a consistent visual inspection, cleaning, and testing schedule become far easier.
UPS Visual Inspections
The first thing you can do that will cost only time is routine visual inspections. Look at your UPS system, is it gathering dust, dirt or debris? Does the battery look swollen? Does it look like the battery is leaking or damaged in some way? Does the UPS fan look like it is dusty which can make it perform less efficiently? And, even if you have a monitoring system in place for your UPS, don’t rely solely on that – maintain consistency with visual inspections for optimal UPS maintenance!
When you maintain a consistent visual inspection schedule for your UPS system, it will also enable you to be more consistent with UPS cleaning. When you see things like dust collecting, you know your system needs to be cleaned. The cleaner you keep your UPS system, the more likely it is to run efficiently which helps maximize the lifespan of the system.
UPS Capacity Testing
As aforementioned, the discharge cycle of a UPS battery may decrease a battery’s ability to deploy at the capacity needed at the time of a power failure. Because of this, routine UPS capacity testing should be a part of any UPS system’s preventive maintenance plan. And again, this should still take place regardless of whether you have a monitoring system in place. Systems fail and there is simply no substitute for routine UPS capacity testing. Vertiv describes why this is important and gives some helpful recommendations for UPS capacity testing, “Recommendations for capacity testing of VLA and VRLA batteries are very similar. Both should be tested at installation, during periodic intervals (no greater than 25% of the expected service life), and annually when the battery shows signs of degradation or has reached 85% of the expected service life. However, VLA batteries should have a capacity/discharge test within the first two years of service, and VRLA batteries should be tested when internal ohmic values have changed significantly between readings or physical changes have occurred. For these two battery groups, degradation is indicated when the battery capacity drops more than 10% from its capacity on the previous capacity test or is below 90% of the manufacturer’s rating. For NiCad batteries, capacity/discharge testing should be done within the first two years of service, at five-year intervals until the battery shows signs of excessive capacity loss, and annually at excessive capacity loss.”
Monitoring Helps Prevent Backup Power Failure
One of the final components of optimal UPS preventive maintenance is monitoring. While the aforementioned strategies depend heavily on “manpower,” monitoring depends on machines and technology. For example, a UPS monitoring system will be connected to your UPS and will independently monitor things such as string voltage and current, jar/cell voltage and impedance, ohmic value, connection resistance, and temperature. This type of monitoring will help you predict potential power failures so that you can anticipate and prevent rather than react and simply hope to mitigate the damage. In addition to providing alerts when there are critical problems detected, it will provide you reports so that you can see what is happening and how it is impacting your UPS system which can be helpful in tailoring your approach to preventive maintenance as you move forward in your efforts to maximize UPS lifespan.
At Titan Power, we highly recommend that you employ multiple preventive maintenance techniques in your strategy to help prevent power failures that can lead to costly or catastrophic downtime. Depending on the size, manpower, and equipment you have in your facility, you may or may not have the resources needed to execute proper UPS preventive maintenance. Fortunately, Titan Power has the technical expertise to assist you in maintenance services that prevent UPS system failure. However you decide to maintain your UPS system, any and all efforts towards preventive maintenance will help you prolong the lifespan of your UPS system and maximize uptime.