If you have a building with a back-up diesel generator, it’s critical that this power source kicks-in when there’s an emergency. Your business must continue to operate without delay. Local company Power Protect, is helping businesses, and large organisations to do just that.
But Power Protect do far more than this. They supply and maintain the complete range of backup power products, including generators, Automatic Transfer Switches and Uninterrupted Power Supplies.
Along with their backup power products they also supply and maintain Lightning Protection Systems, Harmonic Filters, and Power Factor Correction.
Together, these products ensure the electricity supply to a site is clean and reliable. Managing director of Power Protect, Jason Marriott, says we are in the business of ‘power quality and reliability’.
“At Power Protect we look at the system as a whole as each component in an emergency power system has an effect on the others and everything has to work together,” Jason said.
Jason says the biggest challenge is convincing some customers of the need to conduct proper tests.
“Canberra’s power is quite reliable compared to other areas of Australia, which gives people a false sense of security.”
“Some systems aren’t tested because of fear of failure. But that’s exactly why we test. If systems fail during testing, we can fix the problem before any power outage.”
But we are getting a bit ahead of ourselves … how did Jason get to where he is today, owning and running one of Canberra’s most successful power protection businesses, with nine staff, including six service technicians.
Jason is a qualified electrician and started his apprenticeship in a coal-fired power station in Queensland. He then went on to work for a city council maintaining traffic lights, sewerage treatment plants, and commercial office buildings.
After three years in the trade Jason took on the role of Queensland and Northern Territory Service Manager for an equipment manufacturer, running a team of 14 technicians and 30 subcontractors.
Jason faced a tough task managing much older staff who had also applied for his position.
“Managing a service business isn’t about being the oldest person there, its about communication, managing expectations, and making sure the business is doing the right things by its customers.”
After starting a family, Jason relocated to Canberra and took a field service position with a local branch of a multinational UPS manufacturer. Twelve months later, in 2009, Jason started Power Protect with the goal of providing both excellent technical support and customer service.
Power Protect’s first office was just nine square metres at the Canberra Technology Park in the old Watson High School.
“As the business grew we moved into a 120m 2 office in Fyshwick, and then three years ago we moved into our current site at 43 Whyalla St, Fyshwick, with over 400m 2 – which is bursting at the seams.”
In February 2015 Power Protect’s biggest client renewed their maintenance contract, and extended it to cover their generators and switch boards. At the same time, Power Protect won another large contract with a federal government agency maintaining its UPS and generators.
UNINTERRUPTED POWER SUPPLIES (UPS)
Providing power for just a few seconds, out to an hour or more, Uninterrupted Power Supplies range from the small ‘battery backup’ units, many are familiar with, to behemoths capable of supplying over one thousand amps to keep data centres operational while their generators start and come online.
Many businesses install a UPS thinking it’s a ‘fit-and-forget’ item, only to have them fail when most needed. Others replace them every three years to prevent issues.
“The truth is, a well maintained UPS can be expected to give 15 years or more service, but the key is to keep them ‘well maintained’,” Jason said.
With Power Protect’s maintenance program, the majority of equipment is inspected quarterly, with a major shutdown performed once per year. Several components have a limited life of between 4-8 years so their performance is constantly checked and replaced when necessary.
“What is the point in having an uninterrupted power supply, if your power gets interrupted due to faulty components.”
Another factor to consider is the efficiency of the units. With recent advances in UPS technology, modern units are far more efficient than their equivalents of 10 years ago. A big jump in efficiency can mean a large saving in power bills, which means a new UPS could pay for itself in a relatively short period.
POWER FACTOR CORRECTION (PFC)
Explaining what Power Factor is and how it is corrected isn’t easy, but what is easy is understanding that it saves you money.
Once you start spending over about $3,000 per month on electricity, it’s important to have a good power factor because the supply authority will charge you more if your power factor is bad.
Having a PFC unit not operating correctly on a large site could cost a business thousands of dollars per month.
“We’d find that around half of the PFC units installed aren’t configured correctly. There are systems that have been doing nothing for 10 plus years and no one had ever noticed until we tested the units, “Jason outlined.
According to Jason, while PFC units can bring about substantial savings they are also one of the leading causes of commercial switchboard fires.
“Most building owners understand the value of conducting regular thermographic scans, but if the thermographer doesn’t understand how the equipment operates then all you get is a snapshot in time that may not identify a fault.”
An annual maintenance program, delivered by Power Protect, tests the functionality and performance of the PFC unit to ensure its operating safely and effectively.
“If not set up properly Power Factor Correction may not save the customer money and could reduce returns on their investment.”
“If you are a building owner or facility manager then we would be interested in speaking with you about testing these PFC units,” Jason offered
So what sets Power Protect apart from their competition?
“Basically we put our customers first, and we’re thorough. Plus, our warehouse is full of spare parts and loan equipment, enabling us to get clients back up and running as quickly as possible,” Jason outlined, “Our contracted customers receive 24-hour phone or on-site support, and most have a guaranteed two hour on-site response time, with an average response of 35 minutes.”
Power Protect’s pro-active maintenance systems have led to very few breakdowns on equipment under maintenance contract.
“In this industry, you can’t wait until something fails and then replace it, a failure exposes the client to substantial risk.”
Jason explained that one customer didn’t take their advice to replace recommended components because the ATO depreciation guide said they should last another five years. Three months later the site experienced an embarrassing failure.
The safety of Jason’s team is paramount.
“The safety and well-being of our technicians is very important to us so we’ve invested heavily in a range of powered trolleys and lifting platforms that allow us to complete installations without the physical stress usually involved in transporting heavy items.”
Jason says that the need to offer a reliable service drives a need for appropriate equipment.
“We were paying a lot in transport charges to move equipment to and from sites. One night we couldn’t get a hold of a truck when we needed it so decided to take control of transport ourselves,” Jason explained.
Jason showed me the Power Protect truck and explained how it had been set up specifically for the work they do.
The truck is fitted with a two tonne tailgate and thick steel floor to deal with heavy battery pallets. The exhaust was also modified to make the truck as low as possible to meet dock clearances.
“Now we can get equipment where we need to 24/7 without relying on third parties,” Jason said.
Amongst the equipment and spare parts in the warehouse Power Protect carry a large stock of batteries.
Jason explained that battery faults are the most common issue they see with UPS equipment, and having at least one battery in every size means they can carry out an urgent replacement straight away.
“You have to have the right battery in stock. Most companies would need to order them in from Sydney, which usually means having to wait 24 hours. This means increased risk in a business,” Jason stated.
Diesel generators are key to providing long-term power in the event of a mains outage. Where a UPS system typically supports equipment for minutes, generators are there to support a site for hours or days.
But with any asset comes the need for maintenance and generators are no exception. A proper program of maintenance and testing will ensure standby generators are ready to perform when needed.
Jason is a strong advocate of what he calls ‘full-functional-testing’
“We’ve come across a lot of sites that will start the generator weekly or monthly, but run the set with no load. It isn’t an effective test, and long term it affects engine performance.”
“As well as being able to start, we need to test that the transfer switch connects the generator to the building load. Once operational we monitor the generator to see that it can cool itself effectively and supplies a stable voltage and frequency to the site.”
Jason says that the automatic transfer switch (ATS) can be responsible for as many generator problems as the generator itself, but many customers don’t give the ATS the attention it needs.
Power Protect’s generator service- plans are customised to each site’s requirements and include maintenance of associated fans, fuel systems, control system, transfer switches and load banks.
“With our expertise in transfer switches and thermography, we ensure that your complete system is maintained to minimize the risk of unplanned outages.”
“If your generator doesn’t start, you’ll want someone there as soon as possible. That’s why it’s best to engage a local company with several technicians. Sites that contract Power Protect for routine maintenance have access to 24/7 support with a guaranteed 2-hour on-site response time,” Jason explained.
THERMOGRAPHY & SWITCHBOARD MAINTENANCE
Whether it is to meet insurance requirements, or ensuring that poor connections are identified before they result in a fault, facility managers and building owners understand the need for regular thermal camera inspection of electrical switchboards.
When compared to the costs of a switchboard fire, thermal imaging is a low cost and effective method of protecting these assets.
There is a great deal of science in how to capture and interpret thermal images. Therefore, a working knowledge of the equipment being inspected is very important. Power Protect technicians receive training from the University of Melbourne in thermography and are independently certified by the Australian Institute of Non-destructive Testing.
“Our in-depth knowledge of power distribution systems has allowed us to locate faults that others have missed. Our electrical qualifications allow us to repair any faults identified during an inspection,” Jason stated.
In addition to thermal imaging, Power Protect can also check the performance of large circuit breakers by using an injection tester.
“We check that trip units are functioning to specification, lubricate the moving parts, and inspect the contact faces for wear.”
“The benefits of having circuit breakers serviced are increased reliability and peace of mind,” Jason explained.
What does the future hold for Power Protect?
With six service technicians, including a diesel mechanic, Jason is expanding the diesel generator side of his business.
“We are looking to add maintenance contracts and customers to our current clients in the following sectors: commercial buildings, government departments, health care facilities, data centres, prisons, emergency services, aged care facilities, hotels, supermarkets, shopping centres and ACT Government,” Jason outlined.
Power Protect is based in Canberra but also provides service from Bathurst to Bega and Sydney to Leeton.
“I would like to thank my staff and clients for getting Power Protect to where we are today. I can see a period of strong growth over the next five years, as we’re looking to expand into Sydney and Melbourne,” Jason reflected.
Jason hopes that local facilities managers, who contract Sydney based companies to do their testing, may switch to a local company that can respond quickly (Power Protect guarantee to respond within two hours) that is available 24 hours a day with the capacity to provide service, and supply spare parts, quickly and efficiently.
“The cost, embarrassment and lost productivity caused through a power outage
due to unreliable equipment – is a risk not worth taking,” Jason concluded.