Overcoming grid power failure: Using ultracapacitors for reliable genset starting

We’ve all been in a building, or at home, when the power unexpectedly goes out and everything goes dark. If you’re at home, maybe your alarm clock resets and you’re late for work the next morning. But in critical facilities like hospitals, the consequences can be detrimental. Doctors and nurses rely on power to treat patients, so there must be a backup power source to ensure that even if the power grid fails, patients can still receive the treatment they need. The same is true for facilities like financial data centers, where a power outage can result in significant data and financial loss, or even airlines and flight control centers, where power failure can threaten the safety and security of travelers.

That’s where the backup generator set, or genset, comes in – it is designed specifically for these crucial times of grid power failure. Gensets ensure power can surge throughout energy-critical facilities even during a power outage. The genset is typically a combination of a diesel or alternatively-fueled engine driving an electrical generator to provide local backup power when the electrical grid fails. While gensets can save the day, they need to rely on energy storage technology to ensure initial engine starting and operation is as expected: reliable and seamless. Gensets traditionally use lead-acid or nickel-cadmium batteries for this purpose; however, these technologies have posed obstacles for the industry, including the need for regular maintenance and power loss in extremely low temperatures.

During times when gensets unexpectedly fail, building owners are under immense pressure from tenants to resume regular operations, while the generator professionals are under severe pressure from the building owners to turn the power back on. In fact, it has been cited that the single most frequent service call for generator failure is related to battery failure. A way for generator professionals to overcome the challenges of lead-acid or nickel cadmium batteries is to look at alternative energy storage options, such as ultracapacitor modules.

Ultracapacitors offer a high level of reliability in genset starting that batteries have not been able to achieve. For example, ultracapacitors can perform optimally and provide consistent power in a wide temperature range, from -40˚C to +65˚C, while battery performance becomes compromised in extreme temperatures. Ultracapacitor modules can also be charged to a higher voltage than batteries and have a lower equivalent series resistance (ESR), so the power is transferred more efficiently. Using this technology gives genset professionals and building owners peace of mind their systems will start at any time – especially during a power loss.

Because batteries operate via chemical reaction, the battery corrodes and degrades with extended time and exposure to both low and high temperature extremes. On the other hand, ultracapacitor modules operate electrostatically, meaning they are resilient in low and high temperatures and able to provide significant improvement in cranking abilities, while requiring minimal maintenance. Ultracapacitor-based genset starting technologies can be installed alongside batteries to complement them, providing bursts of power during cranking. They can also fully replace batteries in some installations, eliminating the challenges of no-starts caused by lead-acid or nickel cadmium battery failure.

Energy-critical facilities require the utmost reliability and rapid response time when power fails. Ultracapacitors are an ideal solution for this demanding role because they have three key advantages over batteries: higher power, faster response and a longer operating lifetime. Using ultracapacitor-based solutions can provide strong, successful genset starts within seconds of power loss, keeping building owners and generator professionals confident that generators will provide backup power when called upon to turn the lights on.

1 comment on “Overcoming grid power failure: Using ultracapacitors for reliable genset starting

  1. Cookie Jar
    April 26, 2017

    There is another old technique for emergency generator engine starting power used by the military – pneumatic.  Compressed air powered starting motors are readily available.  All that's needed is an AC powered air compressor and tank to store the starting energy.  Even in daily use these compressors and tanks last decades.  Monthly startup to ensure everything is functioning should ensure high reliability for decades.

    Lead acid batteries require maintenance and have limited life.  NiCads exhibit memory effects when trickle charged and are often unable to do the job when called.  Supercaps, especially the large ones are very expensive and haven't yet proven their long term reliability.  Air compressors are reliable and cheap enough for redundancy.  If one gets truly desperate, compressed air is readily available from large trucks with their air brakes and air suspensions.

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