Detecting Generator Problems

Which is Most Cost Effective?

There are two ways to detect things that are going wrong or have gone wrong with your generators before it's too late. I like to call them the "hard way" and the "easy way". There isn't enough data to do a reliable analysis of which way costs less, but my strong sense is that the easy way not only costs less in the long run, but also significantly reduces stress on the managers who must ensure that the generators turn on and run for the expected amount of time when utility power is lost. Let's do a quick comparison of how each works to see if you get the same sense.

The hard way of detecting generator problems is either by frequent inspections and testing or by the generators not turning on or not running for the full time expected when utility power goes down. Frequent inspections and testing are a form of monitoring that primarily consists of:

  1. Checking the battery charge, oil level, fuel level, and control panel readings just to name a few.
  2. Test running the generator and verifying the output.
By 'frequent' we mean inspecting and testing a minimum of once per week by a qualified responsible person. If there is only one generator and it's depended-on for critical power, it might be done on a daily basis. Generators not turning on when utility power goes down is usually the consequence of not doing frequent inspections and testing or not using the "easy way".

The easy way to detect generator problems is by using universal remote monitoring and control equipment that will automatically detects issues early and then use telemetry to immediately notify appropriate personnel. This type of system allows problems to be resolved before they actually cause generators to fail or cause damage to the generators. Notifications are delivered via text and email. Some good examples of notifications are low battery, low oil, and low fuel.

The biggest benefit to such a system is reliability. It never calls in sick, has car trouble or a lapse of memory, and it never gets so busy it has to put it off. It will always keep you notified as necessary. You'll even be notified if the data collector/transmitter itself stops working so immediate action can be taken to get it back online. When it comes to the vital generator status items it can replace much of the role of a qualified responsible employee or service contractor. Some owners have said that, among other benefits, it reduces service calls.

As for test running your generators, most major brands can be test run remotely from your computer. The generators that had a remote monitoring and control system during hurricane Sandy a few years back turned on when needed. The reason is that they were all able to be remotely test run within a few hours after the news services announced Sandy was coming. That gave the owners time to safely make repairs. Additionally, because the owners had data from computer reports and test runs they knew the precise generators that needed attention and were able to avoid having to send people to every site.

Finally, a universal (non-brand locked) type of monitoring and control system should be used. It will implement a common data collector/transmitter on all generators, a single monitoring service, and a single online platform so all your different brand generators can be viewed and managed from a single web page.

The alternative is to use each brand's unique system - if it has one. However, doing that would make it difficult to consolidate and centralize the management of generators and would require separate training and retraining of facilities managers/engineers and service contractors for each brand.

So, what's your sense of which would cost less in the long run, the "hard way" or the "easy way"?

For details go to Generator Monitoring.

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