The Importance of Emergency Backup Power: How to Enhance Grid Flexibility

At a Glance

Delve into the world of emergency power supply and understand the crucial importance of maintaining uptime for critical applications. As we explore the limitations of traditional diesel standby generators, particularly their environmental and operational drawbacks, the narrative shifts to the promise of efficient battery energy storage solutions. This discussion naturally progresses into the comparison between delayed and immediate response applications, enriched by a practical case study.

In an era where energy reliability is not just a convenience but a critical necessity, the importance of safeguarding energy and maintaining uptime in various sectors cannot be overstated. From hospitals to data centers, the need for a dependable emergency power supply is paramount in ensuring continuity, safety, and mitigating critical risks during unforeseen power outages. Traditionally, diesel standby generators have been the backbone of emergency power supply systems, offering a reliable albeit imperfect solution to this pressing need. However, the energy landscape is undergoing significant transformation towards environmentally friendly solutions. Innovations in battery technology and a growing awareness of environmental concerns are driving a shift towards on-site solar generation coupled with battery energy storage systems, offering several compelling advantages that align with the contemporary demands of energy efficiency, sustainability, and immediate responsiveness. In the United States, this initiative is supported by the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which dedicates $370 billion towards investments in clean energy.

Commercial and Industrial sector remains a top segment for energy storage demand, considering electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure as a major sub-segment. According to projections by the McKinsey Center for Future Mobility, the proportion of EVs in global vehicle sales is expected to increase from approximately 23% in 2025 to 45% by 2030. This surge in EV popularity will necessitate a substantial expansion of both standard and fast-charging stations, leading to increased demands on existing grid infrastructure. Such expansion could entail significant costs and extensive time for upgrades. The increase in EVs leads to further grid instability and outages, further increasing the value of backup power supply. To mitigate these challenges, operators of charging stations might consider installing battery energy storage systems on their premises, as these systems also help reduce required infrastructural upgrades.

Shortcomings Faced by Diesel Standby Generators

While diesel standby generators have long been the standard in emergency power supply, their limitations are becoming increasingly apparent. This realization is pivotal in driving the shift towards more sustainable and efficient alternatives, such as battery energy storage solutions (BESS). Some major concerns stand out when examining diesel standby generators as emergency power supply solutions:

Environmental Concerns: One of the most significant drawbacks of diesel generators is their environmental impact. These generators emit carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter, contributing to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. In an era where environmental sustainability is paramount, the carbon footprint of diesel generators is a critical concern. This is in stark contrast to BESS, which, particularly when combined with renewable energy sources, offers a much greener backup power solution.

Operational Efficiency: Diesel generators, in terms of operational efficiency, also fall behind modern standards. They require regular maintenance, including oil changes and fuel replenishment, which adds to the operational cost and complexity. Moreover, diesel fuel, being a commodity, is subject to price volatility, posing a financial risk for organizations relying on these generators for backup power. BESS, on the other hand, stands out for its lower maintenance requirements and reduced costs to recharge, presenting a more efficient and economically stable alternative.

Response Time and Flexibility: The response time of diesel generators can be a critical shortcoming in situations where immediate power is essential. It can take anywhere between 10-20 seconds for these generators to start up and reach full operational capacity, a delay that can be detrimental for emergency applications such as hospitals or data centers. BESS, in contrast, offer much faster response time, between 300 and 500ms for the switching time of an inverter, while that of a Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) battery system is below 10ms in order to maximize uptime. Additionally, the scalability and adaptability of BESS make it a more flexible choice for various applications, unlike diesel generators, which have limitations in scaling and adaptability.

Efficient Energy Storage Solutions: The Benefits of BESS

In the quest for more efficient, sustainable, and reliable emergency power supply solutions, battery energy storage systems are emerging as a game-changer, addressing the limitations of diesel generators for various applications while also offering numerous advantages:

  1. Environmental Sustainability: One of the most compelling advantages of BESS is its environmental friendliness. While diesel standby generators produce electricity by burning fuel through combustion, BESS simply stores energy generated from the grid or solar power systems to be discharged later. BESS operates without emitting harmful pollutants, significantly reducing the carbon footprint of emergency power systems. This aspect is particularly vital in applications where on-site air quality is integral, such as at hospitals, mines, or closed air applications.
  2. Minimized Downtime: BESS significantly reduces downtime in critical situations, whether alongside UPS or independently. Unlike diesel generators, which can require up to 20 seconds to start and stabilize, BESS can dispatch power within milliseconds. This swift response is crucial in applications where even a brief power interruption can have serious consequences, such as in healthcare facilities or data centers. With UPS, BESS ensures instantaneous power supply during outages, maintaining power quality and enabling load leveling. Without UPS, BESS still offers direct power backup, albeit with a slightly longer transition time, and aids in integrating renewable energy sources for more sustainable power management.
  3. Enhanced Efficiency and Lower Operating Costs: BESS systems are highly efficient in both energy storage and discharge. They incur lower operating costs compared to diesel standby generators, mainly due to lower maintenance requirements. In addition, collecting energy from solar systems or the power grid is cheaper than burning diesel fuel for electricity production, making BESS economically and environmentally viable.
  4. Flexibility and Scalability: The modular nature of BESS and its ease of configuration allows for significant flexibility and scalability compared to diesel standby generators. BESS units can be easily expanded by adding more battery modules, allowing for precise sizing and customization. They can be connected in series to increase voltage or in parallel to enhance capacity, providing a wide range of power and energy configurations. This contrasts with diesel generators, which are more challenging to scale and synchronize when operated in parallel. Additionally, BESS units can be installed in various locations, including urban areas and inside buildings, unlike diesel generators that face stricter zoning regulations due to noise and emissions. BESS's seamless integration with renewable energy sources and sophisticated energy management capabilities, along with its silent operation and zero direct emissions, further underscore its scalability and environmental advantages over diesel generators.
  5. Grid Support and Renewable Integration: BESS plays a critical role in stabilizing the grid, especially with the increasing integration of renewable energy sources. Unlike diesel standby generators which are a power generation tool, BESS can store excess energy generated from renewable sources like solar or wind and dispatch it when needed, thus helping to balance supply and demand on the grid. BESS actively balances the difference between supply and demand of energy in real time, ensuring that additional supply does not get wasted, while diesel standby generators can only generate when demand exists and supply is completely shut off. By participating in electricity markets, BESS can provide services such as peak shaving, load shifting, and demand response, which can generate additional revenue streams while offering frequency and power regulation during grid usage.
  6. Reduced Noise Pollution: Unlike the loud operation of diesel generators, BESS operates quietly, making it ideal for use in noise-sensitive environments like residential areas, hospitals, and educational institutions.
  7. Safety and Reliability: BESS, like other grid-connected equipment, undergo rigorous testing and certifications that often exceed the standards applied to diesel standby generators, making them inherently more reliable and safer. These systems are subject to stringent electrical safety standards, fire protection norms, and performance benchmarks, ensuring they operate reliably under various conditions. Additionally, BESS technology incorporates advanced management systems for monitoring and controlling the performance and health of each battery cell, further enhancing safety and reliability.

Overall, battery energy storage systems represent a significant leap forward in emergency power technology over diesel standby generators. In fact, the US saw an increase of 80% in the number of battery energy storage systems installed in 2022. As we move towards a more sustainable and resilient energy future, BESS is poised to play a pivotal role in transforming how we approach emergency power solutions.

Control Your Battery Energy Storage System at the Cell Level.
Control Your Battery Energy Storage System at the Cell Level.

Delayed versus Immediate Response Applications

Different sectors have varying requirements for backup power. For instance, hospitals require uninterrupted power supply for life-saving equipment, making immediate response systems crucial. On the other hand, commercial buildings might be more suited to delayed response systems, where short-term outages are less critical. The optimization of grid flexibility, therefore, requires a tailored approach, considering the specific needs and risks associated with each application.

Delayed Response Backup Power Applications and Requirements

Delayed response emergency backup applications are typically categorized into Legally Required and Optional Standby power systems. Unlike immediate response systems that activate within a few milliseconds, delayed response systems have a longer engagement time, up to 60 seconds, after a power outage occurs. These systems are crucial for maintaining certain operational functionalities and safety measures but are not critical to immediate life-saving activities.

Legally Required Standby Power Systems

Engagement Time: These systems are required by codes such as the NFPA 110 to engage within 60 seconds of power loss. This timeframe, while slower than emergency power systems, is sufficient for many applications that do not directly involve life safety but are still essential for operational continuity and safety efforts​​​​​​.

Applications: They typically support functions like heating, refrigeration systems, ventilation, smoke removal systems, some hospital equipment, and lighting systems that are not essential for immediate evacuation but are important for ongoing safety and operations during an outage. The choice of what systems are supported can vary based on local codes and the specific needs of a facility.

Shared Infrastructure: Unlike emergency power systems, legally required standby systems can share infrastructure components with the general power system of a building. This shared use can make them more cost-effective but less independent compared to emergency systems​​​​.

Optional Standby Power Systems

Flexibility in Engagement: Optional standby systems offer the greatest flexibility in terms of response time and application. There are no stringent code requirements for the engagement time of these systems, allowing building owners to tailor them to their specific non-life-critical needs.

Business Continuity Focus: Often used in commercial settings like data centers, financial institutions, and other businesses where continuity of operation is key to preventing data or financial loss. These systems may support servers, key operational equipment, and comfort systems like air conditioning to maintain a functional work environment during outages.

Customization and Scalability: They offer the ability to customize based on the priority of operations, allowing for scalability and adjustment as per the organization's growth and changing needs.

Exro Technologies, a leading clean technology company has developed a next generation BESS built on patented battery control technology. The BESS, known as Cell Driver™, is a fully integrated energy storage system designed to optimize energy consumption and reduce electricity costs for commercial and industrial applications. The Exro Cell Driver™ stands out as an optimal solution for delayed response emergency backup power applications, offering a combination of advanced energy management, scalability, and cost-effectiveness. The system's modular design allows for tailored energy solutions, accommodating varying power needs. Additionally, its focus on sustainability through second-life battery utilization, along with superior thermal management and safety features, ensures reliability and environmental responsibility. These attributes, coupled with its integration with renewable energy sources, position the Cell Driver™ as a highly effective and sustainable option for delayed response applications.

Immediate Response Emergency Backup Power Applications and Requirements

Breakdown of Immediate Response Emergency Backup Power Applications and Requirements

Immediate response emergency backup power systems are designed to activate rapidly, typically within a few milliseconds, to provide uninterrupted power supply during an outage. These systems are crucial for life safety and maintaining critical operations that cannot tolerate any downtime.

Applications: The primary applications of these systems are in settings where immediate power is critical for safety and operational continuity. This includes:

  • Healthcare Facilities: Powering life-saving medical equipment such as respirators, essential lighting, and elevators.
  • Fire and Police Stations: Ensuring communication systems like radio networks remain operational.
  • Data Centers: Maintaining servers and network infrastructure that require uninterrupted power to prevent data loss.
  • High-Occupancy Buildings: Such as hotels, theaters, and sports arenas, where emergency lighting, fire detection, and alarm systems must remain functional for safe evacuation​​.

Rapid Engagement: According to NFPA 110 standards, emergency power systems are required to engage and provide power within 10 seconds of a power loss. This swift response is essential for life safety systems and operations where even a brief power interruption could have severe consequences​​​​.

Safety and Independence: Emergency power systems are often dedicated to supporting life safety systems, including emergency lighting for egress, fire pumps, sprinkler systems, and fire alarm systems, ensuring that these critical functions remain operational during a power outage. They are designed to operate independently from the building's standard power system, with their own conduits and panels, to ensure a consistent and uninterrupted power supply during emergencies.

Understanding the differences between these systems is essential for designing an emergency power solution that meets specific safety, operational, and regulatory requirements. Immediate response systems are vital for life safety and critical operations. Battery energy storage systems are particularly effective in these scenarios due to their swift response, environmental benefits, and efficiency. Whereas delayed response systems maintain essential functions and comfort during outages, decreasing the urgency for uninterrupted power supply. The choice depends on the nature of the facility, the criticality of operations conducted within, and regulatory mandates.

Backup Use Case Scenario: Vital Role of Backup Power in Restaurants

Imagine a busy restaurant in an urban area, bustling with activity on a peak summer evening. Suddenly, an unexpected power outage strikes, plunging the establishment into darkness. The immediate consequences are profound: kitchen appliances stop working, the atmosphere is disrupted, and, crucially, the refrigeration units preserving perishable food items cease functioning.

In this scenario, the restaurant faces a high cost due to the potential of food spoilage. However, the cost of disruption is relatively manageable; prompt restoration of power would allow the restaurant to continue its operations with minimal impact. This distinction is key in understanding the different needs for backup power across various industries.

Fortunately, this restaurant is equipped with a Battery Energy Storage System (BESS). Within moments of the outage, the BESS activates, powering essential systems, especially the refrigeration units. This response prevents food spoilage and ensures the restaurant can maintain operations, despite the power failure.

The financial implications of not having a backup power system are significant. Without it, the restaurant would face the cost of spoiled food, potentially amounting to thousands of dollars, especially considering the quality of ingredients used. Additionally, there would be a loss of revenue due to forced closure, not to mention the potential damage to the restaurant's reputation from such an incident. Moreover, the expenses associated with the urgent restocking of spoiled ingredients would further strain the finances.

In contrast, the BESS helps the restaurant avoid these losses. The investment in the backup system is economically justified when compared to the potential direct and indirect costs of a power outage. While the operational needs of a restaurant might not be as critical as those in a hospital or data center, where mere seconds of power loss can have drastic consequences, the economic rationale for a reliable backup system like the BESS remains clear and strong.

This example highlights the importance of efficient backup power solutions in various sectors. The financial and operational impacts of power outages can be significant, regardless of the industry. Investing in a robust backup power system is not just about ensuring safety; it's a strategic business decision that guards against potential losses and guarantees business continuity in the face of unexpected power disruptions.

Why Choose Exro’s Cell Driver™ for your Energy Backup Needs

Exro Technologies' Cell Driver™ emerges as a leading choice for emergency energy backup needs, especially for commercial and industrial applications, offering a combination of advanced energy management, scalability, and cost-effectiveness. Its active cell balancing, peak shaving and load shifting capabilities enhance energy efficiency, making it ideal for managing energy costs in commercial and industrial settings. The Cell Driver™, a fully integrated Battery Energy Storage System, is enhanced by Exro's proprietary Battery Control System™, providing a multitude of benefits crucial for delayed response applications, with existing topology accounting for the undergoing development of UPS feature.  

The Exro Cell Driver™ also offers dynamic micro-protection mechanisms for current, temperature, and voltage, ensuring unparalleled safety in ESS operation. This includes the ability to electronically isolate defective cells without impacting system operation, significantly enhancing safety and performance. Moreover, Exro's innovative approach to active cell balancing within the Cell Driver™ allows for cell level control and improved depth of discharge. By dynamically adjusting the amperage per second based on each cell's state of charge (SoC) and state of health (SoH), the system ensures consistently balanced cells, superior matching of power demand, and quality.

Discover the future of power management with Exro

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