Increased energy efficiency in the oil and gas, water and wastewater and other pipeline-dependent industries is no longer a trend. It has become a necessity. In countries across the world, government and corporate initiatives are being put into place to not only encourage but also ensure power-saving methods and technology.
While these efforts are primarily aimed at reducing energy costs while the power is flowing, research is ongoing and new product advancements are now available to prevent the worst-case scenarios for energy inefficiency — total or partial loss of power.
At major oil and gas pipeline sites, offshore drilling platforms, water pumping stations and wastewater treatment centers, uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems and their large banks of batteries serve as critical backup for maintaining continuous operation of the facilities. Downtime, equipment breakdowns and other consequences are enormously costly – to productivity, the labor force, the environment and the overall economy. That is why battery-monitor systems are increasing in popularity.
The premise of battery monitors for UPS systems is to manage the entire installation and prevent a catastrophic event. To put it another way, it is like buying an insurance policy for your battery bank and all of the direct-current equipment that depends on its clean, available power.
Battery monitors can deliver a myriad of real-time data down to the cell level: impedance, temperature, voltage, float and discharge currents. Since impedance deviation is a great predictor of cell deterioration, most monitors today take a baseline cell measurement and compare that to trends over time. If the trend changes beyond an expected level, the monitor will alert the operations center to a cell or cells that may be problematic.
Compare that to manually checking cell values on some type of test schedule. First you have to rely on manual measurements and possible errors because of calibration differences. Measurements typically are taken to three places to the right of the decimal point, and battery impedance is a micro-Ohm measurement to begin with; so, these are incredibly small numbers to track.
Manual monitoring is highly prone to errors. Small trends can essentially remain hidden from sight. For instance, to monitor a 60-cell battery bank in real time at the resolution and accuracy of an automated monitoring system would require a minimum of 60 technicians holding 60 fine-tuned and calibrated meters for only a single value such as voltage. Separate calibrations would be needed for current, impedance and temperature. This is unthinkably inefficient and impractical.
Today’s digital monitoring systems do it all and more. And if the operation employs multiple battery systems at multiple locations, they can be monitored and managed remotely from a central location.
Battery monitors designed for rigorous industrial installations typically can monitor up to eight parallel strings of lead acid or NiCad batteries per location from 2- to 480-volt systems. New models on the market can have up to 255 monitoring points with impedance and can measure 2-, 4-, 6-, 8-, 10- or 16-volt units along with the ambient temperature. Other important features of new monitors are an easy-to-read LED display, integrated network card (RJ-45 port), unique MAC address, Modbus over TCP/IP, SNMP traps and four form C dry contacts.
Of course, as in most digital products, the key element is the software. Ideally the monitor should be able to provide market-leading predictive analytics, interpret battery data, have real-time access, alarm reporting and centralized monitoring of multiple UPS system monitoring devices.
Available software, which can operate 24/7 on a network as a service, is also capable of analyzing impedance data in either “average” or “initial” modes, displaying “power-out” voltage decay data of the battery and individual units, optional loaded battery current and listing “power-out” events and duration and more.
Service calls & preventive maintenance programs
A battery monitor is a full-time, always-on, always-there technician for any UPS system. It increases efficiencies by reducing troubleshooting and often eliminating multiple trips to solve a single problem.
Without an automated UPS monitoring system, technicians had to be sent to the installation site to take readings on a set of batteries. It usually required extensive travel, tools to be purchased and maintained, not to mention the costs incurred in employee salary, benefits, safety training and other factors. And since batteries do not fail on a schedule, the technician visits are periodic, over and above regularly scheduled maintenance trips.
A case in point
Last year, while installing a battery monitor on our company’s UPS system that backed up our IT servers and phone system, we began receiving alerts to six bad cells in a 60-cell system bank. At first we thought we had a calibration problem with the new monitor. Although we had manually checked these same cells every six months, further inspection found the six suspect cells. It was discovered that one of them was more than 100 percent out of voltage tolerance.
We were dangerously close to losing our servers and phones and doing damage to the other cells in the system, which would have caused a complete shutdown resulting in extremely costly production losses. By installing the new battery monitor, however, we were able to schedule the timely replacement of our aging battery system. We no longer pay a tech service for a call to conduct measurements, and as an added benefit, we now have new peace of mind that the UPS system is maintaining our power flow.
It is no secret that industrial batteries used for UPS power backup are a major investment. That is why it is imperative that their terminal torque, electrolyte levels and overall electrical health are continually maintained to the highest level of performance possible. Bottom line: Wherever UPS systems are working, today’s state-of-the-art battery monitors have their backs.
John Ely, whose experience spans two decades in marketing and executive management, leads the marketing team at AMETEK Solidstate Controls, a manufacturer of industrial UPS in Columbus, Ohio, and $120 million division of AMETEK Inc., which is a $4 billion multinational NYSE corporation. He also is a former professor at Franklin University in Ohio.
Larry Baker specializes in product marketing and business development management at BTECH Inc., a New Jersey-based manufacturer of battery monitoring systems used in industrial applications worldwide. He has more than 30 years of experience in marketing, operations, business management, finance and engineering with several large, global companies.