Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The "Spark" Behind our EE's interest in their field

You may wonder what ignited the geek so to speak or, put another equally corny way, what event livened the wire in the brains of our electrical design team. 

In the case of the youngest member of our team, Robert, who has worked for SAI since his high school days as an intern returning upon graduation from college, the seed was planted even earlier in his education--first grade to be exact when he landed in trouble for putting a staple in an outlet in order to see what would happen. Let's just say sparks flew literally and figuratively. 

For Badri, who hails from Nepal though he became a U.S. citizen several years ago, it was the "shock" he received when using the primitive heaters of his childhood to boil water that drew him to learn more about electricity. He originally came to the States to study electrical engineering with plans to return to Nepal to work on the hydroelectric plants being built throughout Nepal and India by Enron in the 1990's. Well, we all know what happened to Enron and with it Badri's plans. But their loss is our gain as Badri has been in the field for over a decade.

The dinosaur of our electrical team, Maury, appropriately enough, first put his interest into practice at Christmas time when he decided to use a discarded plug his grandfather gave him to juice up his train set. He stripped the insulation from the wires and bypassed the train transformer to connect directly to the track. The result: the trains flew off the track, house lights blew and thumbnails were blackened. Fortunately for his family, their home at the time had fuses instead of circuit breakers or it might have burned down. Needless to say, he not only learned about the power of electricity that day but some powerful new curse words as his mother called her dad to question the wisdom of giving a youngster of seven such a "toy". Little did she know then that those words would serve him well as an adult when he takes covers off panelboards.   

Stay tuned to learn why some of the mechanical and plumbing members of our team got into their disciplines.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Power Quality and Power Reliability: UPS vs. Standby Power Systems

There is a lot of discussion lately about UPS and standby systems (and, no, we are not talking about methods of package delivery or airline flight status). Given the shaky state of the power grid, climate change induced weather events and a greater demand for electricity both in the U.S. and globally, power quality and power reliability have become major issues for commercial as well as residential customers. 
Uninterruptible Power Supply systems, commonly referred to as UPS systems, can filter incoming power to protect against electrical "noise" such as spikes or transients (i.e., a type of pulse caused by factors such as lightning, switching surges, or kick-in of large motors), thereby improving power quality in our increasingly data-driven world. The need for UPS systems is particularly acute for data centers, office server rooms and telecom equipment spaces, or any computer-intensive environment. Typically, UPS systems also have batteries to ride through power outages, but not the kind of batteries found under your car hood or inside your cellphone, as the former are more sensitive to extreme temperatures and much more costly.
On the other hand, standby power or "back-up" systems, of which the most common type is a generator, are not battery-driven but run on engines fueled by gasoline, natural gas, propane or diesel. The duration of generator operation is limited by the amount of available fuel. Standby power systems are so-called because they operate upon loss of utility power making them valuable to businesses and homeowners alike.
The primary difference between generator and UPS function is that the system or load being powered by a UPS never knows that power is or was lost. With a generator, there is a delay between loss of power and start-up so that critical equipment such as computers will power down and must be restarted, which is why a UPS is often necessary. However, for household items and most commercial systems, for that matter, a stand-by system can come to the rescue.
And, now, you understand the essence of UPS systems and standby power systems.  
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