Absolute power protects absolutely

March 2016 Residential Estate (Industry), IT infrastructure

If your chosen profession is Tyrannical Ruler, Political Despot or Drug Baron, you know you’ve hit the big leagues when your critics start bandying about that old faithful adage that ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’ in reference to you. For a typical estate security manager, that level of notoriety is hopefully not an aspiration. Rather, the more power said manager has, the more effectively he can ensure the safety of the persons, properties and possessions under his benevolent care.

Power in this context lies in the manager’s ability to control all aspects of the estate environment. To this end, physical security measures are, and likely always will be, indispensable, but it goes without saying that electronic measures are becoming ever more prolific and powerful in their capabilities. Whether for surveillance, access control, or simply keeping residents’ TVs on so they don’t revolt, an electronic arsenal is absolutely essential for securing an estate of any type.

All these modern tools are not only useful, however, they’re also power-hungry. Take away the electrical power they need to function, and every single one of them becomes, well, powerless – and so does the security manager. It is therefore essential to ensure that the security system’s power requirements can be met, without disruption (to the greatest extent possible), not only now but into the future.

Unfortunately, ‘disruption’ is Eskom’s joie de vivre, making it even more important to mitigate against outages. Speaking of our beloved state power utility, electricity itself is also prone to corruption of a sort; this can take the form of surges, electromagnetic interference, brownouts and the like. So critical are these issues that no discussion of power management would be complete without addressing them. However, since Rob Anderson explores these topics in the coming pages, they will only be considered superficially in this article.

Practical matters

Selecting power equipment is like an overseas holiday: being able to speak the lingo is all well and good, but nothing beats getting out there, seeing the sights and mixing with the locals. An ideal tour guide for this leg of the journey is Shane Griggs of PSS Distributors, a man well-versed in the real-world business of power management.

When it comes to catering for power outages, spikes, and so on, there is no such thing as too much, except when it comes to cost. The important question is, how much is enough? “One can never have enough protection against irregular power conditions; however, it is important to keep in mind the value of your equipment,” explains Griggs. “There are quite a few different ways of preventing power problems such as spikes, surges, dips and brownouts. In terms of power outages one can opt for either a UPS, inverter, solar or a generator. When you are concerned about spikes, surges and dips, the only real solution will either be a UPS or surge protection (surge protection does not protect against dips though).”

When it comes to identifying what its short- and long-term power requirements are, an estate must consider cost first and foremost: “The estate would have to look at its budget and decide on the expenditure for its power needs. Should it be decided that every unit in the complex needs backup for when there is a power failure, either a UPS, inverter or generator can be chosen. It is important to know that, just like a generator consumes fuel, UPSs and inverters utilise batteries to provide power, and the replacement of these batteries can be very expensive,” Griggs warns.

“The running cost of all three solutions as a backup to Eskom is very expensive. Solar can offer a complete off-grid solution, which means that you do not have to rely on the power grid. Initially the layout would be very expensive, but over time the cost would be justified. Running on solar means that you would have to adapt to a few lifestyle changes, for example the use of a gas stove, solar geyser, etc. Once again, one would have to consider the replacement of the batteries when due.

“Today we are spoiled for choice when it comes to different technologies. Considering the noise levels from generators, UPSs and inverters seem to be the most favourable options. Silent generators might be quiet during the day time, but at night when everything is quiet, even a silent generator can become very noisy. Generators are best suited for businesses, while UPSs, inverters and solar solutions are better for residential areas.”

Returning to the issue of cost, and the implications of the various options, Griggs says, “Once again it comes down to the circumstances and requirements. When choosing your source of backup power you need to first see what would be suitable for you. The different options more or less work out to the same cost when considering battery replacements, services and fuel. Solar is the most costly, but it allows you to be completely off the grid and thereby not having the expense of a monthly electricity bill, it will eventually pay for itself.”

Talking jargon

The generation and distribution of electrical power is a very specialised and highly complex field – there’s a reason why electrical engineers in this sector get paid so much, after all. On the other hand, only rudimentary muscle coordination and no knowledge whatsoever are required to plug a cellphone charger into a wall socket. For the purposes of most people reading this article, the sweet spot is somewhere right around the middle.

As is the nature with technology, things tend to become jargonised in a hurry. Equipment manufacturers and vendors are, of course, deeply in love with this phenomenon, since being able to sell a potential customer on a product that offers a full menu of alphabet soup, and ‘more kVAs!’ or ‘faster switch-over times!’ than a competitor’s, is money in the bank.

To illustrate the point, a particularly handy, freely available glossary of terms that can be found at www.upssystems.co.uk runs to 27 printed pages in length – and it’s only focused on UPS technologies. What’s more, since it’s only a glossary, even that doesn’t truly help those who want to get to grips with the fundamental concepts underlying the terminology.

Depending on the depth of knowledge required by the individual, several options are available to arm oneself with the necessary tools to separate the wheat from the chaff. The most comprehensive of these, which is recommended to any estate security manager, is a training course. These are offered by companies that specialise in supplying power-related equipment, as well as by training bodies that offer vendor-neutral syllabi. Alternatively, a trusted, independent consultant offers the added benefit of having real-world experience, over and above a solid technical understanding.

As a final thought, there’s another well worn saying worth bearing in mind: knowledge is power.


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