Many of the mysteries of computer failure, frozen screens, failing electronics, and software and data corruption can be attributed to an unstable supply of electricity. Computers and digitized technologies demand power that is clean and free of interruption or disturbance. These devices harbour sensitive internal components that can be easily damaged if the power supply is erratic. Businesses as well as homes are affected. According to the Electric Power Research Institute, in the US alone, an estimated $104 to $164 billion is lost due to power interruptions with another $15 to $24 billion lost due to all other power quality problems. A power disturbance is generally defined as any change in power (voltage, current, or frequency) that interferes with the normal operation of electrical equipment. These problems can occur for various reasons, but within a home or home office environment, some of the drivers of the power anomalies include the following:
- Electrical storms – According to the Weather Channel, the US averages 25 million lightning strikes per year. Lightning can reach a temperature of 50,000 F°, and a high level of energy is dispersed when lighting travels through the ground. Unpredictable storms expose many homes to potential electrical damage.
- Local construction projects – Road and home construction crews sometimes unintentionally sever power lines when they are digging along a road or on a nearby property. In these cases, power cuts are sent down the line that impacts nearby homes.
- Rodents and other vermin – Animals such as squirrels and mice can sometimes burrow into power lines either on power poles or behind walls causing unexpected power disruption events.
- Antiquated or home power cabling that is not up to code – Either old or improperly installed electrical conduit can lead to electrical arching that can disrupt the distribution of power to outlets.
- Unstable utility power supply – Depending upon geographical location, some utility power supplies are more stable than others. As utility grids struggle to modernize, and as the demand for power continues to increase, the utility power supply can become more and more unpredictable.
The types of power problems that occur because of the above disturbances are varied and can affect electronic devices in different ways. When lightning strikes a tree or other object, for example, much of the energy travels outward from the strike, in and along the ground surface. Therefore, it doesn’t take a direct lightning strike to cause a power surge or spike that can damage the internal components of electronic devices that are directly plugged into wall outlets.
When power is suddenly cut off, it can generate a different set of problems. Power interruption can be instantaneous (less than a second), momentary (up to two seconds), temporary (2 seconds to 2 minutes), or sustained (greater than two minutes). A home, or small business computer user, could lose valuable data when information is corrupted from loss of power to their equipment.
A sag (sometimes called a “brownout”) is a reduction of AC voltage at a given frequency for a duration of up to a minute. Sags are usually caused by system faults or are the result of switching on loads with heavy startup currents. Think of how lights sometimes dim when an air conditioner starts up. The damage caused by sags is not apparent until the results are seen over time (damaged equipment, data corruption, electronic devices that will break down earlier than expected).
A swell or overvoltage is the opposite of a sag, with rapid increases in AC voltage lasting for up to 1 minute. The result can be data errors, flickering of lights, degradation of electrical contacts, semiconductor damage in electronics, and insulation degradation.
What can be done to combat the expense and inconvenience caused by the power instability? In most cases, one simple device, the Uninterruptible Power Supply or “UPS”, can act as a shield from these power anomalies. UPS devices designed for homes can act as both power surge protectors and power conditioners. They prevent catastrophic surges from damaging electrical equipment, can level off sags and swells, and offer battery backup power when the power goes off.
For information on how to make UPS selection easy and stress-free and to bolster your Certainty in a Connected World, access the new APC UPS Buying Guide.
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