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A Word to the Wise: Know Your Power
Chief Operating Officer & President, Innovolt
Power related issues are a growing predicament on a global scale. The global population and industrial development are growing more rapidly than existing power infrastructure can handle, having a detrimental effect on efficiencies worldwide. The ever increasing global power issues all stem from an international power grid that is, in a word, archaic. Back in the 19th century electricity was turned from a scientific curiosity into an essential tool for modern life. During that period, names like Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell were leading the way in electrical engineering. And worldwide population continued to grow exponentially, accelerating the use of electricity at a rate no one anticipated. Then, in the 1950s - 1970s the first uninterruptible power supply (UPS) and surge protectors were created. However, aging infrastructure in tandem with a rise in electricity consumption has resulted in a grid that has not evolved to properly support the population and global infrastructure. Until very recently there was a large gap between the growth of electricity use worldwide and power protection technology.
The Global Issue: Population and Industrial Development Exceeding Existing Infrastructure
The global statistics are in, and the findings are eye-opening, as outlined in Figure 1. Over the next two decades, demand for electricity is forecasted to grow by 40 percent in the U.S. alone. Increased demand is most dramatic in Asia, averaging 4.7 percent per year until 2030. And while Africa accounts for over one-sixth of the world’s population, the country only generates 4 percent of global electricity. As a country, India loses 28 percent of the electricity it carries. In South America, demand for electricity is projected to double over the next few years outstripping generation capacity and the aging infrastructure causing increasing power disturbances.
Figure 1: The global issue: population and industrial development is growing more rapidly than the existing power infrastructure can handle.
This exponential growth means increased stress on the grid, which in turn means more strain on individual electronic items, shortening lifespan, impacting reliability and affecting everyday life.
Electronics Power Protection Landscape
Today’s electronics are pervasive with the majority of equipment being deployed with insufficient protection, resulting in damage from disturbances on the power grid that are surprisingly frequent and destructive. All electronic equipment has two things in common: it needs power to operate and is significantly impacted by power interruptions. Digital electronics are much more susceptible to glitches, and the evolution of electronics equipment has opened up the possibility for more power-related issues. According to Electronic Power Research Institute (EPRI), the consequences of these daily loss-generating disturbances has been referred to as “the most important concern affecting most industrial and commercial customers” as they cost hundreds of billions of dollars annually to businesses in the United States alone.
Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), enterprise companies, data centers and even consumers until now have relied on either UPS or surge to protect equipment from grid fluctuations, with the thought that these devices adequately protect electronics from damage. UPS offers protection and effectiveness from a technical standpoint by protecting against disturbances by isolating electronics from the grid and powering them by battery. The downside, however, is that UPS is expensive for most applications and too large to integrate into electronics. Because of this, users either choose not to protect their equipment at all or turn to inexpensive surge protection or power strips that only shield electronics from less than one percent of damaging power disturbances. One of the greatest limitations of power strips is their inability to handle high voltage surges, making them practically useless, in terms of electronics protection. In addition to risks from an already unstable power grid, digital electronics are microprocessor-based, leaving them susceptible to power fluctuations.