Annual Load Bank Testing Could Be The Most Critical Maintenance For Your Generator
There’s a saying in the generator servicing business that goes like this: the best generator is the one you never use.
In other words, a generator is the kind of asset you’re required to have but hope you never need.
This saying underlies a potentially costly and dangerous aspect of generators: they are likely to sit around, unused, for long periods of time. A stagnant generator can cause carbon, fuel, and particle build-up in the engine, which results in a potential system failure. This is why generators require regular maintenance in order to keep them in top shape for when they’re needed.
Part of that critical preventative maintenance for your standby generator is load bank testing. In fact, load bank testing is a mandatory requirement for generators, with rules and regulations drafted by the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) and the National Electric Code (NEC).
Regular load bank testing is a requirement for facilities such as retail centers, data centers, wholesale warehouses, office buildings, hospitals, and sports arenas. In particular, healthcare facilities are required to conduct regular load bank testing as spelled out by JHACO.
Why You Should Conduct An Annual Load Bank Test
A generator that goes for a long period of time between uses is more likely to operate below its rated capacity. This means the generator will not provide its full nameplate Kilowatt rating. A load bank test creates an artificial load at a rated capacity to verify that your generator can handle what you demand from it.
Load bank tests are also necessary to gauge the battery autonomy of your generator’s UPS system. Without a fully-functioning battery, your generator will not only fail to operate but cannot store usable power. Load bank testing is the only way to verify that your generator and UPS system will operate during an outage.
The only way to avoid a potential crisis is to perform a load bank test to identify potential system failures. This allows you to conduct the proper preventative maintenance, and avoid critical problems before you switch on your generator.
Consult With Your Generator Service Provider
If you’ve decided to move forward with shrinking your maintenance budget, you might feel hesitant about discussing it with your generator service provider. After all, this means less business for them, and they’ll only try to talk you out of making any changes. Better to simply inform them of your decision, right?
The reality is that as a business, your generator service provider understands what it’s like to have to cut expenses. Not only that, but you can be sure you’re not the first client of theirs who has felt the need to slim down their maintenance contract.
Cutting your maintenance plan will always come with some risk, but your service provider is in the best position to help you downsize your maintenance plan in a way that minimizes the risk to your business.
Every generator system is different, with different brands, parts, specifications, and levels of wear and tear. Because they are familiar with your specific system, your service company will know what maintenance you can probably forgo for a while and what would be foolish to get rid of.
If you’re thinking about cutting your maintenance contract, talk with your service provider first. Explain your situation, and ask them to work with you to create something that meets your budgetary needs while still providing an acceptable level of service for your backup power system.
At Electro-Motion, we’re always ready to work with clients who are operating under budget constraints, and we much prefer that they let us be part of the process. It allows us to create a maintenance plan that minimizes the risks to their business while still meeting their financial needs.
The Benefits of Load Bank Testing
Building occupancy is one of the primary factors that will determine how you should approach making changes to your generator maintenance plan.
If a building is going to be empty, that doesn’t automatically mean that the simplest (or cheapest) approach is to stop all maintenance. You’ll first need to answer a few questions, such as:
- How long is the building going to be unoccupied?
- When was maintenance last performed on the generator?
- Will the building stay operational, or is it going to be completely shut down?
The answers to these questions will help your service provider develop a plan that will preserve your generator for future use.
For example, if the building is going to be shut down for more than 12 months, the recommended approach is usually to decommission the generator set. If the building is going to be shut down for less time than that, it’s usually more efficient to do some basic maintenance that keeps the generator ready for full use when occupancy resumes or the generator is moved to a new location.
If you’re looking to cut back on generator maintenance in a building that is occupied and in use, things get a little tricker. You have to pick the services you can postpone that will result in the least risk of your system malfunctioning.
Which Generator Maintenance Services Can You Safely Cut Back On?
Annual load bank testing is the only way to ensure that your generator will start up and be effective in an emergency situation. Additionally, you are required by law to confirm that your generator is meeting NEC and NFPA regulations.
The results of a load bank test will show you:
- Oil and fuel pressure
- The alternator’s capability to provide the required voltage
- The stable frequency
- The engine’s ability to provide optimal power
- The efficiency of the control system under different load conditions
- The performance of the entire load bank system
When conducted by a certified technician, your annual load bank test should also include:
- Cleaning deposits from the pistons
- Removing exhausts and castings
- A report of other potential weaknesses in the system
To keep your standby generator running at its maximum efficiency, it’s critical to maintain a regular schedule of load bank testing with a certified generator service professional. The National Fire Protection Association 110 standards require a two-hour load bank test every year and a four-hour test every 3 years for emergency power systems.
Electro-Motion can conduct this test in two to four hours, excluding connection and disconnection time. Occasionally, more time must be added if this test has not been performed for many years and the wet stacking is severe. This is the only way to TEST ALL components of a generator in a controlled environment, without impacting the building power.
Avoid The Dangers of Wet-Stacking
When a diesel engine operates without a sufficient load for extended periods of time, it does not operate at its optimum temperature. This allows unburned fuel to accumulate in the exhaust system, a process known as “wet stacking.” Wet stacking reduces engine performance and can create a significant fire hazard.
Annual load bank testing eliminates both potential and existing wet-stacking. Providing sufficient load to conduct the test from the building is usually not practical, since doing so can risk disrupting critical computer and life safety equipment. Electro-Motion provides a supplemental load for this test, typically a portable unit designed to be rolled up to the generator.
Annual load bank testing is a critical part of your generator’s maintenance routine. To learn more, schedule an appointment with a certified technician from Electro-Motion, or call us at 650-321-6169.
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