Frequently Asked Questions

Where do Power Surges Come From?
When most people think of Power Surges, they think of Lightning.

However, surges can also come from normal utility switching operations, or unintentional grounding of electrical conductors (such as when an overhead power line falls to the ground). Surges may even come from within a building or facility from such things as fax machines, copiers, air conditioners, elevators, motors/pumps, or arc welders, to name a few. In each case, the normal electric circuit is suddenly exposed to a large dose of energy that can adversely affect the equipment being supplied power.

Damage from electrical transients, or surges, is one of the leading causes of electrical equipment failure. An electrical transient is a short duration, high-energy impulse that is imparted on the normal electrical power system whenever there is a sudden change in the electrical circuit. They can originate from a variety of sources, both internal and external to a facility.

What is Over-Voltage?
When the voltage in a circuit or part of it is raised above its upper design limit, this is known as overvoltage. The conditions may be hazardous. Depending on its duration, the overvoltage event can be transient—a voltage spike—or permanent, leading to a power surge.

Electronic and electrical devices are designed to operate at a certain maximum supply voltage, and considerable damage can be caused by voltage that is higher than that for which the devices are rated.

For example, an electric light bulb has a wire in it that at the given rated voltage will carry a current just large enough for the wire to get very hot (giving off light and heat), but not hot enough for it to melt. The amount of current in a circuit depends on the voltage supplied: if the voltage is too high, then the wire may melt and the light bulb would have “burned out real time”. Similarly other electrical devices may stop working, or may even burst into flames if an overvoltage is delivered to the circuit.

What is a Brownout/Under-Voltage?
A brownout is an intentional or unintentional drop in voltage in an electrical power supply system. Intentional brownouts are used for load reduction in an emergency. The reduction lasts for minutes or hours, as opposed to short-term voltage sag (or dip). The term brownout comes from the dimming experienced by incandescent lighting when the voltage sags. A voltage reduction may be an effect of disruption of an electrical grid, or may occasionally be imposed in an effort to reduce load and prevent a power outage, known as a blackout.

Different types of electrical apparatus will react in different ways to a sag. Some devices will be severely affected, while others may not be affected at all.

The heat output of any resistance device, such as an electric space heater, is equal to the true power consumption, which is an increasing function of the applied voltage. If the resistance stays constant, power consumption is proportional to the square of the applied voltage. Therefore, a significant reduction of heat output will occur with a relatively small reduction in voltage. An incandescent lamp will dim due to lower heat creation in the filament, as well as lower conversion of heat to light. Generally speaking, no damage will occur but functionality will be impaired.

What is Power Quality?
Power quality is a set of boundaries that allows electronic systems to function in their intended manner without significant loss of performance or life. The term is used to describe electric power that drives an electronic systems and the system’s ability to function properly with that electric power. Without the proper power, electronic systems may malfunction, fail prematurely or not operate at all. There are many ways in which electric power can be of poor quality and many more causes of such poor quality power.

For environments like a restaurant or office setting, computers run their best on clean computer grade power. Microprocessor-based equipment is susceptible to product degradation and potential malfunction when not running on clean power. Implementing a computer-based power protection device increases up-time by eliminating dirty power which is always present when microprocessor-based equipment is installed at sites with other equipment such as freezers, refrigerators, microwaves, laser printers, air conditioners, heaters, and elevators that run simultaneously. These products all cycle on and off throwing transient spikes throughout the facility. Ensuring clean computer-grade power will enable business owners to extend the life of their IT equipment and eliminate the number of “No problem found service calls” which inevitably decreases the total cost of ownership invested in IT and office automation equipment.”

Do I Need Power Protection even though I have a dedicated line?
Dedicated lines terminate at the main electrical panel, the connecting point for all loads, including noise generating loads. Dedicated lines offer no protection against power surges and noise generated by neighborhood industrial equipment or lightning strike transients.
Why do I need Power Protection? I have a maintenance contract.
Most maintenance contracts don’t cover damage due to power problems. If it is determined that power quality is the reason for repair, you may have to pay for the repair. Eliminating one repair caused by dirty power will likely pay for the Electronic Power Conditioner. Downtime costs money, even if you have a maintenance contract. Murphy’s Law dictates that your copier, fax, or point-of-sale system will fail during the most important jobs of the year. You have invested money in equipment that works, not one that sits idly waiting for the service technician. Our Electronic Power Conditioners dramatically reduce downtime, typically paying for itself in a few months.

Maintenance contract providers must make a profit on the contract. If they must make an excessive number of calls at your site due to poor power quality, they will have to increase the maintenance contract price to recover their dollar losses.

How do I know if I have Dirty Power?
If you are experiencing any of the following, your equipment may be driven by “poor power conditions”:

  • Blue Screens of Death
  • Unexpected Downtime
  • Confusing Error Codes
  • Excessive “no-trouble-found” Service Calls
  • Poor Print Quality or Phantom Paper Jams
  • Premature Circuit Board Replacement (Not attributed to lightning or power surges)
  • And the many other ways poor power conditions affecting micro-processors

Voltage spikes and surges are causes of system failures and responsible for thousands of service calls annually on all types of electronic systems. Oftentimes the problem is blamed on the equipment of software, when in fact it is caused by poor power conditions.
In any manifestation, the effects are the same: they cause sensitive digital equipment to fail or to operate poorly.

What is Grounding?
A surge protection device (SPD), also known as a transient voltage surge suppressor (TVSS), is designed to divert high-current surges to ground and bypass your equipment, thereby limiting the voltage that is impressed on the equipment. For this reason, it is critical that your facility have a good, low-resistance grounding system, with a single ground reference point to which the grounds of all building systems are connected.

Without a proper grounding system, there is no way to protect against surges.

We have good grounding, do we still need surge protection?
A good ground is important for surge protection devices to work properly. AC power SPD’s are designed to divert surge current to ground by providing the least resistive path. Without surge protection on the AC power, the surge current will look for other paths to a good ground. In many cases this path is found through electric/electronic equipment. Once the dielectric strength of the components in electronic equipment has been surpassed large currents begin to flow through the sensitive electronics thus causing failure.
What is a Joule Rating?
While conceptually a surge protective device (SPD) with a larger energy rating will be better, comparing SPD energy (Joule) ratings can be misleading. More reputable manufacturers no longer provide energy ratings. The energy rating is the sum of surge current, surge duration, and SPD clamping voltage.

In comparing two products, the lower rated device would be better if this was as a result of a lower clamping voltage, while the large energy device would be preferable if this was as a result of a larger surge current being used. There is no clear standard for SPD energy measurement, and manufacturers have been known to use long tail pulses to provide larger results misleading the end users.

Because Joule ratings can easily be manipulated many of the industry standards (UL) and guidelines (IEEE) do not recommend the comparison of joules. Instead they put the focus on actual performance of the SPDs with test such as the Nominal Discharge Current testing, which tests the SPDs durability along with the VPR testing that reflects the let-through voltage. With this type of information a better comparison from one SPD to another can be made.

Our equipment is connected to a UPS, do we still need surge protection?
UPS systems play a very important part in an overall power protection plan. They are designed to provide good clean uninterruptible power to critical equipment. They provide no protection for the communication and control lines found in today’s network type environments. They also do not normally provide AC power protection to the many nodes connected within the network. The surge protection elements found within even a very large UPS is very small in comparison to stand-alone SPD’s. Normally around 25 to 40kA. In comparison, our smallest AC entrance protector is 70kA and our largest is 600kA.
We've never had any problems with surges, why do we need surge protection?
There are not many areas of the world today that do not experience surge-related incidents. Lightning is only one of the many causes of transient surge related problems. Today’s modern electronic equipment is much smaller, much faster, and much more susceptible to transient related problems than was the last generation of equipment. The sheer number of control and communication devices interlinked together in today’s networks make their susceptibility many times greater. These are new problems that were not nearly as frequent with previous generations of control equipment.
We are based in an area with very little lightning, why do we need surge protection?
Many areas of the world do not experience as much lightning related problems as others. As much as companies today depend on their control and network systems, the system availability has become paramount. For most companies, a SINGLE surge related incident, which causes the loss of system availability, would MORE than pay for proper protection.
Why do I need to protect data/control lines?
Data and control interfaces suffer many times more damage from surges than do power supplies. Power supplies normally have some type of filtering and operate at higher voltages than do control or communication interfaces. Low voltage control and communication interfaces normally interface directly into the equipment through a driver or receiver chip. This chip normally has both a logic ground reference as well as the communication reference. Any substantial difference between these two references will damage the chip.
All my data lines run inside the building, why do I need to protect them?
Even though all data lines stay within the building, communication interfaces are still susceptible to damage. There are two reasons for this. 1. Induced voltages from a nearby lightning strike when control/communications lines run near electrical power wires, metal in the building structure, or near lightning rod ground leads. 2. Differences in AC power voltage references between two devices connected together by control/communication lines. When an event, such as a nearby lightning strike, migrates in on the AC power, individual equipment within the building can see large voltage reference differences. When these devices are connected together by low voltage control/communication lines, the control/communication lines try to equalize the difference, thus causing damage to the interface chips.
What is a UPS?
UPS stands for Uninterruptible Power Supply. Its purpose is to supply power to certain critical or important electronic devices whenever main electric power is interrupted. Depending on the specific design, a UPS contains one or more batteries, components to clean up the AC power provided by the utility company and a relay to switch from main utility power to the battery power in the case of a “stand-by” UPS.
Why is a UPS necessary?
Because the electric power provided by your local utility can suddenly be interrupted do to a black out, thunder storm or some mechanical failure. A UPS can maintain operation of critical equipment until utility power is restored or until the equipment can be properly shut down.
What is a typical application for a UPS?
The most typical application is to maintain power on a computer so that, should main electric power be suddenly lost (because of a black out, a thunder storm or some other reason), recent work can be saved before the computer shuts down. Besides computers, other important data processor driven electronics can benefit from battery support:

  • Telephone and telecommunications equipment
  • Digital signage player and display
  • Digital video recording systems
  • Digital mixing consoles
  • Access control and security systems
  • Emergency evacuation public address systems
How do I select the right UPS for my applications?

The right UPS for your application is determined by several factors. To select the right UPS you will need to know:

  1. The power requirement of your equipment load. How much electric current does your equipment need? This is usually measured in amps (current), watts (power) or volt-amps (another measure of power).
  2. How long does the UPS need to support operation of the equipment in case of a black-out? This will be UPSs required “run time”.
  3. How critical is the application? Of course, any application is important if you are considering a UPS. However, since the most reliable on-line UPS models are more expensive than the simpler stand-by models it is best to match the features of the UPS with the value of the application.

The UPS models are described based on their power rating in terms of their volt-amp (VA) rating. Match this with the power requirement of your application. The run-time of the UPS is stated for full capacity current draw and one-half capacity. The most critical applications (security or network communications) should probably be supported by an on-line model. The less critical applications (cash registers or work stations) are usually matched with a stand-by device.

What does "VA" mean?
VA stands for “volt-amp” which equals volts x amps. In the United States standard residential and commercial electric power is 120 volts AC (Alternating Current). Current flows to electric powered equipment at different rates, depending on how much power the equipment uses. This measure of current is amperes, or “amps”. Volt-amps (volts x amps) is a measure of the power required by equipment. It is also a measure of the capacity of a UPS.
What is the difference between a Stand-By, Line Interactive and On-line UPS?
A “stand-by” or “off-line” UPS directs main utility power to your equipment as long as it’s available. When the utility power fails it switches to the battery as a source of temporary power. “Line interactive” designs also power connected equipment using available utility power, except they also provide voltage regulation within a limited range in order to reduce the occurrence of battery use. An “on-line” type of UPS powers connected equipment from battery power 100% of the time. Available utility power is only used to charge the battery.

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