IT industry attacks electricity suppliers over power quality

New Zealand's electricity supply is coming under attack from the IT industry and large power users. Relations between Massey University and Auckland's Power New Zealand have reached breaking point after Power New Zealand connected a generator on the wrong side of the Albany campus's UPS system. The resulting series of power spikes damaged video conferencing equipment, lights and projectors as well as destroying a UPS device. Massey's property manager, Joe Hollander, describes Power New Zealand as behaving with "arrogance and in an unprofessional manner" and that the university was "suffering from a monopoly supply environment".

New Zealand’s electricity supply is coming under attack from the IT industry and large power users.

Relations between Massey University and Auckland’s Power New Zealand have reached breaking point after Power New Zealand connected a generator on the wrong side of the Albany campus’s UPS system. The resulting series of power spikes damaged video conferencing equipment, lights and projectors as well as destroying a UPS device. Massey’s property manager, Joe Hollander, describes Power New Zealand as behaving with “arrogance and in an unprofessional manner” and that the university was “suffering from a monopoly supply environment”.

Murray Irwin, of UPS vendor International Power Technologies, believes the lack of foresight on the part of power suppliers and an increase in the number of switch mode power supply devices is causing trouble for anyone who uses a computer that can only get worse in the future.

“Three years ago at the computer show in Auckland quite a number of stands couldn’t run because the harmonic distortion levels were so great due to the concentration of computers there.”

Harmonic distortion is a side effect of switch mode power supply devices.

“Instead of having a constant draw, like a light bulb, it takes a bite out of the power supply at particular times. It doesn’t smooth itself out,” says Irwin.

This leads to a distortion in the power supply that is reflected back into the grid, causing spikes and surges that can damage hardware and corrupt data.

“We’re all responsible for the problem ourselves. It’s our problem and we have to take ownership of it and do something about it” as the number of switch mode devices rises, says Irwin. “In the US it is estimated that by the year 2000, 80% of all loads will be reactive or switch mode power supply.”

Irwin believes power companies have a short-term view of New Zealand’s power needs, especially the needs of the IT industry.

“The commercial nature of the grid means transformers are built for today’s needs, not those ten years down the track.”

He believes this lack of “head room” means problems occur sooner and with greater intensity.

Irwin isn’t alone in believing the New Zealand power supply is “dirtier” than it used to be. Anite Networks remotely manages networks and needs to be certain of its power supply. Ray Goodger was part of the team that decided Anite needed a diesel generator as back-up to ensure continuity of service.

“Power in Auckland is really flaky,” says Goodger. “If it went down, we were down and customers weren’t very happy.”

Anite installed a UPS system, which can drive all critical services for up to an hour and the generator, which comes on-line in less than ten seconds. Since the generator’s installation a year ago there have been a number of power outages and Goodger says Anite wouldn’t be without it.

Power New Zealand’s David Garrett believes evidence of New Zealand’s power supply becoming “dirtier” is only anecdotal, and Ministry of Commerce figures - those that are available - seem to back up his claim. Power New Zealand reported 2182 interruptions in the last financial year, compared with 2257 the year before and 2425 in 1995. These figures only refer to interruptions and don’t include fading, surging or brown-outs.

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