Power failures can happen for a number of reasons: bad weather, an overloaded power station, or damage to transmission lines. Whatever the reason, many businesses and government organizations put backup generators in place to ensure normal operation can continue while the issue is resolved. Depending on the situation, loss of power can be incredibly detrimental to service delivery or productivity.
Power generators are crucial for providing an ‘insurance policy’ in case of power failures and offer some peace of mind. But the last thing anyone wants is for a generator to fail as well! That’s why it is so important for generators to undergo regular generator maintenance to ensure all their systems are in good repair and functioning properly.
Here are some of the top 10 reasons that generators fail—and some tips for what you can do to address the risk in the meantime:
1. Problems with the Battery System
Based on our experience, close to half of all emergency generator failures are caused by problems with the battery. Routine battery maintenance is important for good performance. Connections need to be cleaned and tightened. You should also note the service life of your batteries and replace them proactively. Towards the end of its life, a battery will provide closer to 80% of its designated capacity. Periodically checking the circuit breaker on the battery charger is also recommended, as this is a frequent cause of battery failures.
2. Controls Not Set for Automatic Operation
Although it may seem obvious, one issue that we see frequently is the master controls for the generator not being set for “Auto” (automatic operation). This can also occur when the emergency stop button is pressed. Building the habit of double-checking the master control set is a great way to prevent failures.
3. Overheating from Cooling System Failures
Cooling systems failures are most commonly caused by worn-out hoses and drive belts. Both should be regularly inspected to ensure they are working properly and set at the correct tension. Another component that needs inspection is the radiator core. Radiator cores can become plugged, either from dust and debris or as a result of corrosion and dirty coolant. Monitor the coolant to assure cleanliness and correct chemical balance, then perform a visual check to ensure plugging does not cause overheating.
4. Water Contamination or Lack of Fuel
Don’t let water get into your fuel supply! Water or moisture in fuel can easily damage diesel engines or impact their overall performance. Keep your fuel tanks topped up and use fuel stabilizers to protect the diesel from water contamination. Take a fuel sample regularly and inspect for discoloration or abnormal smell. Remember to monitor the fuel levels consistently as well. It’s another obvious tip, but being proactive about topping off your tanks will ensure you do not find yourself in a panicked situation as your generator is about to shut down!
5. Switchgear Problems
Switchgear or automatic transfer switches (ATS’s) contain moving parts that need to be inspected during maintenance. Issues with switchgear are commonly the result of some kind of mechanical failure. Parts can seize if they are left in one position for too long, so monthly testing is recommended. Check for loose connections or a buildup of dirt, dust and other debris. This will help ensure everything is working smoothly.
6. Problems with the Circuit Breaker
When changing the load of your generator system, remember to adjust the circuit breaker trip settings to match these loads. During new installations, current surges can easily cause the tripping of incorrectly adjusted circuit breakers. If your circuit breaker trips for another reason, make sure you identify the problem before resetting it. Even if you do not run into issues such as these, bear in mind that the regular inspection of circuit breakers is an important part of any good maintenance plan.
7. Debris from Intake/Exhaust Valves
Issues with intake and exhaust valves can critically affect the engine of a generator, so you need to monitor both during an initial period of operation and then at regular intervals afterwards. Improperly adjusted valves will become damaged over time. Debris from these valve failures can cause serious harm to the key components of the engine, leading to potentially massive repairs for the operator.
8. Short-Circuits in Generator Windings
While the majority of problems will occur at the engine end of the system, you should not forget about the generator either. Damage to generator windings can cause some of the most costly failures and they are easy to prevent with proper maintenance. Watch for a coating of dust, dirt or oil on the windings. This accumulation can retain condensation, causing insulation to break down and possibly corrode the winding metal as well. Once formed, these pockets of moisture will turn into steam when the generator is in operation, potentially creating a short circuit or grounded winding if the insulation has broken down sufficiently. Conduct visual inspections to check for a coating of debris and test the insulation if you suspect that it has deteriorated due to a buildup of moisture.
9. Contaminated Lubricants
Lubricating oil is the key to keeping an engine running properly, but it has a short lifespan inside the engine. Since standby generators are rarely in operation for many hours, they are particularly vulnerable to contamination from the moisture and acids formed in the engine. Change the lubricating oil, oil filter and fuel filter on an annual basis is essential to proper maintenance.
10. Running at Less Than Full Load
When generators run with little to no load on them, this can create a number of problems. ‘Wet stacking’ is when lubricating oil and unburned fuel accumulate in the exhaust stack. ‘Carbon buildup’ occurs in the combustion chamber and on various other engine components. Both can be detrimental to the proper functioning of a generator and potentially cause failures. The best preventative measure is an annual load bank test, where the generator is run at full load. This maintenance can even regress the negative effects of running the generator on a lower load for the rest of the time.
The biggest reason that generators fail is lack of maintenance! Knowing when to schedule the proper maintenance for your power generation system is the key. Do you need monthly, quarterly or annual inspection? If you do not have the necessary resources in place to do this yourself, talk to our team of experts today. We will find the right maintenance plan for you!