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1998-04-24 06:13:16


Emergency Power Ends When the Generators Run Out of Fuel



Companies have back-up generators for emergencies. Emergency power is called UPS: uninterrupted power systems. Problem: there is not much fuel to run these generators. A UPS is a temporary measure. When the fuel runs out, the company goes down.

This report indicates that the power companies may not be able to supply power to all corporate users. These users are now at risk.

It turns out that UPS software is not compliant, either.

This appeared in TODAY'S NEWS (April 23).

* * * * * * *

Many leaders of corporate Year 2000 projects may be making that same mistake, experts say. They have spent vast amounts of time considering hardware and software problems caused by the date bug, but many have forgotten to ask the simple question: Will my company have electrical power?

"Power companies have thousands of embedded chips in their equipment, and the fact is that most of them will not be tested before Year 2000 problems begin to affect them," said Kent Morgan, director of marketing at Saver, a provider of alternative power supply systems. "There is a real possibility that we are going to have blackouts throughout North America." . . .

Most companies rely on conventional battery- or diesel-powered uninterruptible power supplies in the event of an emergency. But modern UPS systems rely heavily on software that could itself be subject to Year 2000 problems, experts said.

"Most UPS vendors now bundle a lot of software with their hardware to help manage the power supply process," said Lawrence Bloom, an analyst at Venture Development Corp., a research firm. "If they haven't addressed the Year 2000 problem in their software, their systems may not be much help in a [Year 2000-related] power outage." . . .

Exide has put its systems through Year 2000 testing and is now working its way through its customer base to ensure that all of its installed systems have been upgraded to millennium-compliant versions. "That's not easy when you have half a million installed systems and three tiers of distribution," he said. "We can't guarantee we'll get to everybody."

Pitt said he believes the notion of mass power failures in North America is "over-blown." However, there is a real possibility of widespread power outages overseas, where the utilities are less advanced and less attention has been paid to the Year 2000 problem. . . .

But Morgan disagreed that the North American power grid is not a major risk. Power companies "did a test in Hawaii recently in which embedded chips were tested, and what they found was that a failure in one set of chips can trigger another failure [in another part of the grid]. There is a real chance of this happening. We're on the deck of the Titanic, and we need to start building some lifeboats."

Bloom said there's a close relationship between currently available UPS systems and those used by major electrical power companies--and both could be subject to Year 2000 problems. "To some extent, one is dependent on the other," he said. . . .

"The problem with a UPS is that it eventually runs out of fuel," Morgan said.


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