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Is Old Power Infrastructure the New Commercial AV Conundrum?

Vince Luciani of SurgeX expands on solutions to tidy up power infrastructure and reduce the number of interruptions for AV equipment.

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Is Old Power Infrastructure the New Commercial AV Conundrum?

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Business managers globally are navigating a dense flurry of collaboration solutions designed to support the dynamics of hybrid teams. Often adopting an “out with the old, in with the new” approach to their office overhaul, these managers are turning to integrators to specify top-of-the-line solutions for connectivity and productivity — new and improved PCs, routers, digital signage and more all-new hardware compatible with today’s trendiest collaboration apps and videoconferencing platforms. These business leaders expect their systems to deliver streamlined productivity and communication across teams.

Even the latest and greatest solutions can’t always meet those expectations. But it’s not always immediately clear why. When managers start noticing disturbances in the way their new devices are operating, they might blame the manufacturer, the software, the fuse box or even the integrator. What might not be on their radar, however, is the true catalyst of their AV setup’s success: their building’s power network.

Understanding the Challenges of Power Infrastructure

Power infrastructure is complex. It travels from the source, through high-voltage distribution, to local distribution and through multiple transformer stages along the way just to get to the building. Then within the building, the power travels through the wires to circuits breakers, eventually getting to the electrical receptacle — electricity has a long journey with lots of room for error. There are several external factors that can cause interruptions like weather events, security threats, outages, maintenance and voltage irregularities, but luckily, utilities operators keep a diligent eye on power distribution to keep things running smoothly when possible.

However, once the power reaches the building, the buck stops with the managers occupying that space. Without proper on-premises power management, anomalies can carry into the branch circuit and cause interruptions in clean power flow in the form of surges, sags, spikes and more. The physical wiring, grid connection and overall noise within the building can be a culprit in causing or amplifying these anomalies, which often manifest in the form of power interruptions, device lockups and most painfully, degradation to the longevity of new systems.

Power-infrastructure problems often go unnoticed until the power network is strained. During the early pandemic when everyone was working from home, these commercial power infrastructures faced far less strain than normal. Since the mass return to the office, the strain has returned, sometimes exceeding those pre-pandemic levels.

The added burden of new office tech using more power or omitting more electrical noise, reduced maintenance due to less in-person collaboration, and even things completely out of the business’s control like outdated wiring or new tenants moving into adjacent spaces can be the final straw leading to power failures.

Regardless of the root cause, when a building’s occupants pull more current than the building can comfortably support — especially with older infrastructure unequipped for such draw — power interruptions are much harder to avoid and regulate.

Of course, power network problems aren’t as simple to fix as hardware and networking snags. Often, it’s entirely obscured behind drywall. Power infrastructure is designed early on during the build process, usually based off an assumption for the building’s future. Who will be moving into this building? What are the power requirements? How should it be distributed? While thought out meticulously at the blueprint’s conception, a hunch by a team of builders in the 1950s will usually not align with the needs of tenants in 2022. It is safe to say that they did not see this demand coming.

Reinstating Reliability Through A Solid Power Foundation

Luckily, while businesses can’t always control their building’s fundamental electrical pitfalls, there are several solutions available to tidy up the power coming into the building and reduce the number of interruptions for AV equipment. Just as the AV has evolved over the years, so have power management needs. So it’s important to understand which solutions will resolve problems and stop interruptions permanently rather than temporarily.

Solutions like power strips with a built-in MOV surge protector, for example, are self-sacrificial and usually not suitable for today’s complex systems. They can only withstand a small strain from power events before being degraded or damaged, giving a false sense of security when left in place long-term. Even the professional, gold-standard for power management have shifted in recent years: When offices were equipped with more analog devices, for example, EMI/RFI filtration was often the primary product specified to protect devices from high frequency electromagnetic noise.

When the digital age came along, so did more power variety and fluctuation that needed to be accounted for in new ways. Simply turning equipment off to dodge power variance incidents is not an option, as businesses rely on continuity to maximize productive work and collaboration.

What we’ve learned is that the best approach for true power protection and device insurance is to alleviate anomalies locally, at the branch and device levels. But all setups are different; there’s hundreds of technologies and brands that need power management, and no space will have the same power conditions to clarify and control.

Instead of looking for a one-size-fits-all solution, integrators should consider the specific power-infrastructure problems and specify a product mix or multi-purpose device tailored to that customers’ needs. While not extensive, what follows are some common solutions to know:

  1. Voltage regulation with power conditioning can be integrated to remove any distortions from the power supply and feeds clean and stable electricity to devices and is suitable for any installation.
  2. Surge protection safeguards the manager’s technology from harmful electrical transients. With impedance tolerant noise filtering incorporated, these solutions are great insurance for consistent power quality.
  3. Uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs) most commonly leverage line-interactive or online double-conversion technology to keep systems online and running without interruption in the event of an outage.

Double Conversion

Traditionally, a UPS is incorporated to maintain power to a device when the grid goes down, but we’ve seen immense value in double conversion online UPS technology for voltage regulation. This technology converts the incoming AC into DC, then converts the power back to AC full-time, feeding tightly regulated power to the connected electronics.

The topology of online double conversion UPS systems, by nature, lowers the risk of electrical load loss, making them especially suitable for mission critical applications. The effectiveness translates remarkably well to the commercial office space, because productivity relies on the continuity of collaboration technology and AV.

In my consultations this year, I’ve heard frequently from integrators that are embracing the double conversation online UPS technology as a go-to recommendation in their projects. Especially with the latest innovations in power management solutions, some of the online double conversation UPSs incorporate the other recommended features – surge protection and voltage regulation – and can serve as a strong foundation for susceptible commercial office renovations.

When it comes to protecting sensitive electronic equipment like collaboration hardware and networking, the integrator plays a unique role in articulating the need for power management – especially in cases where immediate issues with the power infrastructure are not visible. Including power protection devices in the initial setup is much more cost-effective and convenient than discovering down the line that a faulty power infrastructure caused damage or interruptions.

The investment in a proper power foundation might seem daunting up-front, but the reward of building this protection from start ultimately is a higher ROI, more uptime, less service calls, and more confidence that collaboration technology will drive the productivity it was meant to provide in the first place.

Vince Luciani headshotVince Luciani is senior sales engineer at SurgeX.