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Its Good to Have Backup: What You Should Know about Backup Power

Recent Report Issued by State Department of Public Service Raises Questions, Concerns

NEW YORK, NY — January 25, 2007 — Our increasingly digital world depends upon a clean, reliable supply of electricity to power smart houses and technology-oriented workplaces. However, rising demand is straining the United States’ aging power infrastructure, and many homeowners struggle with voltage sags and surges, outages, and weather-related power losses.

For many people, power outages can be more than inconveniences. Pipes that freeze when the heating doesn’t work, basements that flood when the sump pump stops, food that spoils when the freezer melts — all of these can add up to thousands of dollars of damage. Power quality events are estimated to cost the United States $76 billion in damages every year, with the average customer experiencing more than five power quality events per year.

As investments in infrastructure (including transmission lines and power plants) have failed to keep pace with growing demand, and with the results of current investment initiatives not expected to come online for ten or fifteen years, the number of outages customers experience over a year is only expected to grow. Recent events such as deregulation, rising oil prices, and increasing pressure for renewable power sources have all further strained the resources of utilities.

While events such as Hurricane Katrina have put disaster preparedness on the minds of many Americans, even more are looking for ways to cope with the costs and inconveniences of frequent outages. For both groups, installing a backup power can be the answer that provides comfort and peace of mind.

You Have Options

By far the most common choice for backup power for both businesses and residences is a generator. A generator functions as a power plant in miniature, using an internal-combustion engine to turn fuel (such as natural gas, propane, or gasoline) into electricity. Generators range in size from small, portable models that can power a few lights and circuits, to large, stationary models capable of powering entire buildings. They can also be hard-wired into a building’s electrical panel to come on automatically in the event of an outage, or they can require manual activation.

To be effective, all generators require frequent exercising (like car motors, generators can develop problems if they sit unused for too long) and regular maintenance. They also require a fuel supply; sometimes a natural gas line, but often stored propane or gasoline.

The other popular option for backup power is battery-based systems. Battery backup systems store energy that can be drawn down when the power goes out, and then recharged when the power comes back on. Traditionally, battery backup systems have been small units known as UPS systems. Originating in the computer industry, UPS units are generally designed to provide a few minutes of backup power to allow computers or servers to be shut down safely. However, as batteries have become cheaper and more efficient over the past decade, larger systems that store enough energy to power who rooms or whole houses for hours to days have come on to the market.

Battery-based systems are usually fully automatic, switching over automatically when the power goes off and recharging themselves when it comes back on. With no moving parts, they require little maintenance beyond replacing the batteries when they lose their ability to hold a full charge.

Backup power systems can also combine both a generator and batteries to create a hybrid system. Like hybrid cars, hybrid backup systems function more efficiently than a generator alone, but for longer periods than batteries alone.

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Hybrid systems generally use a battery backup system as the primary source of backup power. The generator is then run for a predetermined number of hours each day the power outage lasts in order to recharge the batteries. Hybrid systems can be fully automatic, or they can take advantage of a portable generator that is manually plugged in during longer outages.

Gaia PowerTower for Backup Power
The Gaia PowerTower leverages the benefits of energy storage technology to provide a complete, ready-to-install solution for backup power in both residential and commercial settings. The PowerTower is available as either a standalone unit or in a hybrid configuration with a generator. A standard unit provides enough power to get through 95% of all outages; additional batteries extend capacity to handle outages of several days or more.

For areas at risk of outages of a week or more, a hybrid PowerTower/generator unit provides backup power indefinitely. The hybrid system reduces genset runtime and fuel consumption by up to 75%, and delivers reliable, conditioned power instantly in the event of an outage.

The PowerTower arrives ready to accept the grid, as well as any future alternative power sources such as solar cells. Additionally, all units accept power input from generators of any size, making it easy to charge the batteries for outages of several days or more.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Backup System

There are a number of factors that come into play in choosing a backup power system. Among the first factors you’ll want to consider are the frequency and duration of your power outages, and the regulations regarding installed generators in your area. You’ll also want to consider what appliances or circuits are critical to back up in your home. You may also want to consider the following factors as you assess your backup power needs.

Frequent power outages — Frequent blackouts can be caused by a number of factors, including weather, infrastructure problems, or a remote or hard-to-service location. Areas with frequent power outages may also experience voltage sags and surges that can damage sensitive electronic equipment. You may want to look for a backup system that’s easy to turn on and off, as well as inexpensive to run.

Severe storms — Snow, ice, wind and accidents can all down power lines during storms, shutting down your heating system or sump pump just when you need it the most. While storms are usually predicted in advance, many people can also be uneasy about running a generator during severe weather. You may want to look for a backup system that installs indoors, and you may also want to consider that your blackouts may last for several days or longer.

Second homes — Power outages can be particularly damaging to properties that spend much of the year unoccupied, as problems from frozen pipes, spoiled food, or other electrical system failures can go unnoticed for weeks. Having a plan to deal with unexpected weather or power events for vacation homes is critical; the ideal solution is most likely a fully automated backup power system.

Medical vulnerabilities — Both the very young and very old can be particularly sensitive to temperature extremes during power outages; individuals with disabilities may also be dependant on appliances like stair lifts to maintain their mobility. In both cases, backup power systems can help maintain independence during unexpected weather or power events.

Local regulations — Many municipalities or community associations restrict the installation of generators, or even forbid them altogether, in regards to issues with noise or emissions. Owners of houses on small lots or of condos may find that required setbacks from the lot lines make the installation of a generator impractical or impossible as well. Before deciding on a backup power system, be sure to check the regulations that govern your area.

Which Option is Right for Me?

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Portable generator
• Advantages: cheap, no permit necessary
• Disadvantages: Limited power, not always on, noise, fumes, must be started manually, least reliable solution, lowest quality power, must store gasoline, can be difficult to obtain gasoline in emergency

Stationary generator
• Advantages: On standby, virtually unlimited runtime,
• Disadvantages: Noisy, fumes, power quality, high installation and maintenance requirements, permitting difficulties, gap until generator comes on

Battery Backup System
• Advantages: Clean, quiet, easy installation, no permit necessary, instantaneous on, high quality power, no maintenance
• Disadvantages: Limited runtime

Hybrid system:
• Advantages: instantaneous on, high quality power, more efficient, unlimited runtime, requires smaller generator
• Disadvantages: May require permit, generator noise and emissions are reduced but not eliminated

Gaia PowerTower:
• Advantages: Easily installed by an electrician, no special mounting, wiring, or digging required, quiet, fume free, requires little-to-no maintenance, compatible with multiple power sources, boosts efficiency of solar panels, days of runtime
• Disadvantages: Unit costs can start at around $6,000

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About Gaia Power Technologies
Founded in 2002, Gaia Power Technologies, Inc provides turnkey distributed energy management and storage systems in 11kW building blocks. Our systems are designed to reduce utility bills for businesses, provide an alternative to generators for backup power, deliver whole-home and whole-room power conditioning, and improve the performance of alternative energy technologies in off-grid and end-of-grid applications. Gaia’s core technology is a Modular Stationary Power Supply (MSPS), which integrates all balance-of-system components, including an IT platform with proprietary communications and control, advanced power electronics, and proven energy storage technology, into a cabinet-sized energy management system. The complete system: 1) installs easily 2) operates quietly, continuously and emissions-free 3) can be controlled remotely and networked to aggregate power and storage, and 4) integrates seamlessly with multiple power sources.

For more information, or to arrange an interview with Gaia CEO & President, Bige Doruk, call (732)758-1100 or email

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