It is interesting to note the vast majority of our 21st century technological advancement in computers, banking, and communications still rely on a technology invented before the American Civil War (1770s) to keep them powered and operational during times when their normal power sources fail.
The lead-acid battery, first used in practical applications by Raymond Gaston Plant in 1860, is still the energy storage method of choice for the vast majority of applications requiring an uninterruptible source of power to sustain critical functionality. If one were to look into the infrastructure of high tech businesses, whether it is banking, airline reservations systems, cellular telephone, Internet Service Providers, power generation plants, or others, the same basic energy storage medium is what ensures that their systems function when needed. Today, the design and engineering of modern batteries is light years ahead of Plant's technology. The manufacturing process is now very streamlined, and the reliability of modern lead acid batteries continues to improve. In spite of these huge advances, the lead-acid battery is still the weakest link in the uninterruptible power system (UPS), and must have regular maintenance and constant management.
Several studies in the recent past have indicated that the cause of more than of 90% of all data loss incidents was the failure of a customer's battery system while supporting the critical load. The cause of these data losses were not due to failures in the UPS, nor in the distribution grid or the customer's power distribution system, but in the one source of energy available to support the critical load until an alternate source could be connected.
There are such a wide variety of battery models and constructions available, that one must have a very good knowledge of the specific battery type used in each particular installation. Obtaining this level of knowledge almost requires that anyone managing each individual application become as educated about batteries as an engineer. The reality is that this is not always possible, and that managers seek other methods to ensure proper battery system management.
Figure1: When proper battery system maintenance isn't implemented
For many facilities, the most logical method of dealing with the maintenance of the batteries is to hire a third party service to perform the required inspections and maintenance in compliance with the applicable IEEE specification for their battery system. Having the maintenance and inspections performed, is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg, and provides no surety that the battery will perform when a load applies to the battery. The best data provided by these maintenance services is only as timely as their last visit.
The various automated information-gathering systems help to determine the status of the battery system, and are rapidly becoming one of the best tools used in predicting battery availability. Many of these automated systems test the battery on a schedule that is frequent enough to help determine whether the battery is viable or not, with a good measure of certainty. Most will provide data several times per day to insure that the customer is aware of the condition of the battery system at any given point in time.
In spite of the ability of many of the automated systems to gather data and present it in a useable fashion, there is, and will continue to be, a need to have the physical maintenance and inspection procedure performed as specified in the applicable IEEE standard for a given battery system. In many cases, if not most cases, this requirement drives the fact that a facility may lose its liability insurance, or have the liability insurance carrier deny a claim, if maintenance in accordance with the applicable IEEE specification does not perform.