For hospitals and healthcare facilities, which often operate continuously, having access to a reliable power system is mission-critical. Facilities that are unprepared for power outages could face catastrophic consequences, including a very real risk to life. Paul Brickman, Commercial Director at Crestchic Loadbanks, explores how hospitals can ensure that their backup power systems are reliable should the worst happen.

Fluctuating power supplies

In recent years, the global demand for power has risen sharply. A new report from global research consultancy McKinsey predicts that global power consumption will ‘almost double by 2050’. The increased focus on electrification and technology is as evident in the healthcare industry as it is in our home lives, with technologically advanced equipment increasingly reliant on power to operate.

To meet these needs, as well as the ongoing mission to make the move to green sources of power generation, the UK’s energy mix is going through a transition. The transition from fossil fuel-generated power to wind and other renewable sources of energy brings with it power fluctuations that create a balancing act between supply and demand. Even a 1% deviation from the network’s frequency of 50 Hz. has the potential to damage equipment and infrastructure and cause power failures.

The impact of power outages

Needless to say, with people’s lives in their hands, hospital trusts are well aware of the impact of a break in mission-critical power. From the more obvious effect on lighting, heating, and operational infrastructure such as lifts and computer systems, to critical life-saving equipment in theatres and intensive care units.

In August 2019, the UK was hit by a huge power outage which saw homes and businesses left powerless and critical infrastructure such as the London Underground plunged into darkness. Power was lost across Ipswich Hospital after the backup generator failed to work. More recently, in 2024, East Surrey Hospital was forced to declare a “critical incident” after a power failure in its intensive care and high-dependency units.

Further afield, in Venezuela, a five-day nationwide blackout, which also occurred in 2019, tells a cautionary tale with devastating results.  With the lights on their mobile phones the only source of power, hospital staff watched helplessly as 26 people died in the country’s hospitals as a result of the power outage, including elderly patients unable to use ventilators, kidney failure patients without vital dialysis treatment, surgeons unable to operate, and babies in failing incubators.

The role of backup power

To mitigate the risk to life and the knock-on effect of having to reschedule appointments in an already overstretched public service, hospital power systems usually take a multi-phased approach to backing up their power supply. A mixture of local battery power and uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems will handle the immediate risk and prevent critical machines from shutting down. This short-term fail-safe is backed up by generator systems, which are designed to be operational within minutes and can take over from the emergency batteries and power buildings and machinery over a longer period.

Usually installed at the build-phase, standby generators are a common solution to provide backup power if the standard electricity supply is interrupted. They are known for being robust and reliable, offering contractors and facilities managers the reassurance that they’ll do the job and kick in if the worst happens. However, just like any other internal combustion engine, lubrication, cooling systems, fuel system, and electrics all need to be tested to ensure faultless operation.

Regular health checks

Regular health checks are as important for power systems as they are for people. Wherever a generator is installed, there is also a need for a load bank. These critical bits of kit are used to test, support, or protect a critical backup power source and ensure that it is working optimally should an outage occur. They do this by creating an electrical load that imitates the operational or ‘real’ load that a generator would use under normal operational conditions.

Ideally, generators should be tested annually using a resistive-reactive 0.8pf load bank. This type of load bank provides a picture of how well an entire system will withstand changes in load pattern while experiencing the level of power that would typically be encountered under real operational conditions.

The inductive loads used in resistive/reactive testing will show how a system will cope with a voltage drop in its regulator. This is particularly important for hospitals, where multiple generators might be operated in parallel. In this type of application, a problem with one generator could prevent other generators from working as they should. With fuel, exhaust, and cooling systems also untested, as well as the potential for embedded moisture, an untested system becomes extremely high risk.

Read more about the risks of not testing in our blog covering some of the top reasons for generator failure.

The business case for load banks

A load bank should be viewed as an essential investment in business continuity. When looking at specifying a load bank, the first decision is whether to hire or buy the equipment. The purchase price is far less than the potential costs of a power outage and, with rental options available, facilities can opt to implement regular testing without the need for capital expenditure.

Consider how many generators you have on-site and how regularly you’ll need to test them. In hospitals and healthcare, where power is critical, buying a load bank might be the best solution. However, for those who need to run testing at set intervals, or smaller facilities that have neither the space nor the technical expertise on-site, rental can provide an ideal solution.

For advice and guidance on selecting the right load bank:

What type of load bank do I need?

Where will the load bank test take place?

The importance of checking your generator nameplate

Load bank Rental agreements and lead times

The potential impact of power failures in the healthcare sector is unfathomable, putting the healthcare system under additional pressure and causing a threat to life. With this in mind, those specifying, commissioning, or managing these sites can ill-afford to overlook the critical role of load banks when it comes to ensuring a stable, consistent and constant flow of power.