Preventing Unscheduled Power Outages: Electrical System Maintenance

by Visitor Grant ‎10-15-2013 08:32 AM - edited ‎10-15-2013 10:29 AM

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Imagine this: you’re completing a routine power station walkthrough before your shift ends. All of a sudden you hear a loud bang and duck your head as sparks fly across the room. You’re surrounded by darkness, and you hear machinery shutting down; you realize the power is out. It’s clear that you’re dealing with an unscheduled power outage, but what caused it? You investigate and discover the root cause to be a lack of maintenance.


Regularly scheduled maintenance is crucial for any power system. We often think about mechanical components and the associated downtime when planning maintenance schedules, however, we often overlook the system’s electrical components, such as the circuit breakers.

The electrical components are an important part of the system and need to be maintained for the components and system to function effectively. Ignoring electrical component maintenance can lead to system failures with varying degrees of consequences ranging from leaving the system vulnerable to an unscheduled outage all the way to experiencing an arc blast event, which can result in serious injury or even death.


Experiencing an Arc Blast

Unscheduled downtime is a serious situation, especially when personnel safety is at risk.  The most severe problem related to a lack of electrical system maintenance is an arc blast event, which is a sudden and powerful release of electrical energy. The arc blast produces a violent electrical explosion hot enough to melt metal components and strong enough to produce pressure waves that can cause severe burns, serious injury or even death.

In the event of an arc blast, companies and their associated personnel will likely endure an insurance investigation for equipment damage, scrutiny from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and increased costs related to lost productivity, system repairs and possible regulatory violation fines.

Even if you’re lucky enough to avoid a serious emergency situation, an unscheduled power outage can still cause enough damage to make you rethink your maintenance strategy. Other potential problems include system efficiency loss, increased costs, component damage and lost production.


Electrical Maintenance and Circuit Breakers

While it’s nearly impossible to prevent all power outages, being informed, prepared and proactive can help ensure electrical system reliability, avoid unnecessary costs and maintain a safe working environment. Service schedules and system dynamics will differ, but some general maintenance strategies can be used across all electrical systems to help avoid problems.

  • Perform operation exercises. Operate electrical components frequently to ensure proper functionality and maintain overall system ‘health’.
  • Provide operation training. Practicing the wrong operating procedures can turn small problems into bigger and more costly problems.
  • Schedule routine cleaning and lubrication. Humidity and dust particles can settle in hard-to-see crevices creating corrosion that can lead to electrical malfunctions.
  • Implement standard equipment testing. Regular component and system testing helps ensure the system will perform as designed and identifies potential issues before they become problems. 


Circuit breakers can act similar to the human body. Just like sitting for too long without movement causes muscles and joints to become stiff and unstable, circuit breakers become unreliable without regular maintenance, testing and operation.

The circuit breakers are meant to sense problems and shut down electrical activity to avoid more serious problems, which means circuit breakers should also be considered for regular maintenance and testing. The following is a list of preventative maintenance practices to help avoid major system failure.

  • Cleaning, inspection and lubrication
  • Primary and secondary injection testing
  • Insulation resistance testing
  • Contact pressure testing
  • Trip unit operation verification


Caterpillar’s global dealer network includes electric power service technicians trained specifically for regular power system maintenance. For more information on customizable service options including electrical testing and maintenance solutions, contact your local Cat dealer or visit us online at


We’d like to hear from you. Tell us about your experience with electrical maintenance strategies and unscheduled power outages.


  • Do you maintain the electrical components of your system?  Why / why not?
  • What drives your behavior when it comes to maintaining your electrical system?  
  • Do regulations or standards influence your electrical system maintenance practices?  If so, which ones?

by Regular Contributor
on ‎11-04-2013 10:38 AM

Train, Train, Train ! At least a  monthly exercise of equipment including engines is imperative to keep men and machine in sync. And don't just start them up and shut down right away. We have a minimum of 6 hrs exercise period.... Daily,weekly,monthly and yearly inspection programs are a must have! Written procedures, recorded maintenance and deviation reports are items that you will be forced to do if you don't already. NESHAP MACT zzzzz are rules that are in place now and require this documentation! It will also mandate you maintain an oil sample program (which you should already have!!) and keep some track of fuel quality. We maintain switchgear on a  3 yr cycle. Breakers are rolled out cleaned and lubricated and tested and relays are tested at the same time. Operational logs should be kept and periodically reviewed as a trend analysis tool.. We operate and maintain 60 engines in the upper midwest useing these basic principals and our plants are the best run facilities in the State!!! This includes the newest Cat CM34 built in the last 10 years!!!

Stay safe!!!


by Visitor Grant
on ‎11-07-2013 09:27 AM



Thank you for your post!  Great feedback.  Sounds like you and your company are experiencing the benefits of proper operation and maintenance procedures of your systems.  As you point out, training is a key practice to "keep men and machine in sync" and safe.  What lead your organization to develop such practices?  Was it the critical nature of your business?  A strong understanding of the importance of maintenance?  Regulations?  Other?


Thanks again for your post and look forward to your response.



by Regular Contributor
‎11-07-2013 02:54 PM - edited ‎11-07-2013 02:59 PM


 I work for a Municipal Power Agency owned by a number of city's and towns throughout the State.  Many of our Member communities own their own generation that we operate and maintain as part of Federal required capacity assets. After some suspires during a energy emergency in '99 I was hired on and  we established a "Diesel" program and began a systematic overhaul of the way we took care of our equipment. We hired new operators/mechanics and began training, implementing maintenance programs and repairing equipment.  Many of our programs and practices are loosely based on USN engine operating guidelines. We operate a fleet of 60 machines rangeing from 2000 to 10,000 HP evenly split between old technology, low and medium speed engines and new technology high speed engines (3500 and 3600 series Cats) The Agency it self owns a G3520 operating on LFG and we are in the final commissioning phase on a 24MW gas fired plant ( 4xCM34/16) We are scheduled to start the installation of another 32MW gas fired plant late next year. These plants will be operated as intermediate load assets @ 2000 hrs per year....


P.S. I posted a photo of the new plant on the discussion page if you're interested..

by Visitor Grant
on ‎11-11-2013 04:32 PM



Oh, yes..... A surprise emergency.  Emergencies have a tendency of driving new behaviors.  Thank you for your input.


How about other readers?  What is your experience with electrical system maintenance?  Is your company proactive or are they waiting for some "surprise emergencies" to change behavior?


Your thoughts and comments are welcome.





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