Load Shedding: UPS or Inverter for Your Business?
Investing in reliable business continuity measures, such as backup power sources, are thus more important than ever to keep your business running without downtime and disruption.
Choosing a UPS system or inverter has become a smart choice by many South African small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) across various industries. To help your business make an informed choice, we cover the fundamental differences between the UPS and inverter in the context of load shedding and small business ICT.
We compare their pros and cons regarding battery run-time, transfer time, noise level, surge protection, and price.
The typical UPS provides approximately 20-45 minutes of power following an outage.
It is neither designed nor intended to last the duration of an entire load shedding period.
Instead, the objective of a UPS is to prevent data loss and unexpected downtime by giving your employees a brief window to save their work and shutdown. Critically, this may include IT staff who need to manually configure and close sensitive systems, such as data storage and backup processes.
In contrast, inverters can provide power for multiple hours and are ideal for lasting the duration of a loadshedding session. (The exact run-time is dependent on your specific inverter and power usage.)
Because an inverter has a larger battery, it also takes longer to charge than a UPS. Successive power outages may not give the device sufficient time to fully charge between required uses.
It must be noted that UPS systems and inverters require electricity to charge and are never meant for extended run-time (such as more than 12 hours).
Both inverters and UPS systems kick in automatically when load shedding (or any outage) occurs. They will also revert to mains automatically when power is restored.
The difference between them is the duration that each one takes to switchover. This is termed ‘transfer time’.
As the name suggests, the UPS offers an uninterrupted power supply. The transfer time (approx. 0-12 milliseconds) is rapid. Workstations and routers will continue running as normal. The change from mains to UPS (and vice versa) is practically instantaneous and unnoticeable enough to not turn off most ICT devices.
A UPS is also useful for unexpected power outages. For example, if an outage occurs during a virtual conference, you have 20-45 minutes to conclude and/or reschedule with the other participants. Otherwise, the conference would disconnect abruptly.
That said, ensure that the transfer time of a specific UPS meets the needs of your business technology. An advanced cloud storage server at your head office, for example, demands a transfer time of under 2 milliseconds to stay on during switchover. Whilst a small office with simpler devices (PCs, printers, and a router) may suffice with 10 milliseconds. This factor significantly influences the UPS required for a premises and also dictates price.
Inverters, on the other hand, have longer transfer times (approx. 25-500 milliseconds) and do not switch over seamlessly. Electronics will turn off when load shedding strikes.
The primary consequence is the risk of data loss and corruption. At the least, it’s unsaved spreadsheets and lost emails, and at the worst, it’s a major data loss scenario with hard drive failures and corrupted servers. The second consequence is downtime. Employees will need to turn on their PCs and login again, whilst servers and networking equipment may require manual intervention from IT personnel.
In the general “Load Shedding: UPS or Inverter?” debate, the above consequences are the leading disadvantages of inverters. It is a critical factor in the context of load shedding and business continuity in South Africa.
Unlike generators, UPS devices and inverters are extremely silent.
A UPS may produce a soft hum during periods of very high output. Whilst inverters will beep during low battery and for other error alerts.
These sounds certainly aren’t loud or persisting enough to be a deciding factor. Both are thus perfect for an indoor office setting.
Power Surge & Electrical Anomaly Protection
When electricity is restored after load shedding, a power surge can occur.
A power surge can result in tens of thousands of rands in broken ICT equipment (such as servers, data centres, routers, networking devices, workstations, printers, VoIP phones), data loss, data corruption, smoke, fire, and then countless hours of downtime thereafter.
The first line of defence against power surges are components which can be installed by a qualified electrician on your DB Board.
At the next level, a UPS offers an essential second-layer of defence because it doubles as a surge protector. It can also protect from other harmful electrical faults, such as brownouts, voltage dips, bad harmonics, and power spikes. Given the close relationship between load shedding and power surges, a UPS can be a valuable proactive investment for South African SMBs.
Conversely, inverters do not have surge protection capability. They offer no extra protection from power surges and other harmful electrical anomalies. In fact, inverters can fall victim to surge damage themselves.
In general, UPS systems are more expensive than inverters.
It is difficult to give specific prices ranges because several factors need to be considered based on your business technology. These include:
- Number of devices
- Types of devices
- Wattage requirements
- Battery run-time requirements
- Transfer time requirements
Summary & Conclusion
|Summary – Load Shedding: UPS vs Inverter|
|Battery Run-Time||20-45 minutes.
Provides enough time to manually save and shutdown devices and sensitive ICT equipment and processes.
Provides enough time to last the duration of a load shedding session.
|Transfer Time||Approx. 0-12 milliseconds.
Electronics will remain on during switchover. However, the UPS needs to suffice transfer time requirements of business technology.
|Approx. 25-500 milliseconds
Electronics will turn off during switchover. May result in data loss and corruption.
|Noise Level||Extremely silent.
Soft hum during periods of very high output.
Beeps for low battery and other alerts.
|Power Surge & Electrical Anomaly Protection||Protection from power surges, brownouts, voltage dips, bad harmonics, and power spikes.||Does not provide protection from power surges and other electrical anomalies.|
|Price||Generally, more expensive than an inverter.||Generally, cheaper than a UPS system.|
In short, the UPS is ideal for a seamless switchover where avoiding data loss and unexpected downtime is the ultimate priority. The primary disadvantage is a limited battery run-time of 20-45 minutes. Whilst inverters excel on a battery life of several hours, most devices will turn off during switchover and inverters do not provide surge protection.
Thus, when it comes to load shedding and your SMB, there’s no clear winner between the UPS and inverter. The above factors need to weighed, prioritised, and matched to the unique needs of your business, ICT systems, and continuity plan.
Take the Next Step with iSite Computers
Established in 2008, iSite Computers has helped South African SMBs implement robust business continuity, data protection, and backup solutions to reduce the impact of load shedding and other downtime scenarios on their business and bottom line.
We can help you find the right system for your business. Speak to our team for a free, no-obligation consultation. Contact us on +27 (0) 31 812 9650 / firstname.lastname@example.org or book a free assessment and we will call you back soon.