The latest technological trends in UPS

Ryan Jones, business development manager, Riello UPS, looks at the some of the most recent advances in uninterruptible power supply designs and how they’ve helped to enhance performance and efficiency.

For years, UPS systems were rather unsympathetically viewed by many IT resellers as the expensive big black boxes buzzing away in the corner of server or plant rooms pumping out lots and lots of heat.

But such stereotypical opinions are definitely outdated. Huge advances in design, technology, and materials mean the UPS of today are unrecognisable from their predecessors of just a few years ago. They’re far more efficient and reliable, while they also offer such enhanced performance in a significantly reduced footprint.

Let’s explore four of these major recent advances.

1. Transformer-free UPS

Historically, the most common type of UPS was transformer-based, where the power flows via the rectifier, inverter, and transformer to the output, with a transformer used to step up the AC voltage levels.

Although transformer-free alternatives existed in the 1990s, they’ve truly become a more mainstream option over the past decade or so. They work in a similar way but eliminate the need for the step up transformer after the inverter thanks to the use of IGBT transistors that can deal with high voltages.

Getting rid of the transformer impacts the physical makeup of the UPS, allowing them to be smaller and lighter. They are also more efficient and generate less heat too.

For environments still requiring galvanic isolation, such as industrial processing, transformer-based systems are still commonplace. But transformer-free solutions are now the norm for all power ratings up to 10 kVA. At the higher end of the scale, they’re also available up to around 300 kVA for larger-scale installations.

2. Moves to modular

he next big step forward came with the growing popularity of modular UPS systems instead of the traditional monolithic units.
Modular UPS offer customers risk-free ‘pay as you grow’ scalability.

You initially size the UPS to mirror the load requirement, then add in extra power modules as and when the need arises in the future. This reduces the threat of wasteful, inefficient oversizing, so helps to control the upfront capital cost.

Modular UPS also offers high power density in a compact footprint, optimising your floorspace. And as each power module is hot-swappable (i.e. can be replaced without having to power down the whole UPS), you are guaranteed downtime-free maintenance too.

3. Ultra-high efficiency UPS

The latest emerging trend is the move from traditional silicon based IGBTs used in UPS manufacturing to silicon carbide (SiC) semiconductors.

Such components are capable of much higher efficiency as they demonstrate lower electrical resistance, which reduces energy losses. They produce less heat, which reduces the need for cooling, deliver increased power density, and can run at higher ambient temperatures.

Silicon carbide semiconductors also have faster switching capabilities, which results in a more responsive UPS, while it is more durable than IGBT too, resulting in extended component lifecycles and reduced maintenance requirements.

All things considered, the use of silicon carbide opens up a whole new world of opportunities for UPS manufacturing. For example, by incorporating SiC components, Riello UPS’s latest modular solution Multi Power2 is capable of market-leading ultra-high efficiency of 98.1 per cent whilst operating in maximum protection online UPS mode.

Usually, you’d only see such exceptional efficiency ratings if your UPS is running in ‘Eco’ or ‘economy’ mode, where any energy saving comes with a subsequent trade-off in reduced protection to the critical load.

4. Smart grid solutions

This final area of progress is likely to take on increasing importance as society continues its transition to a zero carbon electricity network.

Major advances in communications protocols, management and monitoring software, and battery technologies mean that many modern UPS can now communicate with local power networks. So depending on the real-time load conditions, they can either draw electricity from the grid or push battery power back in to help the network with the tricky tasks of balancing demand with supply and ensuring a consistent, stable frequency.

There are various common applications for smart grid-ready UPS, such as frequency stabilisation or peak shaving, which in practice uses the battery power to limit how much electricity a site needs to draw from the mains supply.

Smart grid capabilities potentially transform a UPS from purely an essential yet reactive piece of equipment, waiting to offer standby power in the event of mains interruption, into a dynamic ‘virtual power plant’.

This article is part of a series of educational UPS content from Riello UPS. You can also read more about: how to find a UPS partner, ensuring the best UPS performance, and developing an effective UPS maintenance plan.