Why Is Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS)? And Its 3 Common Topologies

Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS)?

An uninterruptible power supply, is an electrical apparatus that provides emergency power to a load when the input power source or mains power fails.

A UPS differs from an auxiliary or emergency power system or standby generator in that it will provide near-instantaneous protection from input power interruptions, by supplying energy stored in batteries, super capacitors, or flywheels. The on-battery runtime of most uninterruptible power sources is relatively short (only a few minutes) but sufficient to start a standby power source or properly shut down the protected equipment.

A UPS is typically used to protect hardware such as computers, data centers, telecommunication equipment or other electrical equipment where an unexpected power disruption could cause injuries, fatalities, serious business disruption or data loss.

Common Power Problems

The primary role of any UPS is to provide short-term power when the input power source fails. However, most UPS units are also capable in varying degrees of correcting common utility power problems:

  • Voltage spike or sustained overvoltage
  • Momentary or sustained reduction in input voltage
  • Noise, defined as a high frequency transient or oscillation, usually injected into the line by nearby equipment
  • Instability of the mains frequency
  • Harmonic distortion, defined as a departure from the ideal sinusoidal waveform expected on the line

Topologies

The three general categories of modern UPS systems are

  • on-line,
  • line-interactive and
  • off-line

Offline/standby

Offline/Standby UPS: The green line illustrates the flow of electric power. Typical protection time: 0–20 minutes.

The offline/standby UPS offers only the most basic features, providing surge protection and battery backup. The protected equipment is normally connected directly to incoming utility power. When the incoming voltage falls below or rises above a predetermined level the SPS turns on its internal DC-AC inverter circuitry, which is powered from an internal storage battery. The UPS then mechanically switches the connected equipment on to its DC-AC inverter output. The switchover time can be as long as 25 milliseconds depending on the amount of time it takes the standby UPS to detect the lost utility voltage. The UPS will be designed to power certain equipment, such as a personal computer, without any objectionable dip or brownout to that device.

Line-interactive

Line-interactive UPS: The green line illustrates the flow of electric power. Typical protection time: 5–30 minutes.

The line-interactive UPS is similar in operation to a standby UPS, but with the addition of a multi-tap variable-voltage autotransformer. This is a special type of transformer that can add or subtract powered coils of wire, thereby increasing or decreasing the magnetic field and the output voltage of the transformer. This is also known as a Buck–boost transformer.

This type of UPS is able to tolerate continuous undervoltage brownouts and overvoltage surges without consuming the limited reserve battery power. It instead compensates by automatically selecting different power taps on the autotransformer. Depending on the design, changing the autotransformer tap can cause a very brief output power disruption,[5] which may cause UPSs equipped with a power-loss alarm to “chirp” for a moment.

This has become popular even in the cheapest UPSs because it takes advantage of components already included. The main 50/60 Hz transformer used to convert between line voltage and battery voltage needs to provide two slightly different turns ratios: One to convert the battery output voltage (typically a multiple of 12 V) to line voltage, and a second one to convert the line voltage to a slightly higher battery charging voltage (such as a multiple of 14 V). The difference between the two voltages is because charging a battery requires a delta voltage (up to 13–14 V for charging a 12 V battery). Furthermore, it is easier to do the switching on the line-voltage side of the transformer because of the lower currents on that side.

To gain the buck/boost feature, all that is required is two separate switches so that the AC input can be connected to one of the two primary taps, while the load is connected to the other, thus using the main transformer’s primary windings as an autotransformer. The battery can still be charged while “bucking” an overvoltage, but while “boosting” an undervoltage, the transformer output is too low to charge the batteries.

Autotransformers can be engineered to cover a wide range of varying input voltages, but this requires more taps and increases complexity, and expense of the UPS. It is common for the autotransformer to cover a range only from about 90 V to 140 V for 120 V power, and then switch to battery if the voltage goes much higher or lower than that range.

In low-voltage conditions the UPS will use more current than normal so it may need a higher current circuit than a normal device. For example, to power a 1000-W device at 120 V, the UPS will draw 8.33 A. If a brownout occurs and the voltage drops to 100 V, the UPS will draw 10 A to compensate. This also works in reverse, so that in an overvoltage condition, the UPS will need less current.

Online/double-conversion

In an online UPS, the batteries are always connected to the inverter, so that no power transfer switches are necessary. When power loss occurs, the rectifier simply drops out of the circuit and the batteries keep the power steady and unchanged. When power is restored, the rectifier resumes carrying most of the load and begins charging the batteries, though the charging current may be limited to prevent the high-power rectifier from overheating the batteries and boiling off the electrolyte. The main advantage of an on-line UPS is its ability to provide an “electrical firewall” between the incoming utility power and sensitive electronic equipment.

The online UPS is ideal for environments where electrical isolation is necessary or for equipment that is very sensitive to power fluctuations. Although it was at one time reserved for very large installations of 10 kW or more, advances in technology have now permitted it to be available as a common consumer device, supplying 500 W or less. The initial cost of the online UPS may be higher, but its total cost of ownership is generally lower due to longer battery life. The online UPS may be necessary when the power environment is “noisy”, when utility power sags, outages and other anomalies are frequent, when protection of sensitive IT equipment loads is required, or when operation from an extended-run backup generator is necessary.

The basic technology of the online UPS is the same as in a standby or line-interactive UPS. However it typically costs much more, due to it having a much greater current AC-to-DC battery-charger/rectifier, and with the rectifier and inverter designed to run continuously with improved cooling systems. It is called a double-conversion UPS due to the rectifier directly driving the inverter, even when powered from normal AC current.