The world is going to hell one battery at a time, but not if an Auckland company can help it

The world is going to hell one battery at a time, but not if an Auckland company can help it
Zar Lilley
The most recent power outage in Auckland had businesses shaking their heads in frustration, and pondering a most important question: How can I minimise damage to my business when the lights go off? Meanwhile, a New Zealand company is already selling a solution to the likes of NASA, Bloomberg and Microsoft

The fifth major power outage since 1998, the economic damage from the power crisis that struck Auckland earlier last month is speculated to have cost businesses several million in lost revenue.

Worldwide, a Ponemon Institute study of 453 international organisations showed most had experienced at least one unplanned power outage in the past 24 months – with the minimum cost of each shutdown being US$39,000 (NZ$50,000) and the maximum being over a million.

Critical facilities like hospitals, government offices and data centres worldwide have been using alternatives – such as lead-acid batteries – for decades. The huge banks of batteries can be pulled into service almost at the drop of a switch if the electricity goes off.

But (like the torch in your car’s glove compartment, which is bound not to have useable batteries when you break down on a dark road in the middle of the night), what if your hospital’s back-up batteries aren’t working?

It’s a problem Auckland-based company PowerShield has set out to solve, and now its battery monitoring system is being used by worldwide organisations such as American space agency NASA, financial and stock market news service Bloomberg, ICT solutions company Huawei and IT giant Microsoft – with more contracts headed its way from China.

The PowerShield system works by monitoring whether the individual battery cells, and the system as a whole, are working, then the battery monitoring data is sent to a secure PowerShield server on a daily basis.

Clients get warned of any immediate problems, as well as getting regular reports with recommendations on preventative maintenance and service.

“We’re working with organisations that have us pinching ourselves,” said CEO Len Thomas.

“They have one thing in common – the need to be certain that if a power outage occurs, they will be up and running at full capacity immediately.”

PowerShield has experienced an annual growth rate of 25% per annum since 2007, with contracts from China worth more than US$500,000 on average.

China Telecom, which PowerShield is looking to as a potential client, found batteries worth NZ$210.25 million that had been rendered useless due to cold weather and lack of timely charging.

At home, PowerShield is monitoring batteries used by Watercare in Auckland for communications from the urban water reservoirs. It also has a contract with Meridian’s wind farms monitoring the condition of the batteries and identifying any weakness in the battery bank.