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Recent weather disasters such as Superstorm Sandy have cast a spotlight on the importance of emergency backup power for convenience store operators. No matter where a business is located, power loss is a growing threat due to emergencies, weather disasters and an aging electrical grid. Having emergency backup power on hand is no longer viewed as a luxury – it’s a necessity. And in some states, it’s becoming the law.
In recent years, states such as Florida, Louisiana and, most recently, New York, have introduced legislation requiring c-stores and gas stations to be ready for emergencies with backup power. For example, a law passed in Florida requires multi-station owners to be generator-ready (i.e. having appropriate wiring in place in case a generator is needed) within two miles of emergency evacuation zones. Louisiana has also adopted emergency-power requirements for newly built or remodeled gas stations.
More recently, gas stations in Hempstead, N.Y., that pump more than 100,000 gallons of fuel a month must have back-up generators capable of powering fuel pumps by Jan. 1, 2015. Other proposed legislation across New York would require gas stations to have generators on site or be wired so that installation is possible during an emergency situation.
The Importance of Standby Power
A standby generator permanently connects to a business in much the same way a commercial air conditioning unit does. When utility power is lost, a transfer switch automatically transfers power from the primary source (the utility) to the standby generator. The transfer is automatic and typically takes less than 10 seconds.
There are several reasons why c-stores should consider standby power. First and foremost, it ensures a business can remain open and operating during a power outage. With standby power, a store can continue to serve the community, especially during an emergency when there is a need for essential items and when fuel for evacuations and emergency response vehicles is vital.
Standby power also serves as a protection against losses. Between refrigerated items and deli selections, today’s c-stores may easily have tens of thousands of dollars in perishables at risk. Storms themselves are not typically covered by insurance, so a standby generator can help protect a business from lost inventory, lost sales, theft and more. This vulnerability is echoed in a statistic by the Insurance Information Institute, which reports that up to 40 percent of businesses affected by a natural or manmade disaster never reopen.
In a presentation at October's NACS Show entitled, “25 Ways to Reduce Losses by Managing a Disaster,” it was said that the benefits of planning for and managing a disaster include protecting employees and customers, protecting the balance sheet, retaining market share, providing exemplary customer support, and mitigating the likelihood of customer and shareholder lawsuits.
Retaining – and even gaining – market share through customer loyalty is a long-term benefit of standby power. When storms approach, c-stores are often the critical link for evacuees and those staying behind. C-stores that remain open during an emergency have been shown to shift traffic patterns long after the emergency has passed, resulting in month-over-month and year-over-year increases.
What Are Your Options?
A standby generator can power a handful of critical components to an entire store. Critical circuits such as lighting, communication, gas pumps, coolers and point-of-sale systems can potentially be powered by a 30-kilowatt generator. Sizes of generators go up from there, depending on individual needs. Air conditioning, for example, may be critical for stores in geographical climates such as Florida. A professional consultation is recommended to determine the optimum size of generator.
Fuel types for generators include diesel, propane or natural gas. Diesel generators have been in use for many years and offer long-lasting durability. Diesel generators are designed to meet extreme operation conditions. Plus, if the station carries diesel fuel, it may be the best fuel option for the generator since it is accessible. Propane and natural gas generators are less expensive and offer a greener alternative because of lower emissions. Ultimately, the choice comes down to personal preference, cost and ease of installation.
Generators need routine maintenance just like a car engine. An authorized and trained dealer will service the generator once or twice a year, handing necessary oil changes, filters, spark plugs, and fuel conditioning for a diesel engine. If a major power outage is experienced, a dealer will handle maintenance while the generator is in service, keeping c-store operators focused on running their businesses.
The cost of a standby generator varies based on a number of factors, including size and professional installation. Given the potential gains and protection against losses that backup power can provide, it is an essential investment that is more affordable than most business owners think.
As a convenience store operator, can you and your community afford for your store to be closed during an extended power outage? For most, the answer is no. That is why a standby generator is critical to keeping a c-store open and operating during an emergency situation.
Dan Giampetroni is business manager, Residential/Light Commercial, for KOHLER Generators. He has more than 15 years of experience in the development, distribution and promotion of engine-driven power generation systems in the consumer and commercial markets.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.