REPOST: Don’t Touch that Switch – Uninterruptable Power for Amateur Radio

What do you do when the lights go out, the power is dead, and you could potentially be off the air?

Interestingly as many, if not most, Amateur Radio gear has a nominal 12v DC power option you can be back on the air in a few moments if you are organized.

Those who work ARES/RACES or other Emcomm, with the emphasis on having rigs (radios) set up to operate from improvised or backup power sources are step ahead of the rest of us.

For us we have a decision tree to work our way through:

First will we run a mimimized 12v DC station or do we expect to be able to put all of our station on the air if the mains go out?

This decision is as simple as will you be happy to have much of your station idled during a power outage, or do you want to be able to continue to run everything, including Amplifiers, Computers and 110/200v AC accessories.

In the most minimal “Plan B” simply having an HT and a way to recharge it may meet your station’s needs. On the other end of the scale, full backup power to run your whole station, including heat/cooling if needed to operate, lights and all accessories may require some serious generating, battery and power management gear.

In the most extreme, where the station must never go off the air, not even for a second, you may need to plan to have your station run from a 100% duty cycle power management system that always supplies the power to the station. That way when the mains fail, your station will only know it by a signal alarm, as it never directly runs on mains power.

Most of us fit somewhere in the middle, where an interruption of power will be met with a plan to replace the mains power with suitable back up to run part of our station.

By the way, the switching to alternate & temporary power is often called “Backup Power” where the idea that the equipment will never know if the power compnay goes down is “Uninterruptable Power Systems,” also known as “UPS.”

Lets assume we are going this direction with our planning.

Second we need to decide if our backup is to be short term (less than 6-8 hours) or long term

Short term needs can be easily met by either batteries or a small generator set (genset). Long term power could also use a Genset, though perhaps a better grade unit, or other energy sources. Long Term power systems often incorporate a battery bank to allow for the time periods when the generator is off-line for service/fueling/repairs, and likewise for off-line time for other primary power sources (solar cells, wind, hydro, steam and so on).

Third we need to decided what our station configuration will be like under emergency use, and make plans accordingly.

This means to plan around 110v items that will be off-line if we are planning to directly operate from batteries (like computers, most Rotor Controllers, Amps, some antenna switches, lights). If jumpers are going to be needed to bypass idled gear, make them up and have them ready to use.

Fourth we need to try it out, and periodically retry it again.

Try running your station in emergency configuration, and once you have the bugs worked out, retry it periodically. Field Day is a great time to have a go at running on batteries, solar, or genset power.

Some References:

By design I’ve only scratched the tip of the decision tree and possibilities that need to be considered in planning Backup power for your shack.

The ARRL has many resources for backup power.

There are fantastic publications out there likeHomepower Magazine which cover both backup power and UPS.

On true UPS systems there is less written that is available outside the electrical engineering profession. My father-in-law co-authored one of the few current books on the subject The Book on UPS - Uninterruptable Power Supplies & Standby Power Systems available from Rothstein Associates or Amazon in the USA.

Whether by Battery, Gensets, Photocells, or Combinations, it is possible to power an amateur radio station for extended periods with no commercial electricity.

Even Field Day stations experiementing with Hydrogen Fuel Cell power have appeared! Yeah!

Keep the light on for me, will you?



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One thought on “REPOST: Don’t Touch that Switch – Uninterruptable Power for Amateur Radio

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