Surge protector vs. UPS: which one should you get? Should you have both?
Why You Need Power Protection Devices
Let’s say it’s Friday night. You’re on the couch in your jammies with a bowl of hot, buttered popcorn, ready for a well-deserved Netflix movie marathon. You grab the remote to catch up on the latest episode of your favorite series or rewatch a classic.
Or, you might be in a work-from-home setup and about to present an essential matter to your boss in the middle of a Zoom meeting.
You spent a week perfecting your slides and practicing your “script” until the delivery sounded natural and confident. Then during the call, after delivering the “punch line” of the presentation that’s supposed to cement your points, you get…crickets? Nobody reacted to your presentation. Later, you realize that you have six missed calls and a dozen messages from coworkers, all saying that your connection checked out just as you were at the exciting part.
Then there’s a foreboding sense of doom as you realize that a week’s worth of effort just went down the drain, and you have to start all over again.
We’ve all experienced this dreaded meeting lag at one point, especially during the pandemic period when classes and meetings were held online. Power protection devices such as a UPS surge protector address these modern challenges of the working class.
Read on to know more.
What is An Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS)?
In a nutshell, an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) is a battery that automatically acts as a backup during a blackout or brownout.
Some of you may think of your car batteries or those AAs and AAAs you place inside home gadgets. Yes, those are the batteries we are referring to.
The UPS takes this a step further. A UPS is a battery connected between your device and an outlet. It automatically switches from your main supply to the internal battery when the power supply goes out.
The transfer switch makes it possible to switch from the main supply to the uninterruptible power supply.
Types of UPS
There are different kinds of UPS:
- Standby UPS is the most basic. The UPS draws Direct Current and converts it to Alternating Current, precisely what many of our appliances need.
- Line Interactive UPS is used when there are voltage fluctuations, you use this if you want good voltage quality.
The load is shielded from sags and swells by the voltage regulator.
- Double-Conversion UPS, in which two conversion stages happen to ensure the power quality to the connected load.
Conversion from AC to DC via an inverter.
The rectifier's addition guarantees clean power.
Now, let's talk about an invisible power problem most of us experience in our homes: power surges.
What is A Power Surge?
Simply put, a power surge is a sudden spike in voltage in an area such as inside your home. Electrical professionals also call it voltage surge or transient voltage. It’s important to know what this is and how it affects your gadgets to help you understand which power protection solution suits you best.
Let’s stop here for a moment. We were talking about a power surge, so why is there “voltage”?
The term power surge is relatively common in the industry but needs to be simplified for the average Joe.
Recall that power is a product of voltage and current. Here is a quick explanation for those encountering these terms for the first time.
We are more familiar with the voltage as we are sure that we need around 120 volts coming out of our home sockets.
Notice that we did not explicitly mention that the voltage needs to be exactly 120 or 250 volts. That is because the voltage is allowed to have a wiggle room. That means the voltage can be slightly above or below 120 or 240 volts.
The normal voltage level is 120 or 240 volts, depending on the country's standard.
Now that we’ve reviewed the concept of voltage let’s talk briefly about the current.
Current is the flow of electrons. The unit we use for current is Amperes or Amps.
There is another factor called resistance. For a complete discussion, resistance, as the name suggests, is the opposition to the current flow.
Think of your garden water hose. Voltage provides pressure. Current can be thought of as the size of the hose. Resistance is whatever slows down the flow of water.
To obtain power, we need to multiply the voltage and the current.
P = I*V
This means, therefore, that if you increase the voltage, the power will also increase.
The water hose analogy applied to power.
Therefore, voltage directly affects power. Going back full circle to our definition of power surge earlier, we can now conclude that a surge in the voltage will cause a power surge.
A power surge with a voltage of 169 volts.
WARNING: This section may be too much for some of you to handle. You may pause the reading and revisit it later. This section can be skipped for the time being and come back later.
Causes of Power Surge
There are two types of power surges based on the standard industry guide: externally-generated and internally-generated surges.
Externally-generated surges, as the name suggests, are those that come from the outside of a household.
The best example of this is lightning.
Distribution of lightning strikes worldwide in flashes of lightning per km2 per year.
Other external-generated causes are those switching mechanisms along the distribution system. These are actions made manually or automatically by your local power distributor.
Externally-generated surges are beyond your control, but we have solutions that will be discussed later.
Internally-generated surges are those that come from the inside of a household.
These include the switching of inductive or capacitive loads.
For example, inductive loads are your big motors and power conversion devices.
Internally-generated surges are within your control as these are highly dependent on the appliances or loads you use in your household.
What are examples of these appliances? We have elevators, air conditioners, refrigerators, compressors, water pumps, and the like.
How to Know If There is A Power Surge?
Some of the indicators that a power surge occurred include:
- A visible flicker of light from bulbs or computer screens;
- Burns along electric lines or in appliances;
- Some wall outlets or your circuit breakers (basically the big switch boxes in your home) switched in a way opposite to the normal operating condition; and
- A power outage
Imagine you’re in an elevator when a power surge occurs. Whether there are visible signs, power surges are dangerous, especially since we have more sophisticated electronic equipment than decades ago. There’s technology available to protect us and our devices.
What is A Surge Protector?
At this point, it is clear to us that power surge is a problem we encounter daily.
"So, how can I protect my devices from a power surge?"
With surge protectors! A Surge protector is invented to defend your devices by absorbing the sudden spikes in voltage from the power supply or AC outlets.
How does a Surge Protector Work?
We can demonstrate how a surge protector works using a Marvel character we are all familiar with: Captain America.
Captain America is best known for his classic star-spangled vibranium shield that deflects anything thrown at him.
The surge protector works precisely like that. It diverts the sudden electricity spikes from the power surge to the ground to protect our devices and ensure they aren’t affected.
Surge Protector vs. UPS
To summarize our discussion on surge protector vs. UPS:
A UPS provides continuous power even if the main power from your distributor goes out. On the other hand, a surge protector protects our appliances from voltage surges. It does NOT provide power like a UPS.
So how do you choose?
It depends on your budget and needs. For example, if you’re not too worried about frequent power outages, it might be good to invest in a surge protector.
UPS with Surge Protection
Yes, you might not need both simultaneously, but remember that we are talking about possibilities and wise investment choices. While surge protectors and UPS are helpful for specific cases, investing in a UPS with surge protection can give you more peace of mind.
For instance, during a tornado or a thunderstorm, power outages and power surges are both usually present. We never fully know when lightning will strike or when power will be cut off as a precaution.
Therefore, a UPS with surge protection is a wise investment in areas experiencing frequent typhoons, as it protects our devices from sudden power outages and surges.
What Appliances Need UPS Surge Protection?
Previously, we have discussed what kind and capacity of UPS you should consider.
We recommend that those sensitive loads, such as computers and servers, get UPS surge protection. Home care medical equipment such as
- Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) devices;
- Medical Gas Monitoring Systems;
- Life Support Equipment and Monitors; and
- Oxygen pumps and concentrators
Sometimes, it is also a matter of convenience. Say, for example, you’re in the middle of an online game and on the verge of winning. Or when you’re streaming a heated football match (congratulations, Argentina!). It can also be a situation wherein a cold snap or the summer heat makes its presence felt, and you want the temperature to be just right during emergencies.
In sum, those loads that need a continuous power supply and are sensitive to power surges will need UPS surge protection.
Solar Generators With UPS Surge Protection
If you value UPS surge protection devices on the go, you’ll be glad to hear that modern Solar Generators or Portable Power Stations (PPS) come with UPS surge protection functions. In UPS mode, your PPS transfers your power to its battery power supply in 20 milliseconds.
It is important to note that the UPS mode must be used below its rated power to avoid overload.
Aside from the UPS function, some PPS also has various power protection features besides under/over voltage protection, such as:
- Over Current Protection;
- Short Circuit Protection;
- Overcharging Voltage Protection; and
- Over Temperature Protection
Therefore, your PPS acts as a surge protector with battery backup.
Final Thoughts on Surge Protector vs. UPS
A UPS acts like a battery where our appliances get their power once the power from the main supply is interrupted.
Alternatively, surge protectors act as shields that protect our devices from harmful power surges, so they don’t get damaged or malfunction.
When deciding whether to use a UPS or a surge protector, consider which devices will suffer data loss or system damage in the event of a power outage. Generally, this will be computers and servers. You need to use UPS to protect. While for TVs, monitors, charging stations, and the like, a surge protector will do just fine.
And as we mentioned earlier, buying a UPS with Surge Protection is possible. You can thus enjoy the best of both worlds!
Investing in such equipment ensures the integrity of the power supply, the safety of our appliances, and our safety from unwanted power disturbances such as outages and surges. The cost may be higher, but the benefits are long-term.