Emergency Backup Power Provides Casinos an Ace in the Hole

Casinos vibrate with excitement, attracting patrons who enjoy the neon lights, the musical tinkle of slot machines, the entertainment and the prospect of winning big. Open around the clock, there is no “lights-out” for casino operations. But without a proper standby power system in place, lights-out can be exactly what happens when there is a utility outage due to severe weather, power surges or equipment failures.

While casino patrons are doing their best to keep their lucky dice rolling, casino management must keep the lights up, music playing and, most importantly, keep the enterprise running even when there is a power emergency. Patrons take it for granted that the power will be on and that they will be safe, but casino operators need to have a well-designed standby power system to keep the fun and revenue flowing.

Power Outages can be Costly
Power outages have the potential to shut down gaming, security systems, live shows, restaurants and HVAC, as well as critical life safety equipment such as fire pumps, elevators and smoke ventilation systems. Without a dependable standby power system, casinos risk massive financial losses and expose guests to potential danger.

According to 2012 figures from the Nevada Gaming Control Board, the average Las Vegas casino takes in approximately $40,000 an hour in gross revenue—including gaming, hospitality and entertainment. If the power goes off and there is no standby power system to take over, that revenue stream stops. Worse, some power outages aren’t measured in hours but in days. Blackouts in the U.S. have increased 124 percent in the past two decades. According to a study conducted by the Energy Information Administration (Top 10 Industries Affected by Power Outages, 2013) on casinos operating in the United States, an average casino can stand to lose as much as $1 million per day if it is without power. Besides the loss of profit from gaming, an extended power outage can also lead to food spoilage, plus the loss of revenue from food and beverage sales. None of these losses, however, accounts for the inconvenience experienced by guests and the long-term blow to a casino’s reputation.

Creating Layers of Protection
Due to the complex nature of casinos and their need for a constant flow of power, the design of a standby power system is best approached by creating layers of protection. This often begins with dual electrical feeds from one or more local utility sources—either different companies or different substations. This ensures that if one source is affected by an outage, the secondary source will probably be available. When one leg of a dual utility fails, the other leg will automatically take up the load, causing no effect on the facility.

Next is a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) system powered by either storage batteries, flywheels or some combination of techniques. In the event of a power disruption, the UPS system provides instantaneous power for the most critical loads, such as emergency lighting, security systems, communications, computers and fire alarm systems. Most UPS systems are sized to provide power for these critical loads for as little as 30 seconds or as much as 20 minutes.

A power outage also triggers standby generators to start and come up to speed while the UPS system is supplying critical loads. In accordance with NFPA 110, emergency generators must start, come up to speed and assume full load in 10 seconds or less. As they do, they restore full power to both critical and non-critical loads and also recharge the UPS batteries or flywheels. Once utility power is restored and deemed stable, the power system’s controls disconnect the facility from the generators and reconnect it to the utility.

Regular Testing is Critical
To ensure the facility’s standby power system will work at its full potential when needed, it is important to exercise the system on a regular basis. A good practice is to run the standby generators weekly for about 30 minutes or long enough to get the engines up to operating temperature. It is also prudent to exercise the transfer switches on a regular basis. Every few months, or at least twice a year, casinos will want to do a full-load test during which all electrical loads are transferred to the standby generators to ensure the entire power system is functioning properly. In addition to regular exercise of the generator itself, routine maintenance should include general inspections to look for fuel, oil, coolant or exhaust leaks from the engines that may need attention. Diesel fuel also needs to be tested periodically, and starting batteries need to be inspected and tested under load.

The Backup Power Plan for Twin Arrows Casino
Choosing a standby power system that fits an individual casino’s requirements is essential to smooth operating in the event of an outage. A recent example of a casino with an advanced standby power system is the Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort, located about 25 miles east of Flagstaff, Ariz. Twin Arrows is owned and operated by the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise (NNGE), and the resort was designed to honor the Navajo heritage. A flagship property of the NNGE, Twin Arrows includes more than 1,000 slot machines, a conference center, indoor pool and several restaurants in addition to a five-story hotel with 200 rooms.

“Twin Arrows is in an area of excessively high winds, especially during the spring months,” said Jim Wanamaker, NNGE facilities manager. “During the summer monsoons, we can experience violent thunderstorms, so we do have interruptions of power. We can count on our standby power system to transfer from the utility power supply to the emergency backup power.” The 267,000-square-foot property is well-prepared for utility power interruptions that can occur due to the facility’s rural desert location.

Early in the facility’s design, Twin Arrows selected Cummins Power Generation to supply diesel generators for powering critical life safety systems as well a number of other systems throughout the facility. “Reliable backup power is very critical for us as a gaming facility,” Wanamaker said. “For us, life safety is always of the utmost importance. Beyond that, the critical need is that we don’t lose power to the gaming floor or the gaming slot systems to maintain play on the floor. Security systems are also critical; if security goes down, we have to shut down the gaming systems as well.”

The resort was designed by the Friedmutter Group architects of Las Vegas in collaboration with the Navajo tribal members and JBA Consulting Engineers, which provided design engineering of the mechanical, low-voltage electrical, plumbing, fire protection and some of the facility’s security systems. Cummins Power Generation supplied the equipment for the standby power system, which included two generator sets rated at 2 MW with digital paralleling controls, switchgear and digital master (supervisory) controls. Twin Arrows Casino is the fourth Navajo tribal casino project for which local distributor Cummins Rocky Mountain has supplied generator sets and equipment—three others are in New Mexico.

The Cummins paralleling system, consisting of nine sections of switchgear, two sections of low-voltage controls (far side), including a DMC 300 digital master control which employs an icon-based touchscreen interface, simplifying operation and diagnostics.
The Cummins paralleling system, consisting of nine sections of switchgear, two sections of low-voltage controls (far side), including a DMC 300 digital master control which employs an icon-based touchscreen interface, simplifying operation and diagnostics.
The layers of power protection at Twin Arrows start with three UPS units that provide the first line of defense in the event of power disruptions or unstable power supply for business-critical operations. The UPS units bridge the approximate 10-second gap between when utility power fail and when the generators start supplying power. The generators are set up as a prioritized system so that the emergency systems at Twin Arrows take the highest priority. The second priority is the legally required standby and business-critical equipment.

JBA Consulting Engineers specified Cummins on the Twin Arrows project because of the company’s product quality and service, Fernandez said. He also added, “The quick reaction of Cummins customer support in a rural location was also a consideration for this particular project.”
For Twin Arrows, the backup power solution has proved a solid bet. “The performance of the equipment has been exceptional to date,” Wanamaker said.

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