A mechanic busy in repairing the power generator.– APP (File Photo)

ISLAMABAD, June 3: Few – if at all any – users of UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) units would be aware that this method of trying to beat power shutdowns costs them both in money and health.

Experts say the UPS installed in homes consume as much electricity as heavy-duty electrical appliances and the resultant high electricity bill could be as much a shock as the health hazards the UPS units pose.

“A UPS can consume as much electricity as a ton or ton-and-a-half air conditioner,” said Director General Pakistan Environment Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) Asif Shuja who described the most popular alternative to loadshedding as one that costs people more than they could save.

And this was seconded by Manager Technical National Energy Conservation Centre (Enercon) Asad Mahmood when he explained that in four to five hours charging time, a UPS could easily consume 700 to 800 Watts of electricity making the disc in the electric meter spin even faster.

According to the Ministry of Natural Disaster and Management, installing UPS units and generators offset the very idea of loadshedding and reducing consumption of fuels.

“People need to understand that we have loadshedding to meet the power shortfall. The UPS is charged from the same system overburdening it. And we do not have cut on fuel consumption because households as well industries are paying through their noses to refuel petrol and diesel generators,” said the DG Pak-EPA Asif Shuja substantiating the ministry’s contention.

An official in the ministry said, “Markets are flooded with substandard UPS and second hand generators – imported in bulk. Even worse are the locally manufactured UPS units that come without safety devices/instructions and energy-saving components. There is no performance criterion and people buy whatever their hick electricians recommend.”

Environmentalists in the Ministry of Natural Disaster and Management are equally worried that there are no noise or emission standards drawn on installation of generators. The smell of fuel burning inside is another nuisance.

“Except Sui Northern Gas Pipelines (SNGPL) urging people not to run generators on gas, there are no other checks. From small generators in galleries/sidewalks installed at different markets and in the houses to giant generators outside offices, the noise is unbearable and so is the smell of petrol and diesel during power outages and it becomes difficult to even breathe,” said another official in the ministry.

And if people thought UPS was heavy on their pockets, the cost on health of installing UPS attached with lead batteries in TV lounges and corridors, behind sofas and TV trolleys was far greater than anyone could imagine, according to the ministry.

“About 60 to 70 per cent people have UPS in their homes. It destroys indoor air quality because the acid inside the lead battery gives off vapours and fumes that collect in one place which can cause serious health concerns,” said the official source in the ministry explaining how the plates inside a lead battery boiled the heavy water that then produced hydrogen and other poisonous gases. According to the ministry young children were most vulnerable because they tend to suck their fingers or objects that might be contaminated with dust and because their growing bodies absorbed lead readily.

Young children absorbed up to 50 per cent of lead that was taken into their body, compared to ten to 15 per cent in adults.

“An even low level of lead in the blood is dangerous for young children,” the official said suggesting buying sealed dry lithium batteries such as those in phones and cameras.

Increased chance of illness during pregnancy, harm to a fetus including brain damage and even death, fertility problems in both men and women, high blood pressure, digestion issues, nervous system disorders, memory and concentration problems and muscle and joint pains are some of the diseases caused by lead in adults.

In children, lead was most damaging when they are around six-year of age and even younger. Children grow up fast and when lead instead of essential nutrients is “available” to the body to make bones, muscles, and brain connections, permanent harm to health could occur.

Even at low levels, lead could cause learning disabilities resulting in decreased intelligence, attention deficit disorders, behavior issues and speech and language impairment.

Enercon pointed out the need for Energy Conservation Bill for consumer awareness, brand testing and check on imports besides defining parameters for local manufactures. The bill had been forwarded to the Ministry of Water and Power to be presented in the National Assembly for passage.

“The bill can have national impact. It did in India where strict energy conservation measures brought energy consumption between 15 to 20 per cent besides ensuring safety standards.

“Regulations must be included in civic authority by-laws whenever new housing schemes come up just as there are fire safety standards today, said Manager Technical Enercon, Asad Mahmood.

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