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Tent power 101

Event Production, Features, On the Job | August 1, 2011 | By:

Designing a power plan that meets the needs of the client—unobtrusively—can mean the difference between an event’s failure and success.

People are “plugged in” today more than ever. As the demand for electronics increases, so does the need for power. The world of tented events is no exception: More lighting. More sound. More cooking equipment. More electricity.

How much and what kind?

When designing an event’s power plan, the first task is to figure out how much electricity-dependent equipment is required, how much electricity each item needs and how the electricity will be delivered.

Of the three options for providing temporary power, a generator is the most versatile. Solar is expensive and, though progress is being made with solar design, it doesn’t currently have the capability to generate enough power for the average event. Shore/utility power is the most cost effective but you have to set up tents at the power source and hope it’s convenient.

The right vendor

When planning which generator vendor to use, price may not be the first thing to consider. Ask potential vendors these questions:

  • Have they done events of this size before?
  • Do they have the necessary equipment or have access to it?
  • What experience does the staff have?
  • Are they a service-oriented, problem-solving company or solely a supplier?
  • Do they maintain their own equipment?
  • Do they follow local/state codes or federal laws?
  • Are they insured/bonded/licensed for the work to be done?
  • Will they get the necessary permits?

Building a rapport with vendors contributes to effective, ongoing communication. Let them know what is expected of them and have them spell out what they will provide, including line-item costs for the project.

Location. Location. Location.

When deciding where to locate the generator, consider:

  • Will the noise interfere with the event?
  • Will the generator be visible to the guests?
  • How much cable will be needed if the generator is placed in one location as opposed to another?
  • Will the fuel truck be able to reach the generator to refill it during the event?

The generator’s size will also inform its location. Large generators can weigh more than 65,000 pounds (2000kW) and may limit placement options. However, for most events, a generator that weighs less than 20,000 pounds (350kW and under) is adequate. If the generator is placed far away from the equipment it’s powering, guests may have to walk over the cable as they participate in the event. To avoid this, consider using two generators to eliminate that concern.

Depending on the types of equipment the generator is running, the generator could be turned off at night or stay in operation around the clock. It may be a cost saver to have a smaller generator on site to switch over to at night to save fuel.

Connecting the power

The location and distribution of the cables is a part of the puzzle that needs to be addressed from the beginning of the project. The power supplier may be able to run cable prior to the tent being erected more easily and affordably than after. Regardless of when the cables are run, ask:

  • Will the cables cross walkways?
  • Can the cables be run under the floor or mats?
  • If cable covers are placed over the runs of cable, will they be a tripping danger?
  • Can the serving staff walk safely over them, and roll carts over them?
  • Have all affected vendors (caterer, HVAC, restrooms, lighting, sound and security) been involved in the planning and logistics?

Just in case

Once the layout is complete, the power supplies have been ordered, the final walk-through has occurred and all vendors are ready for the event—what could be left to do? What about a backup plan? Because it is a mechanical piece of equipment, a generator will break down sometime during its lifespan. It’s a calculated gamble to rely only on one power source. When deciding, ask yourself:

  • Can you afford time down without power?
  • How critical is power to the event?
  • What’s the weather forecast? If power fails, will the guests be in danger or uncomfortable?

Hiring a technician to be on site to fix the generator is one option. Ordering an extra generator is another option. Though it drives up the cost, it may be worth the expense. Having a conversation with the clients about their expectations regarding unforeseen power failure will help make the call as to whether or not you need backup power.

Clients want their guests to enjoy a safe, comfortable and seamless experience. Though they may not notice if it’s done correctly, they’ll certainly notice if the electric needs are not met—and that’s not the kind of attention any rental company or event planner wants.

Bobby Braun is part owner of Production Power Systems based in Waukegan, Ill. He has almost 40 years of experience in the rental and event market.

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