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How to plan for temporary power for tented events

Business, Tips and Techniques | August 1, 2019 | By:

Accurately calculate temporary power for tented events with a basic understanding of how power behaves.

As tented events become more complex, they are more likely than ever to require temporary power, because venues often don’t have enough utility power to handle the needs of lighting, HVAC (air conditioning and heat), catering and cooking equipment, and stage and sound.

Just as there are many types of tents, there are also many options for portable generators, from the very small, such as Honda 1000-watt units, to the very large, such as semi-trailer generators. 

For the event industry, power can be summed up to basically two types: regular power (120/208 volt, like what is in a home) and high voltage (277/480 volt, for powering HVAC and some lighting). Sometimes both types can run on one generator with the help of a transformer to adjust the voltage up or down as needed.

How much? How many? Where? 

Calculating how much power a tented event needs is usually one of the later planning steps because it requires a list of every piece of equipment that will draw power. How much will the stage take? What type of lighting is in the tent? What does the caterer need? What else will require power? 

Once you have calculated the total power needed, turn your attention to location and number of generators. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Can one generator handle the power requirements, or will you need multiple generators? 
  • Does the event equipment all run on the same voltage? Or will an additional generator be needed for different equipment? 
  • If the generators are placed close to the tent, will noise be a problem for guests?
  • If the generators are placed at a distance, can you run the cable distribution to the tent and still power the equipment properly? Electricity and water don’t mix, but their behavior is similar: The longer a garden hose, the less water that comes out. The longer the cable run, the less voltage that comes out. Long cables may affect the performance of some of equipment. 
  • For fuel consumption, how long does each piece of equipment need to run? It may be better to have a smaller generator for items that need power 24/7, such as lights and refrigeration, and have a larger generator available for equipment needed during the event only.  

In addition, make sure that the generators are placed in a location where they can be easily accessed for fueling and emergency repairs. Do not block them in any way. 

Once you have your list of power needs and have selected the appropriate generators, the next step is to plan for distribution. Most generator rental companies will help you with this. Consider the
delivery schedule too, making sure the generators and distribution can be placed at the appropriate time and not be in the way of other equipment. 

Tips for a perfectly powered event

For events that are large or very important, you may want to consider some extras, such as a standby generator in case a primary generator fails, or having a technician on-site during the event to help with the generators and distribution. Be sure to have the fuel filters changed the day of the event to help prevent any fuel issues.

In your planning, keep these safety tips in mind: Make sure that the exhaust is not blowing into the tent, place cables and panels out of the way, locate the generators so that a fuel truck can access them if on-site fueling is needed, and don’t overload the circuits by plugging in too much equipment.

Temporary power is not something to take on without training and an understanding of how power works. Ask your generator rental company for help. If the generator renter can’t answer your questions, find another company that will. You don’t want to be left in the dark the day of an event, without power expertise. 

By Bobby Braun, president of Braun Events, Schaumburg, Ill. This information was part of an educational session Braun led at IFAI Tent Expo 2019 on basic power and HVAC for tented events. 

Avoid creating a tripping hazard with power cables by asking these questions:

  • 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 the covers be a tripping hazard?
  • Can the serving staff walk safely and roll carts over
    the cables?
  • Have all vendors (caterer, HVAC, restrooms, lighting, sound and security) been involved in the planning and logistics for power distribution?

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