High rise buildings: Fire equipment is not a part of “connected load”

In high rise/ multi-storied buildings, fire safety equipment and electrical equipment are closely associated. Powerful fire pumps, connected to underground fire water tanks and fire hydrants, are among the mandatory fire-safety requirements for the issue of the Fire Department’s No Objection Certificate that certify a building as fire-safe. Though connected to the electrical power supply system of a building, fire pumps are used rarely, and mostly only in the event of a fire emergency. They are also used during fire demos and drills.

Understanding electricity “loads”

When a builder applies for an electricity connection to a multi-storied building, the “sanctioned load” he/she applies for would depend on the number of units (houses/ offices/ etc.) and power ratings of the electrical infrastructure – such as common area lights, fans, air-conditioning, lifts, pumps, waste management equipment, club house, etc.

Each unit will receive its own sanction (e.g. a 2BHK may get 3kW or 4kW) and the common areas receive a separate sanction. The sanctioned load should be able to take care of all the electrical appliances/ equipment if they were all operating simultaneously. Generally the builder will not include stand-by equipment, equipment operated through change over switches and fire equipment while calculating the load.

The “connected load”, simply explained, is the actual sum of the power ratings of all the electricity-consuming devices/ power sockets that have been connected to the power supply system.

Exceeding the sanctioned load

Some years ago, in 2010, several apartments in Bangalore were served notices by the electricity department BESCOM, for exceeding their sanctioned load.

One such building was Brigade Millennium (BM) Mayflower Block in JP Nagar 7th Phase. The notice came as a surprise to the owners’ association because the building had been existence with Occupancy Certificate right from 2005. If there was a need for extra sanction, this should have been raised years ago, and the responsibility for it would be the builder’s.

The sanctioned load for BM Mayflower common areas was 99.47kW. The inspection report of the Electrical Inspectorate reported a connected a load of 177.85kW, an excess load of 78.38kW. It was found that the three fire pumps, together rated at about 90kW, were included in the connected load and these were responsible for the excess load.

BM Mayflower association was charged a penalty and instructed to either apply for extra sanction or disconnect the unauthorised load. Disconnecting the fire pumps was not a viable option as it would have disturbed the fire safety system of the building. Applying for extra sanction would have meant a lot of expense – enhancing the transformer capacity, and increased monthly fixed charges for a load that would have been used only in an emergency.

Definition of “connected load”

As per Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission (KERC) and BESCOM, connected load is defined as below.

“CONNECTED LOAD” means the sum total of the installed (connected) capacities in Kilowatts (KW) of all the energy consuming devices on the Consumer’s premises, which can be used simultaneously. This shall be expressed in KW or KVA. If the ratings are in KVA, the same may be converted to KW by multiplying the KVA by 0.85. If the same or any apparatus is rated by the manufacturer in HP, the HP rating shall be converted into KW by multiplying it by 0.746.

There is no mention of fire equipment in this definition and hence someone in the Electrical Inspectorate/ BESCOM probably decided that this was a useful way of increasing revenue. In doing so, the fire equipment was inadvertently put at risk.

On the other hand, Maharashtra and Kerala have clearly excluded fire equipment from connected load.

Maharashtra State Electricity Board’s definition: “Connected Load” means the sum of the rated capacity of all the energy consuming devices duly wired and connected to the power supply system including portable apparatus in the consumer’s premises. Further, Connected Load, shall be calculated after allowing a tolerance of 5%. The Connected Load shall not include load of spare plug sockets, standby or spare energy consuming apparatus installed authorizedly, through change over switches, which cannot be operated simultaneously & load exclusively meant for fire fighting purposes. The equipment under installation & not connected electrically, equipment stored in ware house / show rooms either as spare or for sale is not to be considered as Connected Load.

Kerala State Electricity Board’s definition: ‘Connected Load’ means the sum of rated capacities in terms of kW or kVA of all connected energy consuming devices in the consumer’s installation. For the purpose of levy of any charges or tariffs or determining connected load, 5 amps / 15 amps plugs with no appliance connected, shall be treated as 60W / 500 W respectively. If any equipment is connected to a plug point, equipment’s load alone shall be considered. Load of fire protection equipment shall not be considered for assessing the connected load if the same is connected to standby generator. In case of HT and EHT connections, the contract demand shall be treated as the connected load.

Getting the BESCOM penalty charges reversed, giving clarity to Karnataka’s definition of “connected load”

Some of the residents of BM Mayflower pursued BESCOM and KERC, quoting Kerala and Maharashtra rules. They brought to their notice that fire equipment, though connected as per fire safety rules, was on standby. The extra load they were asking the association to get sanctioned would create an artificial power requirement and lead to a huge amount of unutilised power. It took some effort but ultimately BESCOM reversed the penalty charges.

Through a notification in Dec 2010, that can be seen here, BESCOM announced that though fire equipment is connected to the electricity, the load must not be taken into account when calculating arrears. This indicates that fire equipment should not be considered as connected load, bringing clarity when read along with the KERC/ BESCOM definition of connected load.

A detailed news report on the effort can be seen here.

Implications for fire safety

Fire equipment (pumps) need not be included while calculating either “sanctioned load” or “connected load” in a multi-storied building.

If building associations are told that they have unauthorised load because of their fire pumps, they now know better! Further, building associations should do a review of their electrical sanctioned load and connected load. If they find that they have their fire pumps included in their calculation of connected load, they can consider reducing their sanctioned load by excluding fire pumps, and consequently reduce their monthly fixed charges.

For builders too, this could save a lot unnecessary expenditure – transformer capacity will be lower than if fire equipment was included and electricity sanction costs would also be lower. This should encourage them to ensure that they have the best fire pumps installed and that the owners’ association is made aware of why they need to be regularly serviced.

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