It’s Monday, June 21st, and the power is out as I write this.  Thankfully, Friday June 17th, I had just installed a pair of APC Battery Backups I had picked up on a gift card from Best Buy (a 5 year anniversary gift from work – thanks guys).

APC Smart Battery Backup under the Lightning Maroon's Tank

Of course, I had looked into generators, but Best Buy doesn’t sell them.  So an uninterrupted power supply, or UPS, aka battery backup, was the route I needed to go.  Of course, the Apex controller can actually be set up to detect a power outage using a separate power supply as well as the power supplied through the EnergyBar 8.  You put the EnergyBar on the backup, and you plug the other 12 volt converter into a regular GCFI & Surge Protected outlet.  If power to the converter is lost, the Apex can detect it and trigger an alarm condition, which can take appropriate actions.

In my case, the intended programming would shut off power to the MP10wES (which has it’s own 30 hour battery backup it would run off of separately).  It would also shut off power to all the lights (although some folks will suggest that the lights are actually better at providing O2 than running the tank dark with a Skimmer for example).  I was going to keep power running to the skimmer and the main water pump.  The heater would be on, but I’m thinking I could program it to us a different temperature range when on backup, allowing perhaps a couple degrees drop before the heater would try to kick in.

The plan was to use one battery backup in the office to drive the router and the cable modem.  Our laptops all have built in batteries these days, which meant the backup wouldn’t be necessary for that.  The practical upshot here is that the internet, provided by cable, is presumably independent of the main power to the house.  In other words, power could go out, but internet could be on.  Keeping the router and modem up and running would theoretically keep the internet connection live.  THIS, in turn, would potentially permit the emailing of a power outage alert, as triggered by the Apex.

Of course, this scenario created one other issue – keeping internet on at the Apex.  I had initially used a powerline adapter to provide internet, but based on manufacturer specifications, these cannot be run on even a simple outlet strip, let alone a GCFI or surge protector.  And DEFINITELY not through a battery backup.  At least one person commented here (or somewhere else) about the additional risk to the Apex by having it’s internet coming in over the powerline.  So the powerline internet had to go, and in it’s place, a Netgear WiFi Range Extender was set up.  This range extender provides internet to the Apex over an Ethernet cable, while also being able to run on a battery backup.

So the other backup would drive the Lightning Maroon’s tank, including the skimmer, the pump, the possible use of the heater, the Apex itself, and the wireless bridge / range extender.  Through this seemingly convoluted series of steps, I could detect a power outage, trigger an alert to be emailed out, and I could adust the Apex settings to maximize the length of time that the aquarium could run on only essential equipment.

After doing some reading and research, I discovered that our aquarium pumps present a peculiar problem when used on a battery backup.  Without getting too technical, an inexpensive battery backup produces a square waveform of electrical current, and this can fry out our aquarium pumps.  In order to run our water moving pumps on a battery backup, it requires a much more advanced “true sine wave” battery backup.  Of course, these types of backups aren’t so often used for home use, and they are considerably more expensive.

I have to say now, APC’s online customer support was freakin’ OUTSTANDING.  I have never been shown such in-depth customer service before from such a large company.  A 1 business day turnaround seemed standard, but the level of detail they went into in trying to help me find the right products for my needs went above and beyond.  They took a very long detailed explanation of the situation, even asked me to help them come up with some power consumption estimates, and then directed me to a line of scalable products that I could use and showed me how long things should run.  It almost sucks that they did all the sales work and Best Buy just collected the profits!

In the end, my router and cable modem got a Cyberpower 425VA APC UPS – the standard “run of the mill” type battery backup.  The Lightning Maroon’s setup got a APC Smart-UPS 750VA Battery Backup.  While not the running time I had hoped for, and not scalable like the ones APC suggested, it was the one I could afford with my Best Buy cash.

So how did it all work out?  Well, I have yet to get the 12 volt power supply from Neptune Systems – only ordered it last night.  When the power went out this morning, I had to manually pull the plug on the MP10.  Having there router still powered via their backup, I was able to log into the Apex through my laptop and adjust heater settings, turn off certain items, and overall manage things pretty well.   The power was out for 80 minutes, and when it came back on, the backup was at 23% remaining power.  Interestingly however, I want to say that fairly quickly after the power went out, the battery was only at 80%.  I wonder if the heater had been running – that’s a big 100 watt draw right there.  Still, for that length of time, the tank ran, unaffected by the lack of normal power coming in.  In other words, it was like the power outage never happened.  That, to me, is a big win for this setup, and is money well spent.  Even if this UPS only buys me 2 hours of pump time, it’s still 2 hours I otherwise wouldn’t have had.  And remember, I still have roughly 30 hours on the MP10 as well.

It’s no generator, but today, all these backup systems performed admirably.  Money, or in this case gift card, well-spent.