Electric power distribution systems have undergone significant changes in terms of capacity over the past decades. The traditional distribution system is the interconnection of various power system components such as transformers, conductors, synchronous machines, motor control centers, switchgear and panels, all working to provide a reliable power to various types of loads. The system is monitored and protected by electromechanical relays, which have earned a well-deserved reputation for accuracy, reliability and reliability. However, these systems are sometimes considered “stupid” due to the limited means of communication between devices and the lack of internal regulation. These systems are typically put in place to allow power to be available whenever needed with minimal dynamic changes, especially at the end user level of the facility. While this approach can certainly produce incredibly reliable systems, there are new options available today that can provide many benefits in terms of reliability and durability, and especially in the area of safety.
From improved physical designs to the addition of smart technologies, there are many improved options for electrical distribution systems. From large pieces of arc-resistant high-voltage switchgear to small arc-fault and ground-fault sensing circuit breakers, manufacturers continue to find innovative ways to help maintain the staff away from safety hazards. Traditional switchgear that experiences an arc flash event has the potential to open the enclosure and engulf several feet around the equipment in a fireball. Arc-resistant equipment is designed to contain or divert arc flash energy so personnel are protected from hazardous temperatures and debris. Going further, there are advances in protective devices that use fiber optic light sensors in parallel with smart relay technology, such as the ABB REA arc fault protection system, which can detect a developing arc fault and send trip signals to appropriate circuit breakers. to prevent the arc from developing into a high energy electric arc. The need to protect our workers is driving new innovative solutions at an exciting pace.
In today’s fast-paced, connected world, the focus is on facility availability. Today’s engineers must consider all aspects of the equipment life cycle to optimize the reliability and availability of a distribution system. Equipment designs are modular, compact and lightweight for ease of installation, with an added focus on minimizing downtime during maintenance or future modifications. More and more designs now include finger protection features to minimize the risk of electrocution, as well as the replacement of bolted connections with simple spring-loaded components to reduce the risk of loose connections and eliminate the need to check and repair. tighten the bolted connections. These are just a few examples of what major electrical equipment suppliers are including to help streamline installation and maintenance activities while working to protect electricians.
But do these new features make your system “smarter”? These technological advancements certainly continue to drive smart innovations in electrical equipment. But the innovative features that make distribution systems smarter relate to the integration of power systems and plant automation systems that not only protect and monitor power distribution, but can also make real-time decisions. depending on changing variables. These intelligent systems have a two-way data flow. The application of smart IoT technology to distribution equipment means that a wide variety of data can be collected, displayed and analyzed with precision, allowing facility managers to make proactive decisions or even schedule automated decisions based on system variables. In an outage scenario, sensors can be used to locate the precise location of the outage and the intelligent system can very quickly determine which breakers to open or close to isolate the outage while minimizing the impact of the outage. The sky is the limit when you start to consider the possibilities when adding smart technology to a facility’s power distribution system.
Intelligent equipment such as ABB’s ReliaGear™ intelligent power distribution offers the possibility of an innovative cloud computing platform designed to monitor, optimize and control the power distribution system. This system collects equipment performance data that can be used to optimize system operation and maintenance. This capability puts data at the fingertips of key personnel to help make data-driven maintenance decisions as well as determine how to make the system more efficient based on real-time conditions.
The ability to add logic functions to the switchgear can also play an important role in energy savings and durability. Equipment can be programmed to sense when renewable energy is available and switch appropriate loads to renewable energy sources, minimizing the use of traditional electrical power. These smart systems can also detect when loads or areas of a facility are not in use and automatically turn off those loads to reduce energy loss and reduce overall environmental impact. Conversely, these systems can detect when the load is needed again and automatically and immediately replenish it. This capability can be applied in countless applications to reduce utility bills and minimize a facility’s overall carbon footprint.
Another aspect of increased connectivity plays directly into the area of personnel safety. This new generation of circuit breakers and switchgear offers a Bluetooth function, which allows electricians to stay outside the arcing limit of electrical equipment while connecting to it with a smartphone. With this wireless connection, workers can safely monitor real-time status, set parameters, and verify measurements without being exposed to the potential risk of arc flash. Removing personnel from exposure to electrical hazards through advances in technology is something that all employers should pay close attention to and consider for all future capital investments.
It is very exciting to see companies like ABB rapidly deploying smart innovative capabilities across their electrical equipment lines. The challenge for the rest of us electrical professionals is to find creative ways to use these capabilities in our designs to create a much safer and more sustainable world through smart electrical distribution systems. The demand for electrons seems to be increasing; how we make them available when needed becomes more of a work of art as system capabilities continue to become smarter and more self-sufficient.