Medium Voltage Digital Transformation: Smarter, Safer, and Longer Lasting Equipment

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We are in the middle of a digital transformation that is taking place within buildings worldwide. Closely followed by the digitisation of both low voltage (LV) and medium voltage (MV) level electrical distribution systems. Increasingly pervading these systems are energy meters and digital power, communication networks, circuit breakers, and powerful analytic applications.

In this article, we will talk about a new trend in MV monitoring that is improving the safety and extending the lifespan of equipment.

First, let us try to understand the risks that are involved in MV equipment 

According to the National Electrical Testing Association, the top 5 reasons for failures in the electrical equipment are:

  • Problem due to loose connections (25% of cases reported by the insurance carrier)
  • Electrical insulation breakdown
  • Water penetration from several origins
  • Breaker racking
  • Faulty ground fault protection

Other than that, installation and/or maintenance errors and premature ageing of components might also create issues. When talking about medium voltage electrical equipment, it comes with a rating of expected lifespan if kept under normal condition, even though it often has to operate in challenging conditions that can potentially degrade the components over a period of time.

Other than that, an error can be caused due to mechanical stress like vibration, in addition to environmental stress (extreme heat and humidity).

Role of digitisation to keep equipment in peak form 

According to the ‘circular economy,’ there is an in-use life phase that says it is better to avoid the cost and wastage of replacing products by doing everything you can to extend their lifespan. If you do so, you need to regularly maintain the product or upgrade to extend the durability. For instance, what technologies are doing is optimising MV equipment dependability though predictive maintenance limiting preventive maintenance and reducing corrective maintenance.

With digital transformation of MV systems, you can now ‘light up dark assets,’ which means it will provide the operations teams a new level of visibility into the inside of their assets on a regular basis. This will help them stay informed about the conditions of the equipment so the person in charge can be more proactive in their approach in identifying problems. Thereby, reducing  the downtime.

Seeing deeper inside MV (kind of power transformer) assets

 The risks that come along with MV equipment can be battled with tools that can quickly assess those threats. Innovations in sensor technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) are coming up with more critical points for the MV system so that it can be comprehensively monitored and analysed.

When talking about the ageing electrical equipment, some of the influencing causes are temperature, humidity, pollutants, and load factor. And, each of these factors can be easily monitored with sensors and metering. Let us take a look at the innovations in thermal sensing technology, they are enabling sensors to be installed on connection points on busbars or conductors inside switchgear, control panels, or transformers. With them in place, you can monitor the temperature; if it is high, it means a loose connection that could lead to electrical arcing, failure, and even fire.

Many believe that this is a more comprehensive and cost-effective approach than IR thermography done only on a scheduled basis and performed only on selected connection points.

Depending on what application you use, the appropriate communication standard(s) that you should follow are:

  • When talking about substations, the IEC 61850 series of standards should be followed to maximise uptime.
  • When talking about IEC 62351, it should be used for secure communication protocols.
  • For general information systems, including cloud solutions, the IEC 27002 and IEC 27019 standards should be taken into consideration.
  • When talking about substation devices (HMI, relays, RTUs) and their associated control systems, the IEC 62443 is more suited.
  • For all devices, a wireless solution that offers a secured protocol should be chosen for easier installation.

You can also opt for analytics apps that help you track all your equipment and environmental conditions, and alert you in case it exceeds the safe threshold in terms of value or gradient.

If you want the aforementioned things, then you can opt for Schneider Electric; it comes up with industry-leading MV and LV electrical distribution, protection and control solutions. In addition to that, they have complete IoT enabled power and energy management solutions.