Retrofit versus Replace: What Should you do with our Power Distribution Equipment?

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“Reduce, reuse, recycle” — the 3Rs — is a familiar phrase that reminds people to make environmentally responsible decisions. For power distribution systems, there’s another important R — retrofit. Retrofitting focuses on reusing, refurbishing, recycling, and renewing electrical distribution equipment, rather than simply replacing it altogether.

retrofit services

Electrical distribution retrofitting consists of replacing switchgear components to upgrade, renew, or provide more functionalities, such as connectivity. It is often used on outdated active components like circuit breakers in primary distribution, contactors, and protection relays to prolong the switchgear’s lifespan. Obsolete active components can be refurbished and repaired or recycled, and switchgear housing and accessories, such as plugs, lights, and extra LV cabinets, can be reused.

How do you determine if it’s time to modernize? There are some important issues to take into account:

Improved reliability: Preventing downtime is always a top priority, so ensuring you have reliable equipment is essential.

Maintenance cost: Maintenance costs and the risk of product failure rise as the product ages. Modernizing and upgrading existing power distribution equipment, rather than replacing it, can reduce maintenance costs while saving time and labor.

Spare parts availability: If spare parts are no longer readily available, the continuity of service and support is at risk.

Urgency of modernization: It’s crucial to assess and prioritize the most vital parts of the installed base for modernization. This involves considering the available budget, tools, and expertise.

Degree of equipment wear: Aging materials reduce equipment reliability.

Technology and improved capabilities: New technology allows more capabilities, better performance, and reduced maintenance requirements.

Safety: Equipment failure, which can cause serious injury and damage, is more likely with older equipment.

Retrofit solutions extend the life of equipment and keep it compliant with evolving standards and legislation, while reducing the environmental impact and cost compared to installing a new product. For example, in a typical primary distribution installation, retrofitting the circuit breakers while keeping the switchgear housing and accessories instead of replacing them, saves around 40 tons of CO2 and 773,904 MJ of energy. This is equivalent to a car driving 8 times around the world and 135 barrels of oil respectively.

Modernizing equipment doesn’t have to mean a major capital expense. Retrofit operations can cost up to 65% less than new installations. They aren’t just economical, but are also quicker to install, which cuts production downtime, reduces installation risks, and requires minimal civil work. Calculation tools create a life cycle assessment, which analyzes the complete environmental impact of a product and financial cost. It will help in making the decision whether to replace equipment or modernize.

Save money, time, and reduce the environmental impact by retrofitting equipment. Learn more in our new white paper, “How Retrofit Services for Electrical Distribution Contribute to Circular Economy.”


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  • Alan W. Tannous

    6 years ago

    Very interesting comments Giovanni, thank you for putting this option to our teams. I am working in Dallas, TX and am an SME on our efforts to Replace or Retrofill ageing electrical distribution systems across the USA. We are technically a performance contracting division, replacing old mechanical systems, controls, water and lighting systems with new energy efficient systems and paying for the remodel work from utility savings. We are however tackling CAPEX projects for our customers that provide little ot no energy savings, but literally tons of savings by avoiding the costs of unscheduled outages, insurance claims, lawsuits, business interruptions and employee safety. I am sure you noticed my term of retrofill as opposed to retrofit. This is the term we use for replacing all the internal components of panels and switchgear and utilizing the existing enclosure. We just finished a project in Dallas for a customer for a multi-Million Dollar deal to replace all the equipment including 10-4000 amp, 480 volt main service distribution panelboards. One facility with 10 separate utility service connections. We also replaced a couple hundred distribution panels, all MCCs for mechanical equipment, EM distribution switchboards, 22 ASCO transfer switches up to 1,600 amps and all the step down transformers in the electrical closets. While there we got an extra to completely replace the aging grounding backbone system in the entire high rise facility. The buildings were totally refurbished while fully occupied (it’s a jail).
    Also, just to let you know a good policy for removed equipment is to turn it over to the customer. If the customer does not want the old, outdated, sometimes not functioning equipment, then is is imperative that it not be sold or distributed on the secondary market for refurbishing and re-sale. All equipment can be traced to previous owners. The liability for the customer and SE for anything that arises out of equipment we removed can have tremendous legal ramifications. All removed equipment not turned over to the customer must be properly disposed of.
    I will close with the tremendous opportunity SE is positioned in having SQ D Equipment, we now own ASCO Transfer Switches, our state of the art Control Systems, Ecostructure platform (SCADA), BMS & EMS for control, metering and monitoring as well as our engineering services and construction teams are perfectly positioned to tackle the emerging Microgrid market with our new ECC (Energy Control Centers) for controling multilple Distributed Energy Resources (DERs), CHP, and Battery Energy Storage.
    Alan W. Tannous

  • This is one area that will add essence to our work. We are doing such work on end use equipment side already. Distribution side still awaits.

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