Digitalizing Your Critical Power System: Simple, Smart and Stable

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In my last post, I talked about the difficulties faced by facility teams in keeping critical power facilities running safely, reliably, efficiently, and compliant with regulations. We looked at the many hidden risks that make these goals even more challenging. A digitally-connected power distribution system gives you the deep insights you need so you’re no longer ‘working blind’.

In this post, we’ll have a look at the specific digital technologies that can help you achieve uptime and efficiency goals faster, while making your job easier.

Digitalization is everywhere

Just about every aspect of our lives has become digitalized. Consider the vehicle you drive. If you have a fairly recent model, every aspect of its operation is monitored, displayed, and, in some cases, controlled automatically. These advances are making driving safer, more reliable, more efficient, and compliant with regulations like emissions standards. It’s also making driving easier and more enjoyable.

Dealing with the complexity of modern vehicles without the help of digitalization is almost unthinkable. Imagine troubleshooting a problem without a diagnostic scanner. The same is true for electrical distribution systems, which have become increasingly complex, with:

  • More loads, many of which are increasingly power sensitive
  • Many types of loads, such as variable speed drives, that can also be the source of potential power quality issues
  • On-site generation and storage, needing to be carefully coordinated for power backup, peak shaving or consuming renewable energy when it’s most economical

As the complexity and sophistication of our electrical distribution infrastructure increases, it becomes more important to have the appropriate digital sensors, advanced controls, and analytic capabilities to detect, diagnose, and correct issues before they cause mission-critical systems to fail.

Getting connected

Unlike today’s vehicles, power distribution systems do not come ‘stock’ with complete digitalization; though, in future it’s expected they will. The good news is that your electrical network may already be part of the way there.

For example, your switchgear and distribution panels may have digital power meters and smart circuit breakers in place that provide connectivity capabilities, some with modular options. Even legacy systems can be retrofitted with communicating devices and sensors. These upgrades are still very cost-effective when considering the vast benefits and ROI of digitalization.

The global trend in the Internet of Things is enabling more connectivity and intelligence in more kinds of devices, from breakers and meters to power quality monitors and busbar temperature sensors, to equipment with embedded sensors like UPSs and gensets, to automation equipment like PLCs.

You can choose from a variety of communication standards, from the affordability of wireless to the high-speed performance of Ethernet. Open, non-proprietary communications protocols are making it easier than ever to get all these devices talking and sharing information.

The brains behind it all

Smart devices in your power network will perform a lot of metering, logging, and analysis. IoT-enablement means that data can be shared easily with cloud-based storage and applications, while mobile apps can access each device’s onboard data and functions.

All of this means your operations and maintenance personnel get easy, fast access to important information and alarms from wherever they are, with the ability to collaborate across your teams.

Above it all are powerful software applications, aggregating and analyzing data from across one or more of your facilities. These cloud and facility-based apps are where the full potential of digitalization is realized, letting you see into every corner of your electrical systems, supervise every electrical process, get early warning of every risk, and capture every opportunity to improve power, energy, and equipment performance.

A digitally-connected power distribution system will help you optimize safety for people and assets while improving reliability and business continuity. It will give you the tools to maximize energy and life cycle efficiency while enabling condition-based maintenance. It will simplify sustainability efforts with the energy and emissions tracking. And for facilities with limited resources, a cloud-based platform can act as your doorway to 24-hour support from expert services.

In my next post, we’ll dig into these benefits further to see how digitalization can deliver a very big payback in a very short time.

This has been the second in a three-post series. To learn more, download our white paper, ‘Bringing critical power distribution out of the dark and into a safer, more reliable, and sustainable future.’ For more information on our innovation power solutions, you can visit our web page.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on August 28, 2018, and has been recently updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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