How digitalizing your critical power distribution delivers a fast and massive ROI

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In the previous two posts in this series, we’ve looked at the hidden risks that make managing critical power facilities so challenging. We’ve also seen how digitalizing electrical power distribution networks trends mean you no longer have to ‘work blind.’ Connected smart devices sharing data with cloud or facility-based software and mobile apps help shine a bright light on risks while revealing opportunities to improve electrical safety, reliability, sustainability, and compliance.

Let’s look at how digitalization helps deliver these benefits and, in turn, delivers a potential massive ROI against the cost of upgrading your infrastructure.

Optimizing safety

A digitalized electrical system can include wireless thermal sensors in strategic locations to continuously monitor abnormal temperature rises. Personnel is alerted to any thermal problem before it results in an electrical fire destroying equipment or injuring people.

In hospital operating rooms that depend on isolated power to prevent shocks, connected sensors detect insulation faults so that electricians can be alerted immediately to assist.

In a power outage, smart circuit breakers deliver critical information to mobile devices, helping personnel restore power quickly and even perform remote control from a safe distance. Power forensics help operations teams isolate problem sources, using accurately time-stamped events from connected devices to visualize event timelines. Advanced capabilities, such as patented Disturbance Direction Detection from Schneider Electric, help quickly determine how disturbances have propagated through the electrical system and whether they originated from inside or outside the facility. These tools help teams find root causes faster and restore power quicker.

Improving reliability

Personnel can stay connected 24/7 to the power distribution system, receiving alerts when any conditions deviate from normal, so they can take action before an outage occurs. Constantly monitoring load trends enables active load management, preventing overloads and disruptions, and revealing unused capacity.

Intelligent software continuously analyzes breaker co-ordination, generating an alarm if any deviation to settings is detected that may result in undesired consequences. This can help maximize the long-term performance and reliability of the electrical distribution system.

Sensitive equipment needs to be protected from issues such as harmonics, voltage sags and swells, flicker, transient voltages, or brief interruptions. A fully digitalized power distribution system helps prevent these by providing early detection of conditions before they exceed levels that harm equipment.

Wireless thermal and environmental sensors will continuously monitor conditions to avoid premature switchgear aging in extreme or outdoor environments. If they exceed defined thresholds and durations, maintenance teams can perform required maintenance to help prevent corrosion, equipment failure, and downtime.

Cloud-based analytic platforms enable all of the conditions above to be monitored and analyzed by in-house teams or outsourced advisory services.

Enhancing sustainability

Energy analytics can support energy cost allocation to departments or processes, helping encourage efficient behavior, while benchmarking and comparing energy performance across buildings can uncover inefficiencies and waste. Normalizing against weather, production level, etc., will ensure accurate comparisons. Savings can be accurately validated after the initiation of retrofits or other programs.

A digitalized power system can also boost cost savings and uptime by helping manage onsite energy generation and storage. Advanced analytics and microgrid control systems can provide predictive asset management, considering weather, energy pricing, and other drivers to optimize when to consume, store, or sell energy back to the grid.

Boosting efficiency

Digitalization enables predictive, condition-based maintenance, helping identify when equipment needs servicing. This can save time and cost while catching risks that might otherwise be missed. An example is circuit breaker aging analysis, integrating condition reporting from smart breakers and environmental data from temperature, humidity, and corrosive gas sensors to help give a more accurate picture of breaker health and maintenance needs.

Outsourcing some facility management tasks can be a smart, efficient strategy for facilities challenged with limited or shrinking resources. Digitalization and data sharing are powerful enablers for third-party analytic and advisory services.

For example, accurate ‘shadow metering’ and energy analytics will verify that a facility’s utility bill is accurate, both from a metering and bill calculation perspective. Uncovering billing errors can deliver a significant payback.

Simplifying compliance

Energy analytic platforms simplify energy efficiency certification processes and carbon reporting for meeting regulatory compliance. They also make it easy to showcase energy performance to stakeholders or the public.

For organizations like hospitals required to regularly test backup systems, some analytic platforms provide automated generator compliance, test, and maintenance reports to help save time and avoid human error.

It’s critical to validate that power quality meets the standards for reliability of your most sensitive equipment and that your power provider is meeting contract obligations in that regard. In a digitalized power system, advanced power meters provide PQ compliance monitoring, while analytic software aggregates compliance data from across the facility. Teams can track trends and identify the source of risks, inside or outside the facility.

With all this connectivity, digitalized power systems also become another infrastructure vulnerable to cyberattacks. Many solution providers are adhering to strict cybersecurity best practices. This should be made a top requirement in your choice of solution.

As you can see, the benefits of electrical distribution digitalization in commercial buildings and critical facilities are almost limitless. In fact, the nominal incremental investment can be expected to reap a very large and fast return on investment, typically paid for in less than 2 years.

This has been the final post in this 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. Schneider Electric is leading the digital transformation of power distribution. For more information, visit the EcoStruxure™ Power web page.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on September 11, 2018 and has been recently updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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