What to do with aging medium voltage switchgear?

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A major issue for industrial facilities are the impacts of aging medium voltage switchgear. Continuity of services, reliability and financial losses are all at risk, not to mention that the cost of downtime can be in the millions of dollars per hour. But more importantly, it can affect employee safety, where the cost of risk is incalculable.

Regardless of the age of switchgear network and switchboards in a power system, the high-risk costs mean that reliable performance and proper maintenance are more critical than ever.

Useful Life: A Relative Term

The lifespan of switchgear often exceeds 20-25 years, which may be challenging to maintain, for example, with increasing difficulty to find spare parts. Engineers and electrical distribution stakeholders need to decide when it’s time to upgrade or when to replace aging equipment. What drives that decision? Safety? Electrical reliability? Rising maintenance costs? Or the need to upgrade technology?

Here’s a common dilemma: A conflict exists between the older technologies that are in place and the industry standards that are evolving at a much faster rate. In addition to this, industrial facilities often have a mix of power distribution technologies that span two to three generations and could use several different technology architectures (e.g., air, oil, SF6, vacuum).

Once a business has examined the current state of its switchgear, the decision to continue to repair equipment or to replace it enters the picture.

Management needs to evaluate the following factors:

  • Availability of spare parts
  • Maintenance costs
  • Degree of equipment wear
  • Urgency of upgrade
  • Criticality of the processes affected

The other option is to upgrade aging switchgear. In most cases, there’s no need to rip out all of the equipment and start over. Switchgear modernization solutions utilize the structure and footprint of the existing line-up and simply upgrade the active components with current technology circuit breakers.

The advantages of modernization solutions include:

  • Extending the life of existing equipment, which increases the ROI
  • Utilization of the existing switchgear’s footprint, which minimizes downtime
  • Improvement of cash flow, as upgrades can be scheduled and executed over multiple stages
  • Savings of energy consumption if smart technology is included in the project
  • Reducing environmental impact due to fewer discarded materials

So how do you determine which solution is right for your aging switchgear? We’ve made the decision easier with our online tool. Within a few clicks of the mouse, you will find out which solution is suitable for you.

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