Why switchgear modernization no longer requires a costly “rip and replace” approach

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We are entering an unprecedented period in our history. Thanks in large part to connected systems linked across manufacturing and commercial building systems, the volume of data we process is rising to dizzying heights. An incredible 2.5 quintillion bytes of data is being generated every day, with 90% of the world’s data created over the last two years alone. This volume of data is expected to double every two years, and the ability to analyze that data will serve as a primary source of revenue and competitive advantage. This thirst for data is leading to drastic increases in energy consumption and in the quantity of electrical distribution substations that utilities need to deploy (to support data centers, and credit card processing networks, for example). In such environments, downtime is not acceptable  That is why operational practices such as switchgear modernization have become so critical.

switchgear modernization

Power system modernization reduces risk and expenses

The behind-the-scenes facility infrastructure power systems, such as low voltage (LV) and medium voltage (MV) switchgear, are fundamental for keeping the data flowing across all connected systems. These power systems support the operations and information technologies that generate the corporate revenues. Without a reliable power network, new product development is delayed, production is inefficient, and important systems of engagement – such as customer relationship management (CRM) systems and web sites – don’t generate sales. When the availability of such systems is maximized, so are profits.

Though many corporate managers don’t think about it, the financial value of facility LV and MV power systems continues to grow as the world becomes more connected and digitized. That’s why many organizations are beginning to pay more attention to the modernization of their facility power systems. Failure to modernize these assets introduces the long-term prospect of increased operational risk, unnecessary expense, missed opportunity, and business lost to competitors. This blog, part 2 of a series of 3 blogs (read part 1) focused on power system modernization, addresses the flexibility aspects of upgrading industrial and commercial switchgear installations.

Why refurbishing and retrofitting are now viable switchgear modernization options

For many industrial plant and commercial building owners, modernization of facility power systems has traditionally represented a major investment and significant disruption to business. Whenever facility owners upgraded their switchgear, they would often throw out their old technology to make room for the new.  In fact, this behavior is counter to the way most electrical distribution asset owners would desire to operate. A recent internal Schneider Electric survey revealed that more than 70% of customers would rather keep their aging facility electrical distribution products in place, if possible, and have them serviced, as opposed to removing them.

Fortunately, in many cases, this rip and replace approach to modernization is no longer necessary. New methods for instrumenting electrical equipment such as switchgear, transformers, circuit breakers, and distribution panels  ̶  to enable digitization cost saving and resilience benefits  ̶  are quite feasible, regardless of the age of the equipment.

The benefits of low-cost field refurbishment and retrofits (e.g., the addition of sensors and smart circuit breakers within switchgear cubicles and circuit breaker refurbishment in factories) include the following:

  • Higher sustainability – Retrofitting from traditional SF6 switchgear technology (SF6 is a switchgear insulator that produces a high degree of greenhouse gas emissions if it is released into the atmosphere) to new “air and vacuum” switchgear technology provides the same performance without the environmental risk.
  • Digitization of maintenance operations – Adding the benefits of enabling a digital maintenance operation (gathering, centralizing, and analyzing performance data), allows staff members and/or third-party support organizations (like Schneider Electric) to perform predictive maintenance, correcting anomalies before unanticipated downtime occurs.
  • Higher degree of safety – The ability to remotely monitor electrical systems such a switchgear, substantially decreases technician exposure to energized parts and reduces the risk of accidental injuries.

A path forward: The electrical distribution system audit

A first step to achieving power system modernization benefits is to have a professional organization, like Schneider Electric, audit the existing electrical distribution network. Then based on the audit, the experts will offer a series of recommendations for appropriate modernization approaches, and for an adaptive maintenance plan.

Variables that will factor into those recommendations include the age of the installation, physical conditions (e.g., high heat or humidity in the environment) modernization budget, digitization priorities, the unique nature of the operation, the skill level of the workforce, future sustainability goals, and business growth projections.  In this way facilities staff and engineers will have a choice in deciding whether refurbishment, retrofit, or replacement – or a combination of each – makes the most business sense.

For more information

To learn more about how Schneider Electric switchgear modernization can help your organization to reduce maintenance costs while improving uptime, safety and sustainability, visit our Modernization web site.

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