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Electrical Switchgear & Their Role in Renewable Energy

Updated: Nov 28, 2022

Electrical Switchgear are an integral part of energy generation, transmission, and distribution that have been used since the beginning of electrical energy usage. The NEC defines electrical Switchgear as “an assembly completely enclosed on all sides and top with sheet metal (except for ventilating openings and inspection windows) in non-arc-resistant or arc-resistant constructions.”

There are two primary parts to an electrical switchgear:

  • Power-conducting elements which either complete or disrupt electrical circuits. These include overcurrent protection devices (OCPD) such as fuses, circuit breakers, and disconnect switches.

  • Control systems which monitor, control, and protect power-conducting elements. These include current transformers, control panels, protective relays, and associated busses and connections.

Electrical Switchgear Functionality

From the inception of electrical power, the core functionality of electrical Switchgear has been to protect components and operators from circuit overload. Today electrical Switchgear serve a variety of purposes in different contexts, often simultaneously, and their integration into virtually all electrical systems has given them a wide range of functionality, including:

  • Protecting components by interrupting circuits experiencing short-circuit or power overload

  • Isolating circuits experiencing faults while maintaining load to unaffected circuits

  • Allowing the isolation of specific circuits for maintenance

  • De-energizing specific circuits or complete power systems

  • Load switching and integration of multiple sources which improves reliability and availability

  • Improving operator safety through hazard prevention

  • Industrial and residential power distribution

The Role of Electrical Switchgear in Renewable Energy

The world is transitioning from carbon-based to renewable energy generation. As a result, the current and future state of system infrastructure, including electrical Switchgear, presents both challenges and opportunities. Here we’ll look at some of the areas where electrical Switchgear are proving critical for a smarter, low-carbon energy future.

Supporting Renewable Capacity

The operational capacity of energy power plants relies heavily on electrical Switchgear. This can be especially true for renewable energy plants. Hydro generators, for example, rotate faster than similar coal or gas constructions, potentially putting more strain on circuit breakers while also having a high risk of a fault causing high direct current. For renewable energy generators, ensuring equipment protection, non-disruption to transmission, and optimal maintenance and repair schedules needs effective, modern electrical switchgear systems.

Establishing Smart Grids

Smart grids, or the integration of digital technologies such as IoT sensors into energy generation, supply, and usage, can create significant savings in terms of energy and, thus, carbon release. The capacity of electrical switchgear assemblies to monitor and control devices makes them a critical juncture for traditional and digital components of electrical equipment. As new and recent renewable energy sources will be built around smart grid fundamentals, electrical Switchgear which enables better remote monitoring and control of equipment will be essential.

Retrofitting Electrical Switchgear

For older renewable and carbon-based power plants, the current state of electrical Switchgear presents risks to their business models, particularly since the operational lifetime of electrical Switchgear is around 25 years, and even less in certain situations. Circuit failure, expensive equipment damage, and service downtime can create major unforeseen costs, loss of revenue, and damaged reputation.

The solution is retrofitting electrical Switchgear components to conform to the highest safety and functional standards, such as UL891 and UL1558 for low-voltage and UL medium voltage electric Switchgear.

Install Speed for Systems and Equipment

Time-to-market is an important factor in all equipment upgrades and retrofits, including the upgrading or installation of renewable energy sources. Improved modern electrical switchgear not only have accelerated installation time themselves but also allow faster installation processes for other equipment due to the advanced remote control offered around isolating circuits.

Saving Money

In addition to securing revenue and increasing time-to-market, electrical Switchgear strengthen balance sheets by offering protection from surprise costs. A primary example is how smart electrical Switchgear can identify the most optimal components for predictive maintenance. The US Department of Energy has found that this predictive maintenance can save up to 12% over preventive maintenance and up to 40% over reactive maintenance. These can translate to tens of millions of dollars, which can be important margins for renewable energy producers to establish in the field.

Reducing Size

By adapting electrical Switchgear to higher-quality components that require less space for gapping circuits, renewable companies can reduce the overall substation room taken up by protective assemblies. The potential for reduced cabling and smaller floor space requirements can leave more area for energy-producing modules, delivering greater returns on footage.

Your Source for Custom Electrical Switchgear

Electrical switchgear is critical for the safety of operators and equipment but also plays a key role in monitoring and controlling energy circuits. In the smart grid-empowered energy production environment that is now being created worldwide, electrical switchgear assemblies can contribute significantly to several areas. These include the reduction of service downtime, the improvement of maintenance results, and increased installation speeds.

At Enercon, we build custom-made industrial electrical switchgear solutions for customers in over 140 countries. Renewable energy is a major area of growth due to the need for new, high-spec assemblies to suit unique applications. To find out more about how we can deliver UL891 and UL1558 compliant electrical switch gears to suit any need, read more here or get in touch with our team.



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