By Eirin Madden, Offer Manager at Schneider Electric Ireland
We are currently witnessing the rise of a new chapter in power distribution. After all, today’s digital age is going to impact our lives and businesses as much as the introduction of electricity did at the end of the 19th century. This is going to bring with it a wave of innovations in power that will blur the lines between the energy and digital space. The traditional centralised model is giving way to new economic models and opportunities, which redefine the core basics of power distribution; efficiency, reliability, safety, security, and performance.
Many of us know the inconvenience of experiencing a blackout at home, but the impact is much more far reaching when it occurs in your corporate facility – from lost revenue and unhappy tenants, to more extreme scenarios like the loss of life. Recently, tourists and shoppers in central London were plunged into darkness after an underground electric cable faulted on a high voltage network and caused an area-wide power cut. Theatre shows were cancelled and shops were closed, leaving shoppers and store owners frustrated and disappointed.
A call to get smart
How can such outages be prevented? At the core of smart power distribution systems are smart devices that enable facility managers to take preventive measures to mitigate potential risks. These devices have become more than just responsible for controlling a single mechanism. They now measure and collect data, and provide control functions. Furthermore, they enable facility and maintenance personnel to access the power distribution network.
In many places throughout the power network the existing intelligence can be embedded inside other equipment, such as the smart trip units of circuit breakers. These smart breakers can provide power and energy data, as well as information on their performance, including breaker status, contact wear, alerts, and alarms. In addition to core protection functions, many devices are also capable of autonomous and coordinated control, without any need for user intervention.
Today, hardware such as the Masterpact MTZ Air Circuit Breaker (ACB) has evolved to include new digital capabilities. One of these primary new digital technologies revolves around communication abilities, providing a way to send the data the device is gathering to building analytic software, where it can be put to use.
Building analytics is another enabler for smart power distribution systems, offering an advanced lifecycle managed service that delivers automated fault detection, diagnosis, and real-time performance monitoring for buildings. Information is captured from building systems and sent to cloud-based data storage. From that point, an advanced analytics engine uses artificial intelligence to process building data and continuously diagnose facility performance by identifying equipment and system faults, sequence of operation improvements, system trends, and energy usage.
Combatting operational efficiency decline
One of the biggest challenges facing facility managers today is the need to maintain existing equipment performance. Components are prone to breaking or falling out of calibration, and general wear and tear often results in a marked decline of a buildings’ operational efficiency. What’s more, reduced budgets are forcing building owners to manage building systems with fewer resources. The issue is then further exacerbated by older systems becoming inefficient over time. Even when there is a budget at hand, it is time-consuming and increasingly difficult to attract, develop, and retain staff with the right skills and knowledge to make sense of the building data being generated.
When it comes to switchgear in particular, there is the challenge around spending, when it comes to maintenance and services. There is no doubt that regularly scheduled maintenance extends the life of existing switchgear. However, at some point facilities must decide whether to maintain or replace with new equipment. Of course, although keeping up with equipment maintenance has its challenges, especially with limited resources, the safety and reliability of a facility depends on it and must be the priority.
Looking ahead with building analytics
For many building owners and occupants, they are also looking at how building analytics can be used beyond just safety and reliability to make a difference to the bigger picture of workplace efficiency. From comfort to space, and occupant services, to management dashboards, organisations are now placing more emphasis on well-being at work. When building analytics recommendations are implemented, the results are obvious – enhanced building performance, optimised energy efficiency through continual commissioning, and reduced operating costs — all with a strong return on investment and an improved building environment.