Month: July 2017

Smart Circuit Breakers: The Next Frontier of the Grid Edge?

Go down to the basement of your office building or apartment complex, or the garage of your home, and you’ll find a ubiquitous piece of electrical equipment that could be the next frontier for smart, connected energy management — the circuit breaker.

Circuit breakers are a multibillion-dollar market. Projections show a global market of between $13 billion and $19 billion by decade’s end, dominated by giants such as Siemens, ABB, Schneider Electric, Eaton, Toshiba, Mitsubishi, and GE’s Alstom.

Most of the circuit breakers out there are fairly simple, electromechanical devices that sit idle the vast majority of the time. But the latest versions are coming with features like wireless connectivity and computing power that are meant to turn them into something more like a smart meter or a smartphone.

That, in turn, could allow utilities and building owners to start tracking the interplay of grid-supplied power and on-site distributed energy resources (DERs) like solar, batteries and plug-in electric vehicles, or demand response. As more and more buildings start to get these smart, networked circuit breakers, they could augment — or even replace — a lot of other equipment used for this purpose today.

Eaton and EPRI test smart circuit breakers as virtual meters, load controllers

That’s the idea behind the field trial of Eaton’s energy management circuit breaker (EMCB). Last year, the electrical equipment giant started deploying its smart circuit breakers at about 500 homes with 12 U.S. utilities, including Duke Energy, Southern Company, CenterPoint, ComEd and Pepco. Over the next year, it will be working with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) to see if they’re capable of collecting and sharing data accurately, receiving and sending controls to other smart equipment like thermostats or water heaters, and even shifting homes on and off of grid power during emergencies.

“We’re trying to understand the functionality and potential value propositions for each device, working on utility-owned use cases,” Tom Reddoch, the EPRI senior technical executive in charge of the project, said in a recent interview. “This is a powerful device to control solar; it’s powerful to control storage; it’s powerful as a [measurement and verification] device.” They’re also particularly useful for electric vehicle applications, because they’re able to serve all the requirements of 240-volt EV charging equipment. “The charging infrastructure is being integrated into the breakers,” Reddoch said.

Eaton and EPRI will have devices in the field through 2017, and by next year, they “should have sufficient field data to answer questions about the functional features,” he added. That will also provide feedback about potential modifications that Eaton may want to include in each device, he said.

That’s valuable insight for Eaton, which is looking at ways to embed the technology across its product lines. “We’ve been in the circuit protection device business for years; it’s in a nice place in the distribution ecosystem,” Ron Thompson, Eaton’s director of business development for emerging markets and new technologies, said in a recent interview.

Each year, Eaton manufactures about 50 million poles — individual 1-inch breakers — for the circuit breakers it embeds in power distribution equipment like switchboards and panel boards, and “a percentage of those could eventually become smart breakers. Any time a building is built or retrofitted, that becomes part of the real estate of our products — and if the breakers are intelligent, I don’t have to put a meter in or a relay for the circuit — I don’t have to do a lot of things.”

As EMCBs become standard equipment, they could start to serve as energy billing settlement and load control devices, similar to how smart meters function today, but down to individual circuits in homes and buildings, Thompson said. “The breaker has Wi-Fi communication built in, to connect to the Wi-Fi in the home,” he said. “In real time, if a utility is experiencing an under-voltage or under-frequency condition, we can measure it and respond,” he said.

Solid state technology — the next step in smart circuit breakers? 

There are challenges in bringing new technologies to such an entrenched market, however. “The circuit breaker world has been one of the trickiest in terms of customer acceptance,” said John DeBoer, new product introduction manager for Siemens, in an interview last month. “It’s a classic industry that’s been really grounded in safety and reliable distribution of power. Their job is to sit there for a long time, and wait for that one moment when something unsafe happens in the electrical system. They’re trying to protect that wire.”

Even so, Siemens is looking far ahead for the next generation of smart circuit breakers, including the latest in solid-state power electronics. In February, the German industrial giant invested in Charlotte, N.C.-based startup Atom Power, which has designed a solid-state circuit breaker that replaces the electromechanical features of a traditional device with digital power control.

Solid-state circuit breakers have actually been around since the 1970s. “But the technology wasn’t ready, and the customers definitely weren’t going to pay for them,” DeBoer said.

But advances in solid-state power electronics have increased the capability and lowered the price of devices like these, he said. In terms of design, “the biggest thing that Atom Power has done well is they’ve gotten the solid-state device fully in series. It is sitting entirely within the conduction path,” he said.

That makes Atom Power’s devices faster, and thus safer, than classic electromechanical systems, which take a few milliseconds to move, he said. “A solid-state device can move at the speed of a computer,” improving the device’s kilo-amperes interrupting capacity, or KAIC, a key measure of a circuit breaker’s ability to perform its core function of keeping electrical equipment safe from surges, arcs and other hazards.

Beyond that, Atom Power’s integrated switches and panels can serve all the smart functions of an inverter or smart meter, he said. “The market for the metering of energy is absolutely exploding right now — and it’s metering at all levels. I would say it has more than doubled in the past year or year and a half. The big trend is metering in buildings for multiple purposes at the same time. With the complexity of energy these days, and the growth in smart meters, it’s made energy more complicated and more confusing.”

The drawback is that solid-state power electronics are still expensive. “These things are still five to 10 times more expensive than a traditional circuit breaker,” DeBoer said. “The incremental value, though, is that we’re seeing healthy year-over-year cost reductions, like you’re seeing in the semiconductor world.”

Original Source:

Original Author: Jeff St. John

Original Date: April 19 2017

Tips & Tricks in Electrical Component Refurbishment

There can be a lot of money stored up in old equipment or machinery which is why many businesses are now partnering up with waste management companies to help them retain as much of their investment as possible.  Old buildings or buildings destroyed by natural disasters can still contain valuable materials which can be recovered and sold to either offset some of the cost of demolition or go towards the cost of refurbishment.

There are heaps of hidden electrical and industrial resources in every building to be reused or sold.  It’s important to take inventory and catalog all salvageable equipment and materials from a demolition or refurbishment project. For instance, lighting fixtures can be reused, and wiring and electrical switches can be sold.

An industrial electric recovery process should consist of three main stages. The first phase involves identifying all usable or saleable assets. The second involves identifying those materials which will be reused for other projects, and the final step is to sell the materials for which your business has no further use.

Buildings that went up a few decades ago had to comply with safety standards that were a lot less stringent than the ones in place today. Experts in electrical surplus recovery will ensure that everything that is salvageable is recovered in the safest manner possible, and make sure it is disposed of according to state regulations.

Electric surplus recovery may involve some destruction, but it also means you will recover some assets, be able to recycle valuable components and sell everything you can no longer use.  It’s important to use the best contractors you can find for the job as they will pay for themselves many times over by discovering everything that is recoverable, complete the job safely, and get you the best returns.

Learn more about J & P Electrical Company and their vast line of new, surplus, and refurbished industrial electrical components including: circuit breakers, bus ducts, bus plugs, disconnects, fuses, panel switches, tap boxes, and transformers at  To contact one of our product reconditioning specialists call 877.844.5514 today.



Make sure your enclosures are summer ready

High temperatures are the most common cause of sensitive electrical and electronic components tripping or even failing, so users of manufacturing automation systems need to ensure that they are prepared for the summer heat and, if necessary, should arrange for an inspection of their equipment to check the level of risk, according to Jason Swann.

Electrical equipment generates lots of heat.  Add to this the ambient heat from the rising summer temperatures and your enclosure will start to reach a critical point of overheating without sufficiecnt cooling. What would you do if the equipment that manages your production line – your PLCs, drives and controls – failed due to inadequate or inappropriate cooling?  Can you afford to take the risk.”

Inverter drives are used within electrical equipment because they are effective at reducing the amount of energy used – which means lower production costs. Assuming an efficiency of 97%, a 250kW drive can produce up to 7.5kW of heat, much of which is retained inside the enclosure. Therefore without adequate cooling heat will rise.

The life expectancy of components is hugely affected by excess heat.  An electrical component’s life expectancy can be reduced by 50% for every 10°C increase in the ambient temperature. So keeping an Inverter drive cool will prolong its life, reduce the risk of failure and save money.

Rittal offers the following list of questions to check if there may be a problem brewing:

• Is your equipment tripping or failing due to high temperatures?
• Is this having an impact on production, in that it’s either slowing or stopping completely?
• When you walk around your shop floor, do your enclosures feel hot to the touch?
• At the height of summer, are your enclosure doors regularly left open and do you need large fans blowing into your panels to cool the devices inside them? This also presents a health and safety risk!
• Does inadequate chilling of process fluids result in production down-time?
• Would your existing cooling solution benefit from a health check?

Any ‘yes’ responses suggests a thermal survey could be a sensible next step.  Rittal’s expert team can provide a RiAssure3 survey and if necessary advise on the best solution.

A RiAssure3 survey will identify the likely risk of a system overheating. It will review any existing cooling solution and determine how suited it is to that particular working environment. If necessary, it will then provide recommendations around remedial action – for example, changes to the system’s service and maintenance regime to help improve its efficiency or the recommendation to invest in different climate control technology.

Protecting equipment
Which cooling solution is installed will ultimately depend on the amount of heat produced inside the panel and the environment in which it is installed.  It must be specific to a particular application.

The main considerations centre around whether the enclosure is located in a cold or hot environment, if that environment is clean or dirty, and to what degree. Conditions may also change over the course of the working day, week, month or year, so the final selection of an appropriate cooling solution may not be entirely straightforward.

Enclosures that are placed in a cool and clean environment may find fan-and-filter units are more than adequate, given a single device provides more than 4 kW of cooling in ideal conditions.  However If the air is dirty, it is still possible to take full advantage of low ambient temperatures by using energy efficient air-to-air heat exchangers to provide any necessary cooling. For applications that require the temperature inside the enclosure to be lower than that outside it, a refrigerant based solution may be the best option.

The Blue e+ cooling unit range from Rittal, with capacities up to 6kW, can operate in ambient temperatures up to 60°C yet also provide free cooling when the external air is cooler due to its innovative use of hybrid technology. Air-to-water heat exchangers can be used in even hotter conditions and the water delivered to a remote location in which the heat, up to 10kW from one unit, may be dissipated more effectively and with less effect on the temperature of the surroundings.
Original Source:
Original Date: 10 July 2017