Switchgear is an integral component in the electrical power system. A switchgear comprises devices such as disconnect switches, fuses, circuit breakers and relays that are used to control, protect and isolate an electrical equipment to enable continuous and reliable supply of electricity. Switchgear is also used to de-energise the circuits for repair, maintenance and testing purposes.
Based on the load bearing capacity, the market for switchgear in India is categorised into three segments – low voltage (LV), medium voltage (MV) and high voltage (HV). The LV switchgear segment includes switchgear rated up to 1 kV, MV switchgear segment consists of switchgear rated up to 33 kV whereas the HV switchgear segment includes devices rated at 66 kV and above.
According to a latest study by Global Market Insights, Inc, the global switchgear market size is projected to exceed US$ 140 billion by 2024 on account of rising investment towards the infrastructure development across developing economies.
Switchgear is the second biggest segment in the Indian electrical equipment industry. The Indian switchgear market is expected to grow at a CAGR of over 15 per cent through 2023 thanks to rising development across residential, commercial and industrial end-use sectors, reported ResearchAndMarkets.
Moreover, rapid expansion of transmission and distribution networks together with increasing electricity consumption due to rising per capita income is further fuelling growth in Indian switchgear market. As per IEEMA, the present size of the LV switchgear industry including domestic modular switches is estimated at around Rs. 11,050 crore.
What makes switchgear intelligent
Like every other industry, power sector too is going through a sea change. Internet of Things (IoT) is transforming the power sector and revolutionising nearly every part of this industry from generation, transmission to distribution, changing how energy companies and consumers interact. Today, powered by connected and software enabled solutions, the switchgears are turning inherently intelligent, allowing for predictive maintenance. Thus, the failures and downtime are minimised.
“A smart and intelligent switchgear is a term given to programmable power distribution solutions that are equipped with self-monitoring features. The technology plays a major part in making such products intuitive and user-friendly. Such intelligent devices when combined with IoT form a base for enhanced protection, control and monitoring,” describes Shrinivas Chebbi, President – Power Products, Schneider Electric India while commenting on what makes switchgear intelligent.
Sameer Saxena, Director Marketing, Legrand (Group) India, says, “Intelligent switchgears are able to garner scenarios and conditions-based responses like: to automate non-critical load shedding to better manage electricity usage and reduce costs, zone selectivity to reduce the stress on electrical distribution equipment during short-circuit or ground-fault conditions, and raise pre-trip alarms. These switchgears are embedded with intelligent electronic devices and are pre-programmed for remote monitoring and communication of key electrical parameters.”
An intelligent switchgear can overcome the disadvantages of common electric switchgear by utilising efficient internal computer technology to perform functions as system diagnosis, electric fire prediction prevention and electric power demand prediction.
Shrinivas Chebbi, President – Power Products, Schneider
Why it is essential to have intelligent switchgears
According to Mr Chebbi, an intelligent switchgear can overcome the disadvantages of common electric switchgear by utilising efficient internal computer technology to perform functions as system diagnosis, electric fire prediction prevention and electric power demand prediction. They also help in detecting electric sparks that can cause electrical fires and predict monthly power demand in a load network. They can also recognise patterns and predict failures on advance, thereby reducing downtime and saving costs.
Mr Saxena states that intelligent switchgears will have a great impact on electrical distribution and will be the next disruptive force. The switchgear industry will witness the impact in two ways:
• Entire manufacturing process and its device becoming increasingly intelligent. Digital manufacturing helps to enhance efficiency, fight scale advantage of some other manufacturing countries, minimise manufacturing defect and shorten production time.
• Installing digital switchgear will contribute greatly to increasing operational efficiency. It will also help in self-monitoring and diagnostic of the switchgear by way of which the reliability can be enhanced.
Today switchgear maintains a history of various fault conditions and triggers to alarms for parameters critical to high system and switchgear reliability. This not only provides an avenue to optimise the system but also helps to take actions that enhance the uptime and reliability of the switchgear installed. This will enable companies to achieve improved efficiency and cost outcomes, opines Mr Saxena. He said, “Data will be accessible in real-time, enabling the ability to resolve critical issues and increase competency.”
Intelligent switchgears will have a great impact on electrical distribution and will be the next disruptive force.
Sameer Saxena, Director Marketing, Legrand (Group) India
How to make an aging electrical switchgear smarter
Aging equipment exist in many industries and facilities. Through modernisation, the existing equipment can be brought into the digital world and offer full benefits of a smart switchgear. According to Mr Chebbi, this conversion can be completed at a fraction of the costs compared to complete replacement with new equipment.
There are many devices and solutions that can easily be integrated into the existing electrical equipment and deliver smart systems capabilities. Some of the examples are as follows:
• Upgrading of breakers: Replacing existing circuit breakers that offer trip units with modern day communication capable and other power monitoring capabilities allow the breakers to be integrated into an existing or new smart system network.
• Installing thermal sensors: By integrating thermal sensors in the equipment, temperatures of bus connections and cable connections can be monitored remotely allowing customers the capability to plan ahead for any maintenance required and avoid any possibly arc flash issues due to degradation of the material.
• Installing partial discharge monitoring: Partial discharge or degradation of insulation material in medium voltage equipment is one of the leading issues contributing too many arc flash incidents. Having the capability to remotely monitor this helps ensure that equipment is properly maintained and upgraded at appropriate times.
• Installing humidity monitoring: Humidity monitoring sensors that allow communication to any existing management system can easily be installed to any existing electrical switchgear line-up.
• Relay upgrades: With smart relays auto transfer systems can be easily monitored and controlled from a remote site, limiting exposure to facility maintenance employees to possible arc flash incident energy by having to take measurements in front the switchgear.
• Upgrade existing buildings to comply with new safety expectations and regulations especially when the fire data in buildings and national human loss data due to fire is driving a serious demand to upgrade existing switch gear of old buildings etc
Emerging trend in increased usage of intelligent switchgear
Mr Saxena acknowledges that the future of switchgear is intelligent. He said, “Over the past few years, several technological solutions have emerged that have contributed significantly to enhancing the operational efficiency of utilities and to scaling down costs, making projects more viable.”
With the devices getting smarter, user interfaces getting IoT enabled, the surge in intelligent switchgear is the next big trend. There is a need for centralised control enabled by intelligent switchgear for smart cities. There may be a time when all switchgears will be connected to IoT and communication capable.
By Subhajit Roy, Group Editor