Energizing the Future: The Evolution of Smart and Eco-Friendly T&D Equipment (2024)

29 April 2024, Nenad Uzelac-A3 chair G&W Electric, USA, Frank Richter-A3 secretary 50 Hertz, Germany

The evolution of power systems is being driven by a global shift towards renewable energy sources and the need for greater resilience in the face of changing demand patterns and climate-related challenges.

The traditional power grid was designed for a one-way flow of electricity from centralized power plants, which predominantly used fossil fuels, to consumers. This system is now being transformed into a more dynamic, interconnected network to accommodate energy transition – the shift from non-renewable sources like coal and natural gas to renewable sources like wind, solar, and hydroelectric power.

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Medium Voltage padmount switch

Renewable energy sources, while sustainable and beneficial for the environment, introduce variability and intermittency in power generation. Unlike traditional power plants that can adjust output as needed, renewable sources depend on conditions like wind speed and sunlight availability, which can change rapidly. This means the modern grid must be highly adaptable and resilient to ensure a constant balance between supply and demand.

Moreover, the concept of energy resilience has become a priority. Power systems now need to withstand and quickly recover from disruptions, such as severe weather events intensified by climate change. This includes the ability to isolate problems and re-route power, as well as the integration of local energy storage solutions that can provide backup power and help balance the grid.

In this evolving scenario, the equipment that underpins the transmission and distribution (T&D) of electricity—such as switchgear—must evolve as well. It's no longer just about switching on and off the flow of power; it's about being intelligent, adaptable, and environmentally friendly. Switchgear today must manage two-way power flows, incorporate renewable energy inputs, and communicate with the grid to respond to fluctuations in real-time. These systems are crucial for maintaining stability and ensuring that electricity is always available, even as generation and consumption patterns change.

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Offshore platform

CIGRE Study Committee A3 is at the forefront of this evolution. We are deeply involved in all facets of high-voltage T&D equipment, tackling technical aspects, design, manufacturing, testing, and standardization. With an eye on the advancing landscape, our research is focused on the following key areas:

1. the digitalization of high-voltage systems and switchgear: (digital twin, sensors).

First and foremost, digitalization is one of the most important trends in switchgear technology. Digital switchgear can provide real-time data about the system that can be used for predictive maintenance, reducing downtime, and improving efficiency. The integration of digital technology enables better monitoring and control, which reduces energy consumption and increases the longevity of the switchgear. Digitalization encompasses the following areas:

I. Data collection: This is the first step in which data is collected from various sources. In the case of monitoring systems, this could be data on system performance, user behavior, environmental conditions, etc. Data collection requires modern sensors that do not degrade the reliability of the equipment and are suitable for high voltage applications.

II. Data processing: In this step, the data is cleaned and converted into an analyzable format. This may also include the integration of data from different sources.

III. Data storage: The processed data is then stored in a database or data warehouse. This often raises the question of where this data is stored - in an external company or in an in-house infrastructure.

IV. Data analysis: This is where the actual analysis of the data takes place. Various statistical methods and machine learning algorithms can be used to identify patterns and trends in the data. This can be a descriptive analysis (e.g. calculation of average values), a predictive analysis (e.g. prediction of future trends) or a prescriptive analysis (e.g. recommendation of measures based on the data).

V. Data visualization: The results of the analysis are often visualized using graphs, charts, and other visual tools. This makes it easier to understand and communicate the results.

VI. decision making: Finally, the results of the data analysis are used for decision making. This may involve making changes to improve system performance, identifying opportunities for cost savings, etc.

  1. Green technology:

With growing environmental awareness, there is a trend towards more environmentally friendly switchgear. This includes the use of alternative gases to SF6, which is a potent greenhouse gas. Examples include Fluornitries and different Natural Origin Gases such as technical air, CO2, as well as use of Vacuum Interrupters both for Medium and High voltage applications. The use of recyclable materials in the construction of switchgear is another green initiative. This not only reduces the environmental impact at the end of the switchgear's life but also supports the circular economy.

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145kV High voltage SF6-free switchgear

  1. Compact design and offshore use:

The need for space-saving solutions has led to the development of more compact, modular switchgear concepts. These designs not only save space, but also enable faster installation and lower maintenance costs. An increased use of electrical switchgear that is specifically designed for use in offshore applications, such as offshore oil and gas platforms, offshore wind farms, or marine vessels is being observed. These switchgears are crucial for the safe and efficient operation of electrical equipment in these challenging environments. Features and requirements of offshore switchgear include a robust and durable design. Offshore switchgear must be able to withstand harsh environmental conditions such as high humidity, saltwater, and high winds. This often means they are made from corrosion-resistant materials and are sealed to prevent the ingress of water.

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Offshore wind tower switch

  1. Intelligent electronic devices (IEDs):

(IEDs) have become a cornerstone in modern switchgear systems. These sophisticated devices are equipped with computing power and communication technologies that allow for real-time data processing and interaction with other grid components. This interaction facilitates advanced monitoring capabilities, control functions, and a high level of automation. IEDs can make quick decisions based on the data they receive, such as adjusting protection settings or re-routing power flows, which is vital in dynamic grid environments with fluctuating renewable energy inputs. Their role is pivotal in enhancing the operational intelligence of switchgear, thus optimizing grid performance and reliability.

  1. Improved safety features:

Safety is paramount in the design of contemporary switchgear. Advances in this domain have led to the integration of features like internal arc fault protection, which significantly mitigates risks to both personnel and equipment. Internal arc faults, which can result from equipment failure or external factors, are among the most hazardous incidents that can occur in electrical systems. Modern switchgear designs aim to contain and extinguish these arcs quickly, minimizing the potential for injury and damage. These systems can also isolate the affected section of the grid to prevent the fault from impacting overall grid stability.

  1. Energy storage:

The rise of renewable energy has warranted the development of switchgear that can seamlessly integrate energy storage solutions, such as batteries, into the grid. Energy storage plays a crucial role in balancing the intermittency of renewables by storing excess energy when supply exceeds demand and releasing it when the opposite is true. Suitable switchgear for energy storage must be capable of handling the rapid charge and discharge cycles, as well as maintaining efficiency over a wide range of operating conditions. The switchgear must also protect the storage devices, which are sensitive to electrical anomalies.

  1. Improving Resilience

Advanced T&D equipment plays a significant role in enhancing this resilience (grid's ability to prevent, withstand, and quickly recover from disruptions) . For instance, modern switchgear now comes with features that enable it to detect and isolate faults automatically, preventing them from cascading through the system. Smart T&D devices also contribute to grid stability by managing fluctuations in power generation and load, thereby maintaining a steady supply of electricity. Furthermore, by facilitating the integration of distributed energy resources and microgrids, these systems can ensure that even if one part of the grid goes down, others can operate independently without disruption. This compartmentalization of the grid into more manageable sections, each capable of 'islanding' or operating in isolation, is a key strategy in building a more resilient power infrastructure.

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Aftermath of the storm

  1. Predictive maintenance:

The advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) has transformed maintenance practices. Predictive maintenance leverages the connectivity of IoT and the analytical power of AI to anticipate potential issues before they escalate into serious problems. By analyzing data trends and performance metrics, predictive models can forecast equipment failures and allow for timely interventions. This proactive approach extends the life of the equipment, reduces maintenance costs, and increases system uptime, ensuring that the grid is more reliable and efficient. Remember, the goal of these trends is still to develop switchgear that is safe, reliable, efficient and sustainable!

As we navigate the complexities of a changing energy system, the work of CIGRE Study Committee A3 becomes increasingly important. We're responding to new challenges with thoughtful research into digital technologies, eco-friendly materials, and compact, resilient designs, we're contributing to a grid that's not just smart, but also sustainable and reliable.

Our journey toward improved T&D Equipment is ongoing. By integrating advances like predictive maintenance and intelligent electronic devices, we're helping to lay the foundation for a stable and resilient power network.

It's a shared mission to ensure that our power grid can support the energy demands of today and adapt to those of tomorrow. And as we make progress, step by step, we're helping to light up the future in a way that's responsible and sustainable.

Energizing the Future: The Evolution of Smart and Eco-Friendly T&D Equipment (2024)
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