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Switchgear and Circuit Protection Solutions for the Future

As building design becomes more innovative and organisations look to extend their premises on-site, rather than moving into a new build, there are a number of challenges for switchgear and circuit protection.

Eric Anderson, UK Sales and Marketing Manager for the Siemens Low Voltage division, discusses how building design, a desire for increased energy efficiency and a need for flexibility is impacting this area of electrical contracting.

Like most countries the UK has a number of distinct building regulations in force that must be adhered to by those involved in site design and construction. This includes Approved Document Part M (access to and use of buildings).  This regulation means there needs to be enough space for easy access in corridors in commercial buildings.

Traditionally buildings have been designed with no consideration to the footprint of the electrical switchgear.  However, as space constraints become ever more important – more space = more cost - it is crucial that a holistic approach to site design is taken from the outset. This ensures compliance with necessary regulations and avoids post-construction issues.

Adopting a holistic approach to design
For this to happen effectively, the design of a building’s electrics, switchgear and circuit protection needs to be considered in a collaborative manner with other elements of construction design of the building.  This will only be able to take place if a thorough and reliable system design is produced to ensure an accurate footprint is created.  By considering switchboards as part of the fabric of the building, rather than an afterthought, adhering to regulations such as Part M is made easier.

In addition, by incorporating switchgear design to the overall building design at this stage, it does not stifle innovation and creativity during the design process.  If switchgear is only considered after construction has begun, then elements of the building’s design may need to be curtailed or constrained.

At this point it is worth considering that Part M also covers alterations to existing buildings and certain changes of use.  This is important for contractors working on retrofit and refurbishment projects, particularly at a time when many businesses are choosing to minimise investment in new sites and extend or change the use of their current sites and buildings.  Even the most technologically advanced switchboard will not be suitable if it is too large for the basement or corridor it is housed in and causes access issues.

Aesthetic appeal
In addition, as the architecture of many buildings is changing, functional control cabinets are no longer just installed in the cellar, but increasingly sited on floors above ground.  This makes the need for an aesthetic appeal for all elements of the power distribution system an important consideration, along with safety and energy efficiency.

Software solutions
Sophisticated design software is available to make the task of establishing the footprint of switchgear easier.  For instance, Siemens uses its own SIMARIS software to enable accurate and easy-to-use design of its SIVACON S4 range of distribution boards.

This approach also proves helpful when designing switchboards to fit particularly unusually shaped areas or rooms.  For the system to fit an ‘L’ shaped or curved room, it requires the use of software to design a suitable option to maximise the space available and then specialist manufacture of bespoke switchgear.  As more buildings become increasingly innovative in their design, and as space constraints continue to be an important consideration, this may become more of an issue that requires addressing to enable contractors to offer efficient installation.

A recent example of such an approach is The Crystal, a sustainable cities initiative by Siemens. The Crystal will be an iconic landmark demonstrating Siemens’ commitment to creating sustainable cities.  It will feature conference facilities, research space and an interactive exhibition.  Integral to the building’s operations is a bespoke power distribution board, the SIVACON S4, which has been designed in conjunction with Siemens solution partner, ICWPower in Sunderland, to suit the specific applications and requirements of the building.

The first adaptation to the conventional Siemens SIVACON S4 is a change in shape from a traditional straight distribution board to an ‘L’ shaped board. Working with the on-site contractors, the modification will ensure the board fits easily within the building, and that its constituent parts are easily accessible. This particular SIVACON S4 distribution board has been designed so the incoming device is located to suit the site’s incoming cable and entry points to the room.

As a whole, the building aims to set a benchmark for sustainable construction through the intelligent integration of building structure, fabric and services as a series of co-ordinated active systems working together. This amalgamation of functions also includes the SIVACON S4 distribution board which is fully-intelligent, allowing communication-enabled monitoring and interaction with the building energy management system (BEMS).

Part of the energy management solution
This raises another important point; today’s switchgear must also be able to play its role in helping maximise energy efficiency within a building.  As distribution boards are at the heart of a building, it is essential they are fully-intelligent and designed for the carbon conscious building landlord and occupant.  This is particularly vital when we consider how many organisations are now affected by legislation such as the Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme (CRC) which is designed to encourage energy saving behaviour – and could result in businesses receiving a significant bill if they do not meet the standards required of them.

An important consideration is that to be efficient about energy use you first have to understand where you are using it and when. PAC meters can be integrated into switchgear to enable effective monitoring of energy to see exactly where energy is being consumed and at what rate and help companies put plans in place to reduce their energy use.  Using PAC meters in this way also means utility meters can be replaced, saving valuable wall space.

Specifying a distribution board which also includes integral power factor correction equipment to optimise the electricity used can also reduce energy costs.  This is another way contractors can help ensure the building’s power distribution system plays its part in the energy management objectives of the site.

Manufacturer and contractor in partnership
With such varying requirements from customers, dependent on the size, shape and functionality of the building, using a team of local UK-based manufacturing specialists is essential.  This ensures every bespoke distribution board is designed specifically to meet the needs of the end user.  By working closely in partnership, the manufacturer and contractor can ensure the best results for the end users and enable the most efficient installation process.

Flexible power distribution
A flexible and modular approach to power distribution should also be considered.  This will allow easy integration of existing power systems in the event that a building is extended, and adaptation of the system should the functionality of certain areas of the building change, so their power needs change too.

Installing cast-resin busbars which offer the opportunity for tap off units to be added ensures a fully flexible and modular power distribution system.  This can be easily extended and increased depending on the needs of the building, with little interruption to the existing power distribution.

Cast-resin busbars offer an effective and flexible alternative to cable with significant benefits.  By choosing a busbar with a high level of protection (IP68), contractors can offer a high level of fire withstand ability, in fact, a protection of up to three hours at 750°C is now achievable.

For buildings such as high-rise flats, this offers essential extra time to ensure safe evacuation procedures can be followed in the event of an emergency.

Integrated circuit protection
Another important element to consider is integrated circuit protection within distribution boards.  When every second is worth money to an organisation, it is essential any power outages or ‘trips’ are minimised.

Selecting a board which is fitted with high-specification electronic switching air circuit and moulded case circuit breakers offers high level protection. These integral electronic protection units offer greater sensitivity and adjustability, and ensure the devices only trip and hence isolate the respective circuit they feed, in the unlikely event of a fault further downstream of the LV switchboard.

Opportunities to add value
As more buildings are designed on an individual basis to meet the unique requirements of the business and building occupants, there is no doubt that the fully-intelligent, energy efficient and flexible power distribution system can play an important part in today’s building design and construction. This offers significant opportunity for electrical contractors to add value to their customers by offering the latest bespoke solutions in switchgear and circuit protection rather than sticking to traditional ‘off the shelf’ solutions. The outcome is a happy customer and an energy efficient, safe and secure energy infrastructure.

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