Upgrade or Replace? The Aging Switchgear Dilemma
by Charles Alvis
Aging switchgear can negatively impact continuity of services in industrial facilities in terms of reliability and financial losses.
More importantly, it can affect employee safety. In addition to potential risk to human lives, the cost of downtime is now calculated in millions of dollars per hour, according to Contingency Planning Research.
Whatever the age of switchgear network and switchboards in a power system, reliable performance and proper maintenance are more critical than ever.
Useful Life: A Relative Term The lifespan of switchgear often exceeds 20-25 years, which may be challenging to maintain, i.e., find spares, etc. Engineers and electrical distribution stakeholders have to decide when it’s time to upgrade or replace aging equipment. What drives that decision? Safety? Electrical reliability? Rising maintenance costs? The need to upgrade technology?
Here’s a common dilemma: A conflict exists between the older technologies that are in place and the industry standards that are evolving at a much faster rate. In addition, industrial facilities often have a mix of power distribution technologies that span two to three generations and use several different technology architectures (e.g., air, oil, SF6, vacuum).
Once a business has examined the current state of its switchgear, the decision to (continue to) repair or replace enters the pictures. Management needs to evaluate these factors:
Spare parts availability
Degree of equipment wear
Urgency of upgrade
Criticality of the processes affected
There is a third option…upgrade aging switchgear. In most cases, there’s no need to rip out all the equipment and start over. Switchgear modernization solutions utilize the structure and footprint of the existing line-up and upgrade the active components with current technology circuit breakers. The advantages of modernization solutions include:
Extends the life of existing equipment, which increases the ROI
Utilizes the existing switchgear’s footprint, which minimizes downtime
Improves cash flow as upgrades can be scheduled and executed over a period of time
Saves on energy consumption if smart technology is included in the project
Reduces environmental impact, due to fewer discarded materials
As a bonus, leveraging the expertise of an established electrical contractor service and its tested, proven solutions provide stakeholders with peace of mind in planning and executing life extension projects.