Preparing for the Smart Future of Switchgear



Power distribution services are changing as the use of smart grid technologies grows. But the electrical industry has traditionally been conservative in updating the hardware it uses. When technologies like switchgear have lifespans that stretch into decades, the pace of transformation can be slow.
If the power distribution industry wants to grow, it needs to embrace new technologies that will empower expanding smart grids and renewable energy projects.

Top Trends to Watch

The Markets and Markets’ global forecast predicts that the switchgear market will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 7.12 percent from 2017 to 2022, increasing from an estimated $88.7 billion to $125.1 billion. The analyst firm expects this growth to be fueled by a number of factors, including increased access to electricity and expanding renewable power generation projects.
Research and Markets’ report Global Low and Medium Voltage Switchgear Market 2017-2021 also predicts growth in the next few years due to an increasing use of renewable energy and the evolution of smart grids.


“Globally, as more and more countries are becoming aware of the depleting fossil fuel resources (and the associated carbon emission regulations), they are gradually adopting renewable energies, such as wind and solar. This transition is aiding them to achieve their carbon emission goals and reduce dependency on fossil fuels,” the report said.
Smart grids and distribution automation technology are key trends in the industry. Only 20 years ago, switchgear had to be manually controlled. But now, distribution automation (DA) systems can take control of the grid and issue commands to switches and transformers remotely. The smart grid intelligently analyzes the actions of all participants – including consumers, generators and suppliers – and the DA system applies that information to remote control and automation of services.

What’s Next for Switchgear?

The move towards smarter electricity is having a knock-on effect on the switchgear market. Individually, switchgear need to become “more intelligent” so that utilities can thoroughly monitor and measure the network in real time and exert a higher degree of control than ever before.
“The growing adoption of smart grid technology across the world is an important driver for the global medium voltage switchgear market,” said Transparency Market Research. “Smart grid installations require precise control over various components of the electricity distribution system, making medium voltage switchgear essential to widening the reach of the technology.”
In smart grids, the goal is that a lot of this control is remote and automated, so that devices on the network can find a fault, isolate it and fix it with minimum disruption for energy customers. Without digitally intelligent switchgear, this kind of automatic remote control, which avoids expensive manual repairs, isn’t possible.
As more and more utilities turn to renewable power sources — and even buy and sell energy generated by domestic renewable sources such as solar — the way that their electricity is sourced has changed. The network has to cope with variable and distributed energy sources, making close monitoring of the network more critical than ever.
Medium voltage switchgear have a number of functions, operating as circuit breakers, sensors and protection relays on the network. Smart grids need more intelligent and more numerous sensors, and more circuit breakers. They also need the switchgear that perform those functions to be able to withstand harsh environments and be more flexible and modular than traditional systems. With more flexible and modular switchgear, power distribution services can be upgraded as needed.

What’s the Solution?

A change in the composition of switchgear is necessary to create units that are modular and compact, offering greater flexibility and the ability to upgrade in the future. Traditionally, switchgear has been insulated by air and oil or gas. Some experts are predicting that the new standard for smart-grid-capable switchgear will be solid insulation switchgear.
This type of switchgear features a solid epoxy or resin insulation that is covered by a conductive layer connected to the earth. It is smaller than traditional air-insulated switchgear and is able to withstand harsh installation environments. Its architecture is based on single units, making it easy to build switchboards for different applications to the size required.
Another option for smart-grid-capable switchgear is incorporating vacuum interruption technology alongside hermetically sealed SF6 gas. While SF6 gas has been used in switchgear for some time, sealing off the gas increases the unit’s ability to withstand harsh installation conditions and allows the gas to be recovered and recycled, reducing the impact on the environment. These units are also smaller and can be retrofitted to existing equipment in some instances.
There is no question that smart grids are set to revolutionize the electrical industry. Their increased ability to monitor load on power networks and share information about that load between different stakeholders has hugely improved the ability of utilities to avoid power disruption, increase efficiency and reduce energy waste. To fully take advantage of these benefits, power distribution services need to evolve and become more flexible and open to further evolution down the line.

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