Electrical Power & Protection

Beware the fire starter

August 2022 Electrical Power & Protection

John Raptakis.

Commercial and industrial properties are faced a with a number of fundamental challenges when ensuring the safety of people and their facilities. One of the biggest challenges is the fire and surge hazards which have the potential to cause critical damage and, worse, loss of life.

It is estimated that electrical fires account for 22% of workplace fires. These fires often occur due to defects in medium- or low-voltage (MV or LV) system wiring, switches and motors; however, one major insurer estimates that 25% of electrical failures are due to loose or faulty connections.

The tragedy is that, often, many of these fires can be prevented if organisations partner with accredited, qualified electricians whose work meets the highest standards and who use reliable equipment. There are no shortcuts when installing and maintaining electrical equipment. Unqualified organisations or individuals will often use cheaper equipment that compromises the overall integrity of the system, or incorrectly select, deploy and apply technology.

As mentioned, faulty electrical connections are a major cause of failure in MV and LV installations. Improper tightening torque, constant vibrations, corrosion, or excessive pressure or friction can cause cable, busbar and circuit breaker connections to deteriorate. Frequent temperature cycling and on/off switching can also contribute to loosening equipment.

Where to start?

Organisations must get to the root cause of why equipment fails which can lead to potential electrical surges and fires.

The first step is conducting an initial audit that includes:

• Identification of specific electrical risks.

• Analysis of risks and the likelihood of occurrence and consequences, both in terms of possible harm to employees, property damage and business interruption.

• Evaluation and ranking of risks to provide a baseline of exposure.

The second step is to develop a mitigation strategy. This involves determining which risk(s) can be removed or reduced, and how these potential consequences can be limited.

The good news

Smart sensing has come a long way, and now allows organisations to proactively focus on and mitigate potential electrical fires, providing a substantial improvement in resilience. Smart sensing devices, combined with cloud-based data analytics, are enabling inspections to be supported by continuous 24/7 thermal monitoring.

Considering the above, organisations can benefit from:

• Monitoring, with selected sensors in strategic locations throughout the electrical system that continuously collect data on operational conditions.

• Analysis, using sensor-derived data either locally or delivered to cloud-based data analytics software, to identify trends and alert local personnel of potential changes in e.g. thermal conditions.

• Recommendations that result in implementing corrective actions, with ongoing feedback and analysis over time to ensure changes have been made – and that those changes have delivered the desired operational improvements.

At Schneider Electric, we have developed a large portfolio of sensors that monitor specific risks, such as over-temperature conditions either in LV and MV settings, or the performance of arc flash mitigation solutions in transformer applications. To fully utilise smart sensors, we also offer monitoring solutions at the customer’s site and cloud-based monitoring services.

Ultimately, to protect people and buildings, organisations must partner with accredited and experienced suppliers that offer the requisite skill and technology to prevent any electrical fires or surges.


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