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What will MV switchgear look like in the future?

by Jean-Marc Biasse

.................................................................................................................................................................................................. Evolution of the single-line diagrams........................ 11 Conclusion ................................................................... Future switchgear for MV consumer sites and switching substations...........Table of contents Introduction .................................. 14 4 8 2 .............................................................. Brief history of the technologies used in medium voltage switchgear and control gear .....

Transmission system operators (TSOs) and distribution network operators (DNOs) need stability. work is easier for service crews if there is no change in technology. However. some drastic evolutions appear about every 20 years. MV switchgear white paper | 02 . And of course. Among the reasons for this is the fact that the lifetime of medium voltage and high voltage switchgear is around 40 years. Maintenance and repair of such long-life devices needs to be ensured.What will MV switchgear look like in the future? Introduction The electricity industry is conservative.


Available technologies for electrical switchgear Electrical switchgear need an insulation medium for two different functions: current breaking and isolation between conductors or between conductors and earth. For current breaking. solids. protection relays and circuit breakers (CBs). but with some constraints at interfaces to ensure interoperability. For example. Traditionally. SF6. SF6. others are not. the available technologies are air. oil. Protection relays are particularly sensitive to the type of signal coming from current transformers. Table 1: Insulation media MV switchgear white paper | 04 . you may connect old technology 5A CTs to most modern protection relays. oil. Voltage level Switching media Circuit- breaking Load- breaking NA Insulation medium High voltage Medium voltage SF6. the same technologies may be used plus solid insulation. SF6.What will MV switchgear look like in the future? Brief history of the technologies used in medium voltage switchgear and controlgear All elements of a medium voltage installation are subject to evolution In a substation are found all three categories of components of protection chains: sensors. vacuum SF6. air Air. oil. vacuum Air. To isolate conductors. the design of these components has evolved independently. vacuum Air. Some association are possible. SF6. but the opposite — connecting an LPCT to an old electromechanical relay — is impossible. and vacuum. oil.

The second generation. were withdrawable (Fig 1). from 1970 to 1990. Then. which began in 1990. because of more safety awareness. However. third generation of metal-enclosed cubicles. Another step in safety was introduced in the current. CBs are withdrawable and installed in cassette to allow wall mounting and front access cables. Only simple wire fencing prevented to access the live parts. Electrical endurance has been increased. As a consequence of the improved reliability. Often. This change was possible with modern highly reliable CBs and new testing facilities of the protection relays.What will MV switchgear look like in the future? Evolution of circuit-breaker technologies The first technology used for breaking in CBs was air. Withdrawable vacuum CB 4. oil CBs came next (Fig 2). The first generation. Both technologies brought many similar advantages. switching components and busbars were integrated in metal-enclosed cubicles. for that reason. they remain withdrawable because of installation in traditional metalenclosed panels. They are much safer. In the late sixties came SF6 and vacuum circuit-breakers. 5. Merlin Gerin™ circuit breaker DST 2. They are compact thanks to vacuum or SF6 insulation. most of the MV switchboards were in fact an assembly of fixed components in an electrical room connected to visible busbars. Metal-enclosed AIS panel with fixed CB 5 6 7 05 | MV switchgear white paper . thus CBs were able to perform a much higher number of fault and load breakings. oil breakers are not safe to operate because of the fire risk. from 1950 to 1970. maintenance is less and less required and we can consider that state-of-the-art CBs are now almost maintenance-free. In an effort to reduce the footprint. Oil CB failures can easily result in a fatal accident among operators and the public. in the 1990s. But more recently. These CBs were big because the principle of breaking was a large expansion of the arc and noisy because of the breaking in the air. integrated withdrawable SF6 and vacuum CBs. This new generation introduced internal arc withstand capability to protect people standing in front of the switchboard in case of an extremely rare internal fault. Drawout oil circuit breaker with arc control 3. They needed much maintenance and. Doors and sheet plates and frames were earthed to avoid any accident from direct or indirect contact with live parts. integrated withdrawable air or oil CBs. drastically reducing fire risk. fixed CBs were also used. Additionally. 1. Busbars and connections were air insulated. they also needed much maintenance. They became more and more reliable. Withdrawable SF6 puffer CB 1 2 3 4 Evolution of primary distribution switchboard technologies From 1930 to 1950. Generally. Metal-enclosed AIS panel with CB cassette 7. Air-insulated masonery cubicles 6. There were several generations of metal-enclosed air-insulated switchgear (AIS) cubicles. for example to change oil after some operations.

are made with epoxy or some other resin. Typical RMU arrangement with switch fuse 10. both with the need to protect more powerful MV/LV transformers and to bring more precise features in the protection scheme. including CBs and connections. criticality of the application. T  ypical RMU arrangement with CB transformer protection 12. only simple switches with fuse protection were used. Rated currents at the distribution level are lower and the number of substations is higher. ergonomy of operation. where the insulation of busbars and all components. A typical switchboard includes three functions. utilities started to require more and more insensitivity to ambient environmental conditions. The first RMUs of this type were oil RMUs with the same inconvenient fire risk. Both AIS and GIS panels coexist today. The same evolution as for primary distribution appeared from masonery cubicles to modular metal-enclosed AIS cubicles. 9. all AIS and SIS panels are still sensitive to environmental conditions if not properly installed in protected rooms.or five. two switches and a switch fuse to protect the MV/LV transformer. due to the typical three-function repetitive arrangement. this type of equipment is very compact. and connections are fitted in one or several hermetically sealed tanks filled with SF6. but with some differences. 8 8. power restoration mode in case of failure. Oil RMU with switch fuse 11. the three functions have been fitted in one metallic tank.function switchboard are needed. a special ring main unit (RMU) configuration appeared in the 1950s. These panels are generally called a solid insulation system (SIS). All components. That was the reason for the arrival of metal-enclosed gas-insulated switchgear (GIS) in the 1990s. Moreover. busbars. depending on the importance given to many criteria such as compactness. Thanks to SF6 insulation. And. Modern RMUs now use SF6 as it provides compactness and insensitivity to ambient environmental conditions.What will MV switchgear look like in the future? There are some recent variants in metal-enclosed cubicles with fixed CBs. For more compactness. always looking for better electricity availability. modern RMUs are now equipped with CBs for MV/LV transformer protection. Sometimes the advantage of a compact and repetitive RMU solution becomes inconvenient when extension is needed or if more than four. and/or ergonomy of cable testing. Then. The same evolution in safety concerns resulted in new designs having internal withstand capabilities. But. insensitivity to the environment. The final choice may differ for each application. looking for money saving. the availability of high performance. However. SF6 RMU with CB O/C E/F 9 10 11 12 MV switchgear white paper | 06 . Metal-enclosed GIS switchboard with fixed CBs Evolution of secondary distribution switchboard technologies Secondary distribution switchgear also followed a similar evolution.

the need of signal power from the CTs becomes very low. This overpower in input needs adapter transformers in the protection relay to lower the input power. still asking for 1A or even 5A CTs to feed digital relays. In the 1980s. making interchangeability of LPCTs or protection relays easier. like current transformers. Typical line distance electromechanical relay 14. They deliver a voltage signal representing the primary current. Digital relays are very common and advantages of LPCT are recognized. electronic protection relays occurred with less need of auxiliary power from the CTs. Coils and disks were parts of these relays that needed high auxiliary power to operate. They could be operated by current transformers having 1A rating on secondary winding. Digital relays VIP 400 (left) and Sepam 20 (right) 07 | MV switchgear white paper . shall permanently give an image of the current and this image is transmitted to the protection relay. We can consider the relay to be the brain. A new category of CTs was developed: the low power current transformers (LPCT). Typical overcurrent electronic relay Statimax type 15. 5A on secondary output was necessary to operate these protection relays. as it is able to receive the signal and analyse it to decide whether the signal is normal or represents a fault. Consequently. 13. Moreover. In case of a fault. 13 14 15 Up until the 1970s. the protection relay sends a tripping message to the circuit-breaker mechanism. Now. the current transformers had to supply high burden. In spite of the advantages in space and flexibility. protection relays were made using electromechanical technology. clear IEC standards have been published. Later in the 1990s came the first digital relays. Sensors. their deployment has been very slow because of users’ conservatism. With this technology. the situation is finally going to change. But the high voltage sector is very conservative and many user specifications were still asking for 5A CTs even if no longer needed.What will MV switchgear look like in the future? Evolution of the technology of sensors and protection relays Technologies of sensors and protection relays evolved in parallel because both types of components are closely linked.

Earthing the busbar needs a dedicated earthing truck. Particularly. access to terminals for cable testing is quite easy. the equipment should be installed in clean air rooms as it is sensitive to environmental conditions because of the AIS technology. Remote control of the disconnector is not really practical because of the truck to be racked out. First derived from HV GIS technology. opening the cable compartment. Diagram with withdrawable technology The diagram with withdrawable CBs is the oldest one. Together with the evolution of the technology of medium voltage switchgear. This technology was made possible thanks to the design improvements of CBs that now need very little maintenance. there is a progressive move from withdrawable to fixed equipment.  Single-line diagram and typical panel for primary GIS technology MV switchgear white paper | 08 . However. It is still in use and not obsolete in some primary distribution applications. Gas insulation and plug-type cable connectors ensure the highest degree of insensitivity to harsh environments. customers tend to look after reduced dimensions. 16 16. better reliability. single-line diagrams of incomers and feeders were regularly challenged. lower cost. To meet these needs. which is heavy to handle. 17 17. In addition. Testing the cables needs a direct access to cables. cable earthing is made through CB closing that must remain closed to ensure end-user safety when working. Maintenance of the CB is very easy and this was necessary for old CBs.What will MV switchgear look like in the future? Evolution of the single-line diagrams Even if sometimes conservative. just highlighting some points of importance. And finally. these equipment are fitted with fixed CBs and separate disconnectors. Among the points to be aware of is that operation is not so intuitive because of a five-position scheme. providing visible disconnection and usually an earthing switch is directly acting on cable ends. Disconnection is made by racking out the CB truck. It is possible to make some comparisons between the most typical single-line diagrams.  Single-line diagram and typical panel for withdrawable technology Typical diagram for GIS technology To drastically eliminate the sensitivity to environment. and better ability to withstand harsh environments. gas-insulated switchgear (GIS) were developed. some points have to be carefully considered.

insensitivity. Cost is increasing because of separate earthing switch having making capacity. The main device is an SF6 disconnecting load-break switch or circuit breaker allowing for a very simple three-position diagram. The positive earthing indication depends on the status of the combination of two devices. there are still four positions that make the operation not so intuitive. open and disconnected.  Reverse single-line diagram with GIS technology All-in-one arrangement diagram for GIS RMU For secondary applications. And. it is possible to design an upstream two-position selector. But there are still four positions and a need of keys for safety interlocks. simplicity. 20 21 Local or remote operations are very simple. Breaking and disconnection are performed in a single operation. the CB must stay closed to ensure safety. As the cost is also reduced. Earthing of the cables is made directly. These criteria were the drivers to move to an all-in-one arrangement for GIS RMU. leading to the three-position scheme (line. 18. allowing access to cable without opening the cable box nor interfering with the cable terminations. The mimic diagram is very easy to interpret. This also gives the possibility to design a dedicated device for cable testing via a removable link. Typical three-position GIS RMU diagram 21. Interlocking safety is inherent between the different positions. earthing the cable remains made through CB closing. This arrangement reduces the number of positions thanks to the two-position selector. and cost effectiveness often are a must. Now earthing the cables is made directly via an earthing switch having making capacity. some equipment uses a reverse diagram with GIS technology. When the cable is earthed. 19 19. moving to a direct cable earthing. especially for secondary distribution. it has been possible to use this arrangement in secondary distribution. 20. It is very easy to implement a cable testing device.What will MV switchgear look like in the future? Simplified diagram with upstream two-position selector In an attempt to simplify the five-position single-line diagram. However. earthed).  Single-line diagram with upstream two-position selector 18 Reverse diagram for GIS technology Trying to improve ergonomy. Examples of GIS RMU 09 | MV switchgear white paper .

MV switchgear white paper | 10 23. the new arrangement shall be insensitive to harsh environment. key free.  Mimic diagram of three-position scheme using vacuum interrupter 24 24. To meet the same advantages of GIS RMUs. based on 2SIS technology using vacuum breaking. • 1st position: CB or load-break switch closed • 2nd position: CB or load-break switch opened and disconnected in a single operation • 3rd position: cable earthing in one single operation 22. and positively driven. earthed). making operations very intuitive and thus safer. Recent developments brought an original solution. This is ensured by a complete Shielded and Solid Insulation System (2SIS) solution. Earthing the cables is done directly. 25 25. opening the switch or CB disconnector and closing the earthing switch provides a double gap between cable and busbar. open and disconnected. Thus. increasing the safety of people and switchgear. The question was whether it was still possible to keep the same simplicity of the three-position diagram using another technology. The equipment can support any kind of harsh environment as well as GIS RMUs. Compared to GIS RMUs. All previous advantages are kept with this real three-position scheme (line. there is a trend to use vacuum breakers in secondary applications. This recommended test procedure ensures the highest safety for people doing the tests and also avoids any damaging of the main circuit or cable connections. keeping the same advantages of the three-position arrangement of GIS RMUs. Dedicated cable testing device. the cable connections remain intact. Busbars and a vacuum interrupter encapsulation and earthing switch enclosure are made of solid insulation that is covered by a conductive layer connected to the earth. Safety interlocks are built-in. 22 23 Breaking and disconnection are made in one single operation of a vacuum interrupter. Then a safe and fully interlocked earth link switch may be opened to give direct access to the cable conductor. As it is well known that MV cables are generally much older than switchgear.  Example of switchboard made with modular 2SIS units .  New three-position diagram including vacuum breaking and typical unit.What will MV switchgear look like in the future? New three-position diagram The three-position arrangement for GIS RMU has experienced great success for around 30 years now and is still well appreciated. and the main contacts of the earthing switch remain in the same position. it is easy to build switchboards for many kind of applications requiring a large number of units While it is obvious that this modular architecture. Prior to the cable test. even if the technology is not much changing. short. has many advantages. During testing. This diagram facilitates the implementation of clear mimic indications. this 2SIS technology associated with this new threeposition diagram arrangement offers much better modularity as the general architecture is based on single units. the cable box remains closed. The new proposed arrangement includes an upstream vacuum disconnector load-break switch or CB and a downstream earthing switch providing a doublegap isolation between cables and busbars. using an earthing switch having making capability. This diagram also allows the use of a dedicated cable testing device. it is necessary to analyse whether it is completely adapted to the smart-grid deployment of today. but using vacuum breaking. Nowadays. they will need more and more testing and conditional replacement.

or is an evolution necessary? Looking at existing grids and at some experimentations. with only one protection device per feeder. one question arises: are MV switchgear ready for this challenge. the challenge is big. In a similar way. But in fact. One is to optimise the relation between the demand and the supplying of energy. As for each other link in the chain. solutions including low cost CBs. Traditionally. it is possible to highlight some switchgear values that will help to meet this challenge. all the customers supplied by the faulty feeder are disconnected.What will MV switchgear look like in the future? Future switchgear for MV consumer sites and switching substations The challenge of smart grids Smart grids have two main objectives. in case of fault. it is more efficient and precise to use CBs to protect MV/LV transformers. bringing lower shortage duration. allowing a backup solution in case of fault. The distribution network is generally operated in an open loop. On an ideal point of view. the customers upstream of the fault could have been unaffected. It is historically equipped with manual switches. MV/LV transformers have been protected by switch-fuses because of the significant cost differential compared to withdrawable CBs and relays. low cost sensors. The use of CBs instead of switches in the loop allows disconnecting only the customers connected to the faulty part. The second is to provide the necessary conditions to integrate more distributed and renewable energies. Smart grids will use more CBs than in the past For some years. The increasing demand for quality of supply led to the deployment of remote controlled substations. a significant benefit regarding the number of affected customers compared to the traditional solutions. Comparing the two-way flow that is needed for these objectives with the simple one-way flow still valid with centralised energy production. located in the HV/MV substation. Today. without specific network architecture and easy possible upgrade could reduce the outage at a cost-effective level. The main advantage of using an RMU with a fixed integral low cost CB is that 11 | MV switchgear white paper . • adaptation of existing protection systems by the reduction of time discrimination interval or the use of logic discrimination in substations between incoming and outgoing feeders. no communication. adequate and economically viable answers to the needs of MV/LV substations do exist in both following areas: • optimised integrated CBs for network applications. Nevertheless. including LPCTs. experimentations have proven that adding CBs in distribution network loops is an efficient way to decrease the number of customers affected by an outage and to reduce power restoration time.

In this respect.What will MV switchgear look like in the future? it allows to have improved transformer protection at an equivalent lifetime cost. At the same time. Only CBs can quickly and surely detect the faults at early stage when they are of low or very low magnitude. thus making transformer CB protection affordable. End users will no longer accept long power outages. no matter the technology. An MV/LV transformer generally has a very low failure rate. is very flexible and allows for an infinite number of combinations. Remote control will be mandatory for smart grids To be more compact and efficient. The main advantages of the CB solution are: • better discrimination with other MV and LV protection devices. the modular architecture of 2SIS. • greater harsh climate withstand. Dissemination of modern highly reliable CBs was a key factor for the acceptance of fixed CBs. self healing using remote control is the only way to shorten the time of loss of power. based on highly reliable vacuum interrupters. Remote control of the switchgear becomes essential and must be very easy.. One big advantage of this three-operation mode is that it is the same for remote control as for local manual operation. overloads. fuses are sometimes not able to break or have to wait until the fault has degenerated into a two-phase or three-phase fault of high magnitude to operate properly. For that. Of course. low magnitude phase-faults and earth faults. the three-position operation mode (line. also increasing safety. Optimising the loads in some parts of the distribution network will also be possible using remote control to operate the switchgear and change the protection settings. open/disconnected and earthed) is the simplest one. All faults are starting interturn faults or earth-phase faults and are located inside the primary or secondary windings or on the LV zone. MV switchgear white paper | 12 . • improved protection performance for inrush current. switchgear with integrated control and monitoring features provide better optimisation. manual operation mode will also be very easy. Feeder automation. Migration of withdrawable CBs towards fixed CBs and the use of vacuum breaking make them cost-effective. • reduced maintenance and spare parts.

more and more sensors will be used. The iron core LPCT is based on the well known CT technology. • Easy and safe installation: LPCT output is plugged directly into the protection relay with no risk of over voltage when disconnecting.15VA consumption of the current input 27. Metering equipment will need to be cost-effective. Power management will increase as it will be very important to have a real-time view of the available power. 26. One type LPCT can cover applications from 5A to 1250A where the traditional CTs require a range of five sizes. The manufacturers have developed protection devices based on low power microprocessor technology with wide range of use. LPCT technology is an optimised technology with several advantages: • Simpler choice: engineering is simplified due to the wide operating range. low consumption and innovative current sensors that allow constituting a consistent protection chain. it is now possible to have 2SIS LPCTs and LPVTs. A single sensor is performing both measurement and protection purposes. S  ize comparison between LPCT (left) and CTs (right) 26 27 28 13 | MV switchgear white paper . compact low power current transformers (LPCT) and low power voltage transformers (LPVT) can replace heavy traditional CTs and VTs. Perfectly adapted to these small burdens. • Flexibility of use: easy adaptation to the power consumption changes and/or protection setting during the MV system design or operating life.  One phase analog ammeter with a 1. compact and integrated. the LPCT consists of a current transformer having a small core secondary winding connected to a integrated shunt resistor (Figure 27). For that purpose.1VA consumption and numerical power meter with a 0. The introduction of digital technology for measurement and protection (Figure 26) has modified the requirements of current transformer burden. meeting the same MV network protection and measuring technical requirements. making metering equipment insensitive to harsh environments. Thanks to modern control & monitoring devices and digital protection relays. LPCT sensor principle 28. High accuracy up to the short-time circuit current with low saturation. The shunt resistor converts the secondary current output into a low-voltage signal. As a great advantage of 2SIS architecture. Figure 28 shows the size comparison between CTs 24 kV and 36 kV and LPCT.What will MV switchgear look like in the future? LPCTs and LPVTs will be essential for the huge development of power management and metering Control and monitoring will increase to properly manage the real-time connections to the grid. • Compactness: the reduced size and weight allows for an easy integration and therefore MV switchgear dimension reduction.

there is a great confidence that the 2SIS modular architecture using the three-position scheme and vacuum interrupters is very well adapted for the coming deployment of smart grids. Moreover. With this respect. insensitivity to harsh environments. Conclusion The development of smart grids will result in the inclusion of more intelligence in MV equipment.What will MV switchgear look like in the future? Modularity is a must to meet the infinite number of different applications The variety of electrical installations resulting in an infinite combination of switchboard sizes and configurations will increase with the integration of renewable energies and with the need of energy efficiency to save energy. This network evolution may be the opportunity to introduce new criteria for the choice of products. compactness. Modularity of switchgear is a key to answer the need of flexibility. there is no external influence. MV switchgear also will be more distributed in the network. As each part of the busbar and each part of cable connection are 2SIS technology. MV switchgear white paper | 14 . no matter the arrangement of the switchboard. In this respect. thanks to its modularity. etc. For all these reasons. many possibilities of cable entries are provided and extension of a switchboard is very easy. this architecture is able to bridge the gap between secondary and primary specialised equipment. high insensitivity to harsh environmental conditions and less maintenance will be very appreciable. As a result. the 2SIS system brings the highest flexibility. In conclusion. traditionally. such as flexibility. primary equipment is used. the physics are the same but some technological points are changing as well as the way to optimise them. can also challenge some low-end applications where. optimisation of remote control. This architecture can address a large number of applications in secondary distribution but.

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