Backup Generators December Electrical Maintenance Power Transmission

5 Questions Plant Managers Should Ask Themselves About Their Power Systems

EP Editorial Staff | December 19, 2013


The answers to these critical questions can reveal the actual condition of a facility and its ability to stay up and running safely, efficiently and profitably.

Whether in an industrial facility or a power plant, many of today’s challenges regarding power-system protection are the same. Organizations are trying to mitigate rising costs and adapt to shrinking budgets in the face of changing regulatory requirements and aging infrastructures. This can result in less emphasis on maintenance and preventive services—which can compromise the reliability and performance of critical electrical assets.

Plant managers should ask the following questions to prevent problems with the health and performance of these assets, which directly affect productivity and profitability.

#1. Have testing and commissioning services been conducted?

Commissioning is important to power systems and processes because of the increasing complexity of the systems themselves—creating more opportunities for problems. Due to the staggering cost of unplanned outages or failures, today’s facilities must perform reliably from the start and every day after. 

Appropriate commissioning activities help ensure reliability by identifying the culprits behind power-system failures and outages. Nearly 70% of early equipment failures can be traced to installation, startup or design deficiencies. Unnecessary outages are often due to improper coordination and calibration of protective devices, wiring errors, design errors and human error. Commissioning can help detect and correct these problems before failures or outages occur.

Commissioning is also the answer to a wide variety of other concerns. Ensuring the operations and maintenance (O&M) staff has adequate resources and training, improving safety, and boosting efficiency can all be addressed by specifying the right commissioning activities.

A comprehensive approach, encompassing a wide range of building systems and spanning the entire design/build process, results in the greatest value to project owners—i.e., a variety of benefits that help meet the need to maintain power availability. 

When best practices are followed and the appropriate activities are specified, the facility owner will be rewarded with systems and assemblies that meet specific, well-documented project requirements and perform in accordance with the design intent. Commissioning helps to ensure that projects are successful and are delivered on time and on budget. Benefits of commissioning include:

Less unplanned downtime and fewer repairs… 

Preventing or greatly reducing the possibility of an outage is perhaps the greatest value commissioning provides. Commissioning activities ensure that mission-critical equipment is properly installed and that systems are fully integrated.

Reduced life-cycle costs… 

Done properly, commissioning improves power-system performance throughout the facility life cycle. Better system performance reduces operation and maintenance costs as well as energy consumption.

Single-source accountability… 

The Commissioning Authority (CxA) streamlines all commissioning and quality assurance, advises the contractor on project schedules and provides single-source accountability for the entire process.

Cost-effective problem resolution… 

The commissioning process helps identify system-related problems early in the project, when correcting them is most economical.

An informed workforce… 

One outcome of the commissioning process is a robust knowledge base about the new system or process that can be used for quality training activities, training materials and O&M resources. Involving the CxA in the training process and Systems Manual preparation ensures that the O&M staff is prepared and equipped to operate and maintain the newly commissioned system.

Data-supported decision-making… 

Commissioning creates extensive documentation for benchmarking system changes and trends. The data can be used to identify future problems with the system or process, maintain optimal operations and evaluate future maintenance decisions.

Improved efficiency…  

If efficiency features have been built into the new system, commissioning activities can verify that they function as intended. Commissioning can also ensure that the O&M staff has training and operating resources to fully leverage the design efficiencies. These activities ensure the intended energy efficiencies and maximize energy-cost savings.

Enhanced safety and compliance… 

The commissioning process produces a safer workplace and reduces owner liability by uncovering safety problems throughout the project. The CxA may also ensure that owners and O&M staff receive proper education on safe operating and maintenance procedures pertaining to electrical and mechanical equipment.

LEED certification…

Commissioning is a requirement for LEED certification. Projects attempting the certification must complete basic commissioning activities and can complete enhanced commissioning activities for optional credit.

Return on investment… 

The benefits of commissioning often create a return on investment that far exceeds the cost of commissioning itself. Emerson’s Electrical Reliability Services—through cost/benefit analyses of key issues corrected during several completed commissioning projects—revealed value for the owner well beyond the cost of commissioning. These analyses took into account only material and labor costs and did not factor in the cost of downtime that likely would have occurred had the issues not been resolved.

#2. Does your site routinely perform predictive maintenance?

Identifying defective power-system components and other conditions that could result in fire or electrical breakdown can often be accomplished with predictive maintenance, such as infrared testing and partial discharge testing of cables or switchgear. In fact, partial discharges are often the first indication of insulation deterioration, which is the leading cause of electrical failures, according to NFPA 70B. Only qualified and experienced personnel should perform this testing and analysis. Seek a service provider that has experience with all makes and models of power-system components including generation, transmission and distribution-protection systems.

#3. What type of preventive maintenance is being conducted?

It’s natural for electrical equipment to degrade over time, but it doesn’t have to fail. Preventive maintenance services evaluate equipment condition and determine the most cost-effective and manageable solution to improve its overall performance, safety and reliability. Typical equipment to be inspected and tested includes switchgear, circuit breakers, transformers, switches, relays, generators, batteries, cable and other devices.

Elements of a good preventive maintenance program should include:

  • Identification of equipment or systems that may malfunction
  • Establishment of schedules and procedures for routine inspections that are in accordance with NFPA 70B recommendations and InterNational Electrical Testing Association (NETA) standards
  • Periodic testing of plant equipment for structural soundness
  • Prompt repair or replacement of defective equipment that is identified
  • Easy access to spare parts for equipment that requires frequent repairs
  • Use of an organized record-keeping system to schedule tests, document inspections and trend results
  • Evaluation of trends and subsequent adjustments to procedures and programs
  • Commitment to ensure that records are complete and detailed, and that they record test results and follow-up actions
  • Preventive maintenance inspection records kept with other visual inspection records

Additionally, NFPA 70E requirements mandate accurate, up-to-date and legible single-line diagrams. Documentation is essential for troubleshooting and communicating information about your power systems. A comprehensive site survey is essential to develop or update existing single-line diagrams or complete electrical-system drawings.

#4. Do you have a plan in place to address aging or obsolete infrastructure?

The components comprising your electrical distribution system will eventually become worn or obsolete, especially when considering today’s rapid rate of technological advancement. Depending on where you are in the plant’s life cycle, the cost to keep these assets in operation can continue to rise despite best efforts to maintain the equipment, and the cost of complete system replacement can be prohibitive.

Life-extension services can lengthen the useful life of your assets and return them to optimum operating levels. From preventive maintenance and trip unit upgrades to complete retrofits, rebuilds and replacement breakers, life-extension services can likely be designed to fit any budget and customized to your specific operating requirements and application.

Representing one of the best values in equipment upgrades for power systems is the replacement of electromechanical relays. Relay retrofits and upgrades provide a fast, cost-effective way to leverage the advantages of microprocessor relays without the expense of installing new switchgear. Seamlessly retrofitting your existing switchgear with new microprocessor relays adds the benefits of self-testing, event reporting, fault identification and arc-flash detection. These advantages make troubleshooting and maintenance easier and safer. Plus, microprocessor relays provide the system information needed to improve protection, reliability, efficiency and compliance with International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) 61850.

#5. Is your site in compliance with applicable safety requirements?

Electrical power is the pulse of your facility. While it is vital to your operations, it also is dangerous, and accidents can be catastrophic and costly. Organizations such as Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and NFPA have become more proactive in establishing worker safety standards and regulations. Staying on top of complex regulatory requirements can be difficult using only internal resources. By partnering with a qualified service provider, facility managers can rely on people familiar with industry standards and recommended best practices to ensure compliance.

An effective safety program should provide training and awareness of potential electrical hazards. It should also identify hazard/risk evaluation procedures, electrically safe work procedures, proper tools and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), as well as risk-mitigation strategies. The electrical-safety program must be documented and audited at least every three years to verify the principles and procedures are in compliance with NFPA 70E. Arc-flash labels must also be affixed to your electrical equipment in accordance with 70E provisions.

OSHA can and does enforce the NFPA 70E guidelines. The best way to meet necessary requirements is to conduct a comprehensive facility assessment to identify areas of risk and non-compliance, then formulate a plan to bring your facility into compliance in the most efficient way possible.


Power systems are among the most valuable assets in your plant and can have the biggest impact on the bottom line. The cost to build and maintain them is high, and failures within the systems almost always lead to substantial losses. Addressing the five questions outlined in this article will help you ensure maximum power-system performance, efficiency and reliability, as well as keep your workplace safe.

This information was provided by Emerson Network Power’s Electrical Reliability Services Group.



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