Future-Proofing Industrial Assets In An Aging Infrastructure

Dan McGinn, director of secure power systems at Schneider Electric, discusses how uninterruptible power supply systems help to eliminate the impact of power related events and disturbances for assets like process equipment, facilities systems and critical applications.

Outdated and aging infrastructure is frequently cited as one of the biggest threats to the U.S. energy supply. In fact, the U.S. electric grid loses power 285 percent more often now than in 1984 and endures more blackouts than any other developed nation, costing Americans as much as $150 billion per year. At the same time, our industrial systems are becoming more connected and information driven making high-availability, quality power more important than ever.

In recent years, emerging technologies like smart grids and microgrids have been implemented in an effort to counter some of these energy infrastructure challenges as well as support alternative sources and energy storage. These solutions help to enhance the design and condition of bulk power of the U.S. electrical distribution system, creating reliability against severe weather, security against cyberattack, flexibility to accommodate new renewable generation and aiding in fuel diversity.

Still, a growing energy demand and a desire for clean power will require more targeted adoption of critical power solutions to deliver sustainable, resilient and efficient power. These solutions take the form of uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems that help to eliminate the impact of power related events and disturbances for assets like process equipment, facilities systems and critical applications.  

UPS systems can provide power redundancy at both a very low level, close to the load, and at a high level, incorporated into distribution systems. They deliver layered system protection from local events and, in the case of utility events, provide power during the time it takes systems to properly shut down or generators to come on line. As a further benefit, in the event of a sustained power outage a UPS can allow systems to continue collecting information, including context on what caused the outage, empowering operators to use that information for improved operations and an effective restart.

UPSs do much more than provide standby power — they act as a buffer layer between the grid and the critical load, ensuring that clean, high quality power is delivered to the loads on a consistent basis.

UPS Deployment In An Internet Of Things Environment

How UPS systems are deployed and integrated into industrial environments is evolving rapidly as we adopt technologies associated with the “Internet of Things” or the often referred to evolution toward “Industry 4.0”. While what truly constitutes critical portions of an industrial process requiring full power UPS is not evolving all that dramatically, the need to protect the availability of system intelligence responsible for control and monitoring is undergoing rapid change. If we consider the landscape of equipment providing information and the growing extent to which we leverage that information, we can think of protecting intelligent assets in the following manners:

  • Local Protection: Distributed UPS located near critical loads or intelligent devices
  • Power Integrated Protection: Central UPS integrated with power distribution equipment to protect multiple critical loads or create a central, high-availability power source for control systems and intelligent devices.
  • Network Integrated Protection: As plant, control and device networks converge it is important to treat the network itself as mission critical. This should include central UPS protection at the network infrastructure level combined with additional local protection for distributed switching equipment.

If one thinks in terms of the “Industrial Internet of Things”, we are striving to guarantee the availability of systems and information that drive the competitiveness of the industrial enterprise. This includes the “things” themselves (control systems, intelligent sensors and instrumentation, IoT middleware devices to connect legacy hardware) as well as the infrastructure between those “things” and the network of consumers of their information.

In short, high-availability of any industrial IoT enterprise is achievable even in an era of aging infrastructure. Critical power solutions provide insurance for today’s increasingly vulnerable infrastructure providing greater power redundancy and control to address the challenges of aging infrastructure now and in the future. 

Dan McGinn is the director of secure power systems at Schneider Electric.

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