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A world full of smart, fully automated cities and fleets of driverless cars has not yet arrived, but with continued globalisation, the trajectory is clear. Gartner predicts that in 2020 the number of Internet of Things (IoT)-connected devices will reach almost 20.8 billion, more than three-times the number available in 2016. In the UK, energy demand will have grown to 6 MTOE by 2035, a four per cent increase from current levels.
Whilst the UK is a developed country, it must battle with replacing its ageing infrastructure - one that, while resilient, can be fragile. In every industrial sector, power availability and reliability is vital. The safe operation of our roads, tunnels, railways and hospitals depends on a consistent supply of energy to function. But should this system break down, the impact can be devastating.
For our critical infrastructure to optimise energy generation and distribution, and to keep the lights on, the impact of the IoT should be welcomed. However, to adopt it we need to first ensure that the energy needed can be supplied responsibly. Fortunately, innovative approaches to back-up supply and distribution are paving the road to a safer, more efficient transport network.
This is an emergency – back-up needed
It is often said that you do not appreciate something until it is gone. This is certainly the case when it comes to power supply. Power is not always reliable, especially in an emergency situation. When a power cut limits a population’s access to electricity, travel, work and life itself can grind to a halt. In every business, power reliability is a key component of emergency preparedness.
One example of this is tunnels. Road tunnels depend heavily on a reliable and consistent supply of power to keep drivers safe. In broad daylight, the sun usually only penetrates a few feet into the average tunnel, making a constant, reliable lighting system a must. Ventilation is also key in road tunnels to ensure that exhaust fumes do not reach dangerous levels. When its connection to the power grid, or its self-sufficient generator fails, the tunnel must still provide power to its lighting and ventilation systems to ensure the safety and uninterrupted travel of its users.
Power reliability is an even greater concern in hospital power systems. Vital hospital equipment such as life-support machines as well as other important infrastructure such as communications, security and ancillary infrastructure systems such as HVAC must all remain online or risk serious harm to patients. The importance of power reliability was made clear when six US healthcare providers went bankrupt within a single year due to lost revenue, legal costs and damaged reputations after failing to adequately service patients during the 2003 Northeast blackout.
Each hospital and tunnel will have different needs, and the best solution will differ significantly depending on the funding and space available. However, it is unrealistic to expect every tunnel and hospital to field electrical substations for their back-up power requirements. An uninterruptible power supply (UPS) can serve as a more flexible, cost-efficient and low-impact solution to keep vital services online until full power can be restored.
UPSs are extremely flexible electrical apparatuses, installed either individually on each piece of critical equipment as needed or running as a single, centralised back-up centre. Using a UPS ensures a smooth power ‘ride-through’ during power failures. By providing a temporary battery power supply, it ensures continuous operation during the gaps that can occur when switching from utility to back-up generation or until utility power is restored. This means that essential services will not fail during a power outage.
The economy of space
With the UK population predicted to swell to over 74 million by 2050, the pressures of load and volume on the country’s roads, rail and health service will continue for some time. As more people than ever use the logistics spectrum, available space will become an invaluable commodity for planners and engineers. A lack of physical space in the rail and road domains only reduces the number of passengers, solutions and services operators can fit at a time, which can lead to congestion and reduced value for service-users. This is driving the general trend towards minimisation in support solutions.
This is clear to see in electrical distribution. Today’s connected infrastructure requires a whole host of power-hungry equipment to operate safely and efficiently. Electrified road and rail signalling systems are crucial for regulating transport, reducing congestion and, above all, keeping users protected. However, they often require principal supply points (PSPs) installed close-by to feed them the electricity they need.
On the country’s rail network, these PSPs are usually housed in large and bulky relocating equipment buildings (REB). While REBs have proven effective at protecting their PSPs from the elements, they are difficult to install and take up valuable trackside space that could be used improving the service. Furthermore, when it comes to supply maintenance the size of the REB’s can push engineers onto the tracks, where services will need to be shut down for the duration of their work. This comes at the cost of considerable disruption.
Such technology is not an efficient use of space in a burgeoning transport network. Fortunately, PSPs are evolving to become smaller and more efficient. Schneider Electric’s Compact PSP (CPSP) supplies all the power needed for road and rail signalling while eliminating the need for large and inefficient REBs. Its components are encased in a far smaller enclosure, providing protection for both the PSP and engineers while they are working. It does this without taking up valuable space or pushing workers too close to the track.
The compactness of this solution gives operators greater freedom for more efficient positioning. They are ideal for placement both road and trackside, where maintenance will no longer interfere with transport flow. They also provide more room for extra users, increased capacity and equipment, thereby saving costs, reducing disruption and enabling more effective and optimised processes.
Strict regulations and a historically tight funding environment have made modernising the country’s infrastructure a perennial challenge. The IoT provides operators the means to do more with less, to make better use of existing structures to hand by integrating them with technology to make them more “smart” instead of expanding them physically. Yet, ensuring we have the power, back-up systems and room available to accommodate the next phase of modernisation must remain our top priority.
About the author:
Tom Mennell is General Manager of low voltage distribution at Schneider Electric.
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