This article was originally published in Current Connections Fall 2019 issue.
How do you know your power system is operating as designed? The lights are on and the plant is running? What about the health of your electrical system? These areas are often overlooked and just assumed to be working correctly. Electrical systems are becoming smarter and more complex – making sure they are operating correctly takes more than just “flipping the switch.”
A thorough checkout, commissioning, and startup process ensures that power systems operate safely and as designed. We check each device, confirm that interlocks are working, see to it that systems shut down as designed, and look at the process data to make sure it is correct and operating as intended.
Power System Commissioning is a systematic approach that makes sure:
- Breaker and relay settings are setup through a proper coordination study
- Settings are correctly entered, saved, and tested in the breakers and relays
- Alarms are set and operating correctly
- Failover systems operate as expected and designed
- Metering and communications are working and viewable
- Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPSs) and inverters are operating correctly
- Normal” operating ranges for fans, heaters, gas insulation, etc., for future monitoring are established
- Power Factor Correction is set up and operating correctly to meet utility requirements
- All protection requirements are turned on, including ground fault protection, current limits, jam, stall, ramp times, voltage, current unbalance, etc.
Power System Commissioning starts with understanding the requirements for the system. The first step of the process is designing and procuring equipment that will achieve these requirements – in other words, correctly specifying equipment for vendors and ensuring that it is correctly built and tested.
Equipment installation is next, with a focus on having all features wired to interface with other parts of the system. Finally, checkout and commissioning allow for setup and testing of all the features that were designed, procured, and installed. Now is the time to make sure that all equipment is working as intended.
Training is the final step of the commissioning process. Personnel need to be familiar with operating the equipment and troubleshooting in order to run the facility efficiently and safely.
Power System Commissioning doesn’t end there. All these points must be revisited periodically to keep the system operating the way it is supposed to. Going back in for preventative maintenance, testing to check that equipment still operates well, and making sure that nothing has failed is critical to the long-term operation of these systems.
If you ignore these steps because, well, “the lights are still on,” you will inevitably experience failure. This is an unfortunate way of maintaining a key part of your facility infrastructure that can have huge impacts on downtime and lead to equipment damage.
If you take the time to design, install, and commission your electrical system, as well as maintain it throughout its lifetime, you are staying ahead of failure and will enjoy positive results.
Brent Kooiman, Senior Project Engineer