Mar
12

Batteries Out-Distance Gas-Burning Generators

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From southern California to Arizona, energy storage units are popping up to make renewables more available when power demand peaks.

Electric batteries linked to renewables can be cheaper than conventional natural gas burning peaker generators, the workhorses of the utility sector in periods of high power demand.

Utilities are scrambling to deploy batteries at a fast clip as a result, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Tucson Electric Power is building a 100-megawatt solar installation backed up with 30-megawatt capacity energy storage facility.

Meanwhile, Fluence Energy, a joint venture of Siemens and AES, is building the largest lithium ion battery in the world that will provide backup power to 60,000 southern California homes, the Journal reported. That battery is triple the size of a mammoth energy storage installation Tesla recently built in Australia.

This trend of changing out energy generation infrastructure in favor of green, climate-change fighting sources of renewable energy is accelerating.

“It really is a substitution for building a new peaking-power plant,” John Zahurancik, chief operating officer of Fluence, told the newspaper. “Instead of living next to a smokestack, you will live near what looks like a big-box store and is filled with racks and rows of batteries.”

Peakers, as their name indicates, are used in times of peak demand for power – such as late afternoon on a hot summer day.

Peakers fired by natural gas have been popular because a glut of cheap gas has flooded energy markets from recently developed shale fracking techniques.

But utility experts say one-third of today’s fossil fuel peakers in a decade could be replaced by solar and wind generation tied to electric batteries.

“The federal government estimates that a new gas-fired peaking plant could generate electricity for about $87 for a megawatt hour, including the cost of building the plant and buying fuel,” the Journal reported. “By comparison, Xcel Energy’s Colorado subsidiary recently ran an open solicitation and received 87 bids for solar-plus-storage projects at a median price of $36 per megawatt hour, one of the lowest such bids to date.”

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Mar
05

NEMA Publishes Comprehensive Catalog of Electrical Standards


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The catalog is a useful guide to the industry generally and the work NEMA does developing and supporting standards.

The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), Rosslyn, VA, has released the 2018 edition of its Electrical Standards & Products Guide, a comprehensive listing of NEMA electrical standards and technical documents. The guide covers 56 product categories such as lighting, motors and generators, wire and cable, medical imaging, and enclosures, as well as a directory of NEMA members and their products.

“NEMA standards provide our industry with the most up to date technical information for engineers, installers, and customers,” said Greg Steinman, chairman of the NEMA Codes and Standards Committee and manager of Codes and Standards at Thomas & Betts. “These standards provide the technical performance levels expected for the equipment we manufacture, and the information in this guide allows our customers to make electrical equipment purchasing decisions that meet or exceed expectations.”

This is a useful guide to the industry and the extensive standards work NEMA does to make electrical equipment safer and easier to use.

You can download a copy here: 2018 Electrical Standards & Products Guide

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Feb
26

Electrical Sleuthing Evolves

Forensic engineers deal with timeless challenges, but new ones may also be entering the mix.

Stuff happens. That’s about all that can be (politely) said when systems or equipment fail, people err, or fate intervenes to produce costly mishaps. The fact that accidents of all kinds occur is seemingly the only constant in human affairs. Even in a world where advancing technology, redundant systems, improved training, and a best practices mind-set should produce dividends in the form of fewer “incidents,” a bet on the future looking like the past may be a surer one. Another thing almost certain to stay the same: Loss incidents won’t end with a resigned shrug of the shoulders. Instead, they’ll almost surely continue to signal a beginning, a search for answers to what happened, how it happened, and, of course, who’s to blame.

Pic 1 Electrical Detective Work
Timothy Korinek, P.E. looks for signs of electrical failure in a fire protection pumping system following a building fire.

The quest for the truth in the wake of calamities large and small keeps many interested parties both busy and in business — few more so than forensic engineers who are tasked to help answer those questions. Practitioners who leverage their academic and real-world knowledge of a primary engineering discipline — electrical for one — and combine it with investigatory and analytical skills, have long assisted stakeholders, legal teams, and courts of law in the drive to understand and interpret these incidents. And the work isn’t limited to accidents; many professionals conduct fact-finding in intellectual property cases, contract disputes, and even quality control/troubleshooting in product development efforts. Their painstaking evidence-gathering and generally sworn commitment to unbiased truth-finding is a cornerstone of dispute resolution, permitting a set of stipulated, if not always unassailable, facts to be the basis for fairly determining and allocating culpability, accountability, and damages.

With scant evidence that litigiousness is becoming any less assured than random failures, forensic engineers seemingly can look forward to a continued and steady need for their services. But meanwhile there are also signs that demands on the profession may be changing. From the nature of the electrical-based anomalies that cause damaging events to the emergence of automated controls systems, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things (IoT) to the growing sophistication of investigative technologies, the technical terrain forensic engineers must navigate is becoming increasingly complex. In the end, this niche group of electrical experts, who possesses highly specialized, cutting-edge knowledge, and skill sets, is expected to produce bulletproof findings in these cases.

Clues from sensors

High on the list of potential technological challenges that forensic engineers face is the growing ability to monitor, meter, control, and log the operation and performance of electrical equipment and systems. More widespread deployment of digital sensors and smart control systems in commercial and industrial applications could translate to timelier and more clear-cut answers for failures that cascade into accidents. That could prove an invaluable aid to forensic investigators. But could information technology advances also be the seed of the transformation of the traditional forensic electrical investigation?

That’s far-fetched, says Chris Korinek, owner of Synergy Technologies, LLC, a Cedarburg, Wis., forensic electrical, mechanical, and materials engineering and consulting firm. But there’s little doubt, he says, that sensor technology has helped forensic investigators.

“We see more and more appliances collecting data, smart meters monitoring usage, even video of incidents, and it’s all given us more opportunity to collect and use information,” he says.

Data gathered from sensors could well grow to become a major source of hard investigative clues, but it still must be interpreted correctly and properly weighed against other physical evidence, says J. Derald Morgan, principal at J. Derald Morgan & Associates, Inc., an electrical engineering and forensics consultancy in Branson West, Mo.

“It would minimize the need for a certain amount of analysis, and it’s possible you might have some cases where you wouldn’t need a typical forensic investigation,” he says.

Pic 2 Electrical Detective Work 3
This forensic investigation of a fire honed in on melted metal in EMT, a possible sign of arcing between conductors.

But, using an analogy, Morgan says data collected from sensor-equipped cars that collide could yield extensive information about factors like speed, position, and angle of impact. Yet it might reveal little about physical circumstances like the condition of the road surface or weather conditions, which might bear primary responsibility.

For now, says Chris Shiver, who does electrical, mechanical, and safety forensics work as Chris Shiver, PE, out of Roswell, Ga., digital sensor data is just another piece of evidence that “doesn’t short circuit the work you need to do.”

In fact, it may be no more consequential to investigations than data long derived from traditional industrial analog chart recorders.

“It doesn’t prove anything by itself; you still need to find failure mechanisms from all of the physical evidence,” he says.

But the growing prevalence of more sophisticated, data-centric equipment and systems almost surely means forensic investigators will need a strong working knowledge of their operation. That’s a potential challenge for a profession that may be top heavy with seasoned practitioners who, while highly experienced, skilled, and sharp, may be at risk of falling behind a steepening technology curve. Forensic investigations of the future may increasingly demand young professionals well-versed in cutting-edge control and automation technologies integrated into products and systems that may fail with costly consequences.

Pic 3 Electrical Detective Work 4
A forensic investigation of a foundry file turned up an electrical plug and receptacle examined for evidence of overheated connections.

“This all requires engineers to be a lot more knowledgeable about data, information systems, and electronics,” says Korinek.

For example, prospects for increased litigation stemming from failures of autonomous products and systems in the expanding IoT ecosystem opens the door to forensic experts armed with that specialized knowledge.

On the website of IMS Expert Services, which brings experts and litigators together, there’s this cautionary observation: “All of the things we use to enjoy, control, monitor, organize, and secure our lives via the IoT are coming to the forefront of litigation.”

Morgan, who has more than four decades of experience in electrical engineering forensics study, education, and practice, sees opportunity in the field for those who know their way around complex technologies that will reside at the center of next-generation products and electrical and mechanical systems.

“If I were a young guy and wanted to get good enough at something to become a forensics electrical engineer, I’d get good at artificial intelligence (AI) and computer-based control systems,” he says. “There will be a lot of software controlling things that may fail for strange reasons.”

A youth movement?

That seems like a recipe for growth in the forensic engineering field, one that might be expected to start drawing the attention of newly minted engineers looking for a challenging and possibly lucrative niche. But as established practitioners labor to point out, forensic engineering work has always been specialized and multifaceted, calling on strong communications, investigative, and even performance or “salesmanship” skills — valuable in depositions and trials — that aren’t taught as much as they are absorbed, learned, and honed over time.

Moreover, it’s work that increasingly demands the kind of expertise that qualifies one as a true expert; relevant knowledge must be provable, and investigative processes employed and conclusions reached as a result must be framed to stand up to intense scrutiny. That goes a long way in explaining why the roster of forensic engineers skews older, and why the field has traditionally been more of a transitional career avenue for established professionals rather than a destination for younger engineers.

The best forensics engineers are those who’ve learned the many nuances of the work. A primary one, says Arthur Zatarain, an automation and control systems forensic expert who runs the practice, Arthur Zatarain, P.E., Metairie, La., is blending fact-finding with expert analysis and opinion in a case.

“A forensic engineer can get caught with one foot as a fact witness and the other as an expert,” he says. “That situation is ripe for attack by opposing counsel.”

Forensics engineers who carefully discover and cite facts in reports, and have the ability to present themselves as experts who can opine on them, bring an important dimension to investigations, he says. In his reports, he develops separate sections — one for facts and the other for analysis and opinion on them based on his credentials and experience.

Pic 4 Electrical Detective Work 1
Chris Korinek, P.E., gathers evidence from destroyed electrical equipment at a fire scene investigation.

“That method keeps those two worlds — fact and opinion — clear and separate,” he says. “I often see mistakes along those lines in expert reports, which suggests to me the engineer, and perhaps his attorney client, are new to the game.”

Experience is of great value in the profession, but some have detected signs of a youth movement into the practice as demand for services expands, niche expertise is valued, and attrition accelerates.

“The field seemed to start expanding around the turn of the century,” Shiver says. “When I got into the business, there weren’t that many companies doing it — and no one wanted to be a forensic engineer starting out. Now younger engineers seem to be going to work for big companies that are starting to get more established in the business.”

While there are solid opportunities in forensic electrical work, that doesn’t translate to an easier path for those looking to break in. Barriers to entry and sustained success, especially for engineers looking to hang out their own shingle, are high because a track record in all facets of the work is so highly valued and becoming known and trusted can be a long, uphill climb.

Zatarain says “artistic” elements of the work that complement the technical aspects — investigating, analyzing, assembling reports, and testifying — can be difficult to master. Even seasoned engineers enticed by the fresh challenge of adapting their knowledge and skills to the field as sole proprietor consultants need to go in with eyes wide open.

“Going in completely on your own is probably not a good idea,” he says. “If you’ve never done a case before, you can get chewed up the first time, and the process will consume you.”
Fewer trials

However, one element of that process that has traditionally hung over the head of every forensic engineer may be changing somewhat — the need to be ready to testify in a courtroom setting. According to some forensic engineers in certain geographic locations, they’ve noticed a trend toward fewer cases going to trial. Instead, often for financial reasons and the pervasiveness of stalemates, more disputes seem to be settled out of court.

“There are fewer trials,” Morgan says. “They’re expensive, and judges are tending to force parties to mediate disputes.”

Settlements may be more commonplace partly because litigants have become so much more focused in recent years on engaging top-notch experts, as defined by courts, as investigators. Deadlocks often ensue, Zatarain says, because all sides present equally strong cases that can be costly and time-consuming to continue to challenge.

“Ultimately, you often end up with opinions, and that’s where it stops, with the sides negotiating a settlement,” he says.

Depositions remain commonplace and pivotal in the forensic investigation process, requiring forensics engineers to be as capable handling probing and sometimes hostile attorney questioning as they are at gathering and assessing evidence.

“Testimony by deposition is still very much a part of the job,” says Zatarain. “In my experience, a deposition is far more difficult than a trial. They can be vicious, and all facts aren’t always known to the engineer prior. Getting through the depo with the case still intact requires a seasoned forensic engineer.”

And demands on engineers to defend their qualifications, reports, and findings have grown ever since the 1993 “Daubert” Supreme Court case established a tougher standard for admitting expert testimony, says Korinek. It’s had the effect of increasing the diligence of forensic engineers to understand the issues, conduct thorough investigations, and prepare for challenges to conclusions.

“It can be humbling how many things you have to look at to be able to make a case,” he says. “A lot of the engineering work is focused on finding out what happened, but often the big issue in a case comes down to an attorney asking the question: ‘Who did something wrong?’” — who performed an action that caused a loss due to not meeting a standard of care?

Ultimately, the definitive answer to whether someone is negligent or legally liable often lies outside the scope of forensic engineers. That determination, in the legal sense, is for others to decide: judges, juries, and the litigators themselves. It remains the job of forensic investigators to prepare evidence, establish facts, and help chart a path to informed and equitable dispute resolutions. Armed with these facts, not to mention more advanced tools and an intense interest in electrical investigation and analysis, a new generation of electrical engineers will inevitably be poised to take the field into the future.

SIDEBAR: The Fascination with Electrical Forensics

There are few jobs like it in the world of electrical engineering. Combining deep academic and practical engineering knowledge, investigative know-how, and comfort with being on the hot seat, forensic electrical engineering is a true occupational hybrid. And that’s exactly what attracts many to the field and keeps some fully engaged in it well into their golden years. Variety, drama, occasional pressure, and, yes, good paydays for the very best, are among the enticements.

“I love it because it calls on both sides of your brain,” says Robert Peruzzi, PhD, owner of R. Peruzzi Consulting, Bethlehem, Pa. “I’d been a technical nerd for a number of years, and now it’s also about being able to communicate in writing and speaking — and being able to withstand hostile examination. You have to be able to build a structure to support your case.”

Arthur Zatarain, a practitioner in Metairie, La., says the variety is part of what keeps him in the business.

“Every case is unique, and there’s nothing routine,” he says. “The technical requirements, human factors, environmental conditions — they’re all different, and you can hardly ever say ‘I had a case just like this.’ And before you can do anything, you have to first figure out exactly what the case is.”

J. Derald Morgan, who’s 78 and runs J. Derald Morgan Associates, Inc., continues to be energized by the educational aspects of the work and the varied skills it calls on in depositions and trials. Some forensic engineers find that part of the work distasteful because it doesn’t come naturally.

“Engineers are actually good writers, but they’re not creative writers,” he says. “They may be able to diagram sentences, but if you do that on the witness stand and come across as hesitant, it can look like you’re making up a story.”

A good forensic engineer, he says, needs to be skilled at the nitty gritty of gathering evidence, but capable of shifting gears into defending the findings. “You need to realize that when you go to trial, it’s showtime.”

Chris Shiver, who runs his own consulting business out of Roswell, Ga., likes the work for the demands it places on scientific rigor and the need for objectivity and pure fact-finding.

“You need to maintain ethical principles even where you might be subject to being pulled in different directions,” he says. “You don’t go in with a lot of pre-conceived ideas, but let the circumstances lead to unbiased conclusions.”

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See the origial article at: http://www.ecmweb.com/accidents-investigations/electrical-sleuthing-evolves

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Feb
19

How Improper Maintenance Can Increase Arc Flash Severity

Without properly performing an E3MP, incident energy levels can drastically increase above calculated values, which may go unnoticed until a life-changing event occurs.

More and more companies today are taking the smart step toward performing an arc flash analysis on their electrical distribution system to determine arc flash hazard levels and accurately post the hazard level on associated equipment. However, once the study is completed, most firms never give it another thought — assuming the arc flash calculations will always accurately reflect the hazard in the field.

After the analysis is complete, there is no reason to second-guess the engineer who performed the calculations. But the reality is, over time, the calculated arc flash hazard values are in jeopardy of becoming erroneous if the equipment is not part of an effective electrical equipment maintenance program (E3MP).

Arc flash severity variables

Three primary variables are required for the calculations associated with an arc flash analysis: available fault current, distance from the fault, and duration of the fault. Distance from the fault is determined by IEEE Standard 1584, “Guide for Performing Arc Flash Hazard Calculations,” and the fault current is a property of the electrical distribution system being evaluated. Fault duration is the variable that can be inadvertently impacted by a company’s electrical maintenance strategy. Fault duration is the characteristic of the arc flash event, which is determined by the upstream overcurrent protective device’s (OCPD’s) ability to interrupt the fault. For the purpose of an analysis, the engineer assumes the OCPD will interrupt the fault in the manner and speed at which it was designed.

Arc Flash 0218 2

A lack of maintenance could lead to a dangerous situation, where an electrical worker is insufficiently protected from the arc flash energy levels produced during a fault.

Circuit breakers are one of the most common OCPDs and are considered as time-limiting equipment in the arc flash analysis. However, the time required for a circuit breaker to interrupt a fault can be dramatically impacted by the lack of proper maintenance. In order to better understand the relationship between circuit breaker maintenance and arc flash severity, you must first understand some basics related to circuit breaker design and operation.

What is a circuit breaker?

A circuit breaker is a switching device that can be operated manually or automatically for control and protection of an electrical power system. From a protection standpoint, circuit breakers are devices that automatically stop current from flowing if a certain abnormality in the system is detected — in simple terms, it interrupts the flow of current in the circuit.

There are two main types of circuit breakers: magnetic and thermal. Magnetic circuit breakers respond quickly to short-duration large overcurrent faults, while thermal circuit breakers respond best to long-duration small overcurrent faults. In addition, a thermal-magnetic circuit breaker combines the advantages of both types, breaking circuits in response to both large overcurrent and prolonged small overcurrent conditions. Magnetic circuit breakers are more relative to the arc flash discussion in that they are typically the breakers responsible for clearing short-duration large overcurrent faults that involve arc flash events.

Magnetic circuit breakers rely on induction through a coil of wire called a solenoid. When current flows through the solenoid, a magnetic field is created. This field exerts a force on a nearby magnet; the larger the current, the stronger the force. If the current is strong enough, the magnet is pushed out of the solenoid with enough force to trip the mechanism that breaks the circuit. This is useful if there is a sudden surge in current, because the force created by the solenoid increases proportionally with the amount of current, allowing a rapid response for fault interruption.

Why circuit breaker maintenance is crucial

Arc Flash 0218 3

A circuit breaker is a mechanical device, so inherently it has components that are required to move in order for a successful operation. When calculating incident energy levels, the engineer would use information from the manufacturer with regard to how quickly those mechanisms work together to complete the operation and interrupt the circuit. Each breaker is designed to interrupt fault current based on its time-current characteristics curve. These design characteristics are used in the arc flash analysis calculations to determine the fault clearing time.

Notice the impact increased fault clearing time has on incident energy levels.

If an E3MP is not utilized on a breaker, then the operating times provided by the manufacturer become irrelevant. Circuit breaker mechanisms will start to malfunction (contacts can start to stick and grease can begin to “gum up”). Even worse, the breaker might not work at all. A delay in response time might not seem like much, but it only takes milliseconds for the incident energy on a typical 480V motor starter to go from negligible to deadly.

Impact of increased fault clearing time

The Figure shows arc flash values for a typical 480V motor starter breaker in a system with 3kA of available fault current. The y-axis is the arc flash energy level in cal/cm2. Time is shown along the x-axis starting at 2 msec up to a maximum of 2 sec. Notice how quickly the incident energy level rises.

Let’s assume the breaker is designed to clear the fault in three cycles. The calculation for this example results in an incident energy level of 2.2 cal/cm2, which would require a minimum of Category 1 personal protective equipment (PPE). If the lack of proper maintenance causes the breaker to not clear the fault until 30 cycles (0.5 sec), the incident energy level reaches 22.2 cal/cm2. This would require a minimum of Category 3 PPE. The significance of this time delay is that the electrician wearing typical Category 2 “daily wear” PPE would be insufficiently protected from the arc flash energy levels produced during the fault, regardless of what the warning sticker on the equipment states as the required PPE.

Conclusion

Even if a company has the most accurate and detailed arc flash analysis performed on its system and provides employees with top-of-the-line PPE, there is still a safety-related responsibility for the establishment of an E3MP. If the company does not incorporate an E3MP on all OCPDs, then employees remain at risk of being injured due to the probability of arc flash events that exceed calculated values. Without an E3MP, the probability is higher that the operating speeds of the mechanical parts in your breakers are significantly slower than designed, and, as demonstrated in the example above, it takes only fractions of a second to defeat all of the efforts associated with an effective arc flash mitigation program.

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Feb
12

U.S. Electric Utility Customer Base Now Exceeds 150 Million

Installations of smart meters have more than doubled since 2010, per the Dec. 7, 2017 EIA report, while slower growth is the norm for demand response and energy efficiency

According to recently-released EIA data, almost half of all U.S. electricity customer accounts now have smart meters. By the end of 2016, U.S. electric utilities had installed about 71 million advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) smart meters, covering 47% of the 150 million electricity customers in the United States.

In contrast to two-way AMI, the second-largest category of meters is one-way Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMR), a category for which meter installations peaked in 2012 at 48 million units installed. The total AMR population of meters nationwide over last four years has wavered between 46 and 47 million total units.

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Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI)

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Smart meters have two-way communication capability between electric utilities and customers. One-way meter-to-utility communication, also known as automated meter reading (AMR), was more prevalent before 2013. Since then, two-way AMI smart meter installations have been more common based on data collected in EIA’s annual electric utility surveys.

Two-way AMI meters allow utilities and customers to interact to support smart consumption applications using real-time or near real-time electricity data. Smart meters can support demand response and distributed generation, improve reliability, and provide information that consumers can use to save money by managing their use of electricity.

AMI data provide utilities with detailed outage information in the event of a storm or other system disruption, helping utilities restore service to customers more quickly and reducing the overall length of electric system outages.

While the EIA data has shown a healthy growth rate for AMI, equaling about 10% a year, the EIA data on uptake of demand response programs continues to show low or no growth, with total enrolled customers hovering just over 9 million as shown below:

Chart4

The EIA Annual Electric Outlook just released on Dec 7, 2017 is at this link: https://www.eia.gov/electricity/annual/pdf/epa.pdf

 

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