When the 2020 global lockdown disrupted economic activity on an unprecedented scale, the resulting environmental gains were difficult to ignore, and consumers and businesses have since become much more aware of the impact industry has on the planet. 

In northern India, the stark improvement in air pollution brought about by the first lockdown made the Himalayas visible at distance for the first time in a generation, while London saw U.K. nitrogen dioxide decrease by as much as 31%

With the environmental impact of industry so evident to the public, simply returning to normal was not an option. Instead, global governments declared an environment-focused recovery to the pandemic, designed to tackle the climate and nature crises. While 2020 upended claims and accelerated timescales around net-zero, the green agenda once again ascended as a priority in 2021 with the United Nations COP26 summit. As the world moves toward key net-zero milestones, all sectors, including those considered critical, will be expected to make urgent progress in reducing carbon emissions. 

A whole-of-building approach

A whole-of-building approach is where all elements of infrastructure and design interconnect to maximize efficiencies and carbon reductions.

Inherently, though, this approach hasn’t always been possible for certain subsystems, such as low-voltage (LV) switchgear, which have been historically challenging to make more sustainable. For example, the continued use of thick internal bare copper bars to distribute current will cause AC losses and negatively impact on the energy consumption due to the material’s skin effect. 

For these reasons, subsystems, like LV switchgear have long been excluded from whole-of-building efficiency programs. But, thanks to a period of intense technical innovation, LV switchgear and other subsystems can finally help drive efficiencies in mission critical facilities and should no longer be overlooked in the planning stages.

Innovations in subsystems 

New technologies, advancements in component materials, and more sophisticated digitalization techniques are all driving innovations in sustainable subsystem design. 

Therefore, it’s important that, when committing to a whole-of-building emissions reduction plan, energy managers are aware of the latest innovations to avoid missing potential energy reductions. By doing so, they will better understand which subsystems cannot be improved from a sustainability perspective and which ones should be considered in a whole-of-building emissions reduction plan.  

If reviewing existing protocols, it’s also important to revisit subsystems that are currently discounted from a whole-of-building plan to see whether recent innovations could open the door to currently untapped efficiencies — there may be more sustainable options available now that didn’t exist at the time of the original plan. 

Case in point 

LV switchgear is a prime example of a subsystem that has long been exempt from energy reduction planning. Now, sustainability-centered innovation has transformed the performance of this subsystem into a candidate for any whole-of-building emissions reduction plans. 

Laminated bus plate technology provides the performance integrity of traditional bus bars while negating the associated AC losses. The result is an overall energy efficiency improvement of up to 25%. A benchmark study of a traditional switchgear versus the latest switchgear solutions showed that the reduction in AC losses can save up to 9,000 kg of CO2 annually. 

This approach can also significantly increase cooling efficiency in LV switch rooms, where conditioning systems are used to maintain the standard room temperature needed to ensure product performance and longevity. Primarily, this is because the absence of AC losses reduces the energy needed to condition the switchgear ambient temperature. Additionally, the units have a small footprint, which means there is less volume to be cooled. 

The new innovative design also improves safety by eliminating hazardous exposure to live parts, using 92% fewer bus bar components than traditional switchgear. An arc ignition protected zone keeps maintenance personnel safer when performing routine maintenance work and repairs while also reducing the risk of arcs caused by mechanical failures — one of the most serious safety risks that switchgear operators encounter.

The latest switchgear evolution also offers connectivity capabilities for data analytics and data communication, making it the ideal solution for facilities working toward achieving Industry 4.0 standards. Some market-leading solutions can even deliver up to 30% lower overall operational costs compared to switchgear without digital capabilities, thanks to more efficient condition monitoring.

Of course, switchgear is a serious investment. However, achieving optimized energy efficiency requires a holistic, whole-of-building approach. By taking advantage of this new opportunity to introduce sustainable switchgear, mission critical environments can add commercial value throughout the life cycle of a project and improve their sustainability credentials amid a more eco-aware clientele.

Yes, it is a challenging time for the economy as it embarks on the journey toward decarbonization. But it’s also an opportunistic one. By taking advantage of the latest technological breakthroughs, it is possible to unleash greater carbon savings and benefit from the latest connectivity capabilities as the world looks ahead to a safer, smarter, and more sustainable future.