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How electrical system design is evolving in GCC

From source to socket, MEP Middle East finds out how electrical system design is evolving in the region

ANALYSIS, Projects

As global energy demand continues to grow, increasing energy efficiency is essential. The technical opportunities are enormous and potential savings real, but it is incumbent on consumers and utility providers to invest in the most cost-effective, energy efficient technologies available.

Major changes are running through the electrical industry. Distribution systems, for instance, are undergoing a revolution. The days are gone when systems merely distributed power of a consistent quality from distant generation sources and performed basic switching and protection.

Sanjay Raghavendra, ABB’s GCC technical manager, low voltage products division, says local sources of generation either conventional or non-conventional such as wind and solar are present.

“This is a more complex energy flow scenario for distribution equipment to handle. This complexity is further compounded by heightened quality and reliability expectations from operators and consumers putting the onus on utilities to make sure grids become safer, smarter, more efficient, more reliable and more environmentally friendly,” he says. “At the same time, the suppliers, designers and installers demand systems which are easier to engineer, install and operate.”

According to the most recent Commercial Buildings Energy Consumptions Survey (CBECS), lighting accounts for 15% of total energy and as a result it has become necessary to use energy-efficient electrical products and systems such as CLFs, LEDs and automated lighting controls.

But from a contractor’s point of view, Mohammad Ali, project manager at Sensaire Services, says that the greatest challenge is choosing whether to buy advanced products, which he argues are typically 25-30% costlier than conventional ones. “This makes the overall project cost 7-10% higher. However, since the downturn, clients are looking for very competitive and rock bottom prices from MEP contractors and hence it has been a great challenge for us to fit into the budget of clients and at the same time supply the energy efficient products to meet not only the designers’ specifications but also a requirement from government bodies.”

From the supplier side, there is a need to educate and work closely with clients, consultants and contractors on the benefits of specifying and installing the most energy efficient systems.

Wasif Ikram, Middle East technical manager at Gripple, which supplies fixings for electrical systems, says: “Our biggest challenge is converting users away from traditional installation methods. We have to change people’s perceptions whilst showcasing the benefits of our system which includes it being a ‘green’ system.

“We are increasingly working with consultants at an earlier stage in the project to design installation solutions for electrical installations that offer the maximum energy and environmental benefits.”

But whilst the cost of energy in the region continues to remain low compared to the international average, will this stifle investment in new technologies? Georges Basmaji, Aecom’s UAE electrical engineering director seems to think so.

“It lengthens the payback period for the investment in any new technology,” he says. “However, we have noticed that the market is moving towards the use of energy saving products. LED lighting fittings are gaining popularity, and their price is coming down. Awareness that energy efficiency improvements are cost-effective and even profitable is increasing,” he adds. “Electrical systems of the future will be mainly using LED fittings, occupancy sensors, VFDs, soft starters and smart lighting control systems.”

Tony Mina, electrical design manager at DC Pro Engineering, agrees that achieving electrical equipment efficiencies is a next major step for the industry.

“VFD efficiencies, for example, are vital in their role for energy conservation and heat dissipation. VFDs and other non-linear loads do also generate harmonic currents that cause disturbances in the electrical system and considerable heat dissipation,” he says. “Harmonic mitigation is another serious and essential task that must be considered in every electrical system. Alternatively, motors that cover a major percentage of most facility equipment such as district cooling plants, factories and pump stations also have losses and low efficiencies.”

Mina notes that the size of electrical equipment is decreasing, with compact switchgears readily available in the market.

“For example, 11kv air insulated switchgears with vacuum circuit breakers are very compact nowadays and overshadow the use of gas insulated switchgears,” he says.

Regardless of improvements in the control and monitoring of devices and systems, the basic elements of electrical engineering will always remain the same. Recently, however, there has been an emergence in the use of the internet and cloud computing to enable data to be stored remotely, either through an app or within a remote control command centre.

Robert Wardle, technical manager at Syska Hennessy MENA, argues that this data is also effective in informing a user on ongoing maintenance and possible wear and tear based on performance trends. Real time information can also be provided on the performance of an electrical network, giving information on energy consumption usage and electrical efficiency.

“This data allows the end user to react in real time to faults where a client may have the ability to switch electrical supplies remotely – in-house or a remote facility – or to manage electrical systems where energy trends can be traced and the plant may be become less efficient.”

He notes that converged networks or integrated management systems over a fiber optic backbone have also started to emerge over the last few years.

“This technology is allowing greater accuracy of information to an end user and thus making the decision process in the management of buildings more informed,” he concludes.

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