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Intelligent switchboards of the future

15 June, 2017

Wunderland Kalkar, a children's theme park in Dusseldorf, Germany attracts over 300,000 people every year. The park has over 40 rides, a hotel and a restaurant on site, so it may come as a surprise that the attraction was once an unused nuclear power plant. Over time places and technologies have to change in order to keep up with user demand, especially in industry. Nick Boughton, sales manager at industrial systems integrator, Boulting Technology discusses how switchboards need to adapt to keep up with increased energy demands.

Switchboards sit at the heart of an infrastructure and therefore need to be able to make intelligent decisions regarding where its power is coming from and going to. The majority of switchboards are capable of redirecting energy to several sources when prompted, but there are very few that allow plant or office managers to make the most of their electricity supply.

The rise of Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) gives hope that facilities will soon be able to operate autonomously. Smart sensors, programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and distributed control systems (DCS) are already widely used in the industry — intelligent switchboards could be the next step.

An intelligent switchboard should be able to schedule power use, based on the previous operating times of each application. If it receives power from renewable sources, it could use these predictions to supply energy back to the grid, keeping energy costs as low as possible for the owner of the facility. Generally, electricity is cheaper when consumer demand is lowest, mainly during the night. If the facility had the ability to store energy, an intelligent switchboard could also use tariff predictions to make decisions on whether to receive energy from the grid, or wait until a lower tariff is available.

An intelligent switchboard would also complement the use of demand-side response — a system which financially rewards customers for shifting their electricity use at peak hours. Currently, demand-side response is managed by sending a signal to the customer when they need to take action. Intelligent switchboards pave the way for an automated response to this signal, which could include switching to stored energy during these peak hours.

One thing that many people don't know about Wunderland Kalkar is that it was never fully operational as a nuclear power plant. Construction began in 1972 but delays and fierce protests from locals caused the plant to close down before it was ever finished. Today, many plant and office managers are also resistant to change, particularly with energy infrastructure such as switchboards. However, investigating the benefits of a more intelligent system and making the change could save them a small fortune in reduced energy bills, better tariffs and lack of wasted energy.

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