Critical Power: Circuit Breakers Go Digital
A presenter from ES standby power webinars spots a promising development in critical power management.
In general, we’ve made so many existing platforms “smart” in other industries (e.g., computers, phones, cars, and household appliances), but we’ve neglected the very thing that powers all the rest — electricity. In simple terms, we still manage and operate the electrical distribution system through antiquated mechanical, thermal magnetic-based types of equipment. It’s an approach that, in essence, has not changed in the past 100 years but may finally be ready to join the 21st century.
Atom Power is an energy technology company formed in 2014. They immediately started developing circuit breaker technology that utilizes digitally controlled solid-state components incorporated into what became a new product called the Atom Switch. The Atom Switch is a “digital” circuit breaker that provides all of the functionality of a traditional circuit breaker but is software-driven, allowing operators to dynamically change its characteristics.
“We have the analytics and controls over everything else,” states Ryan Kennedy, founder/CEO of Atom Power, LLC. “Electricity got left out. Circuit breakers, through which electricity is distributed, open with a switch and close with a switch — purely mechanical. Their characteristics cannot be altered.”
The Difference in Facilities
Isn’t it our collective responsibility to make risk mitigation a priority? Let’s consider this from the perspective of safety and performance.
Most infrastructure systems have an electrical distribution system within the building, and they have an incoming utility service that is typically protected by a series of circuit breakers that “trip” or interrupt the flow of electricity in the event of a power overload, commonly referred to as a “short circuit.” Many of these commercial buildings have multiple branch circuit breakers that feed everything from the step-down transformers to support the entire spectrum of equipment, from the HVAC system to the racks and servers, to the lights and receptacles.
When the circuit breaker is slow to respond to a short circuit, huge amounts of energy are released, with risks that include fires, explosions, and personal injury. Imagine having a facility that has circuit breakers that can communicate and self-coordinate. Better yet, imagine the breakers being “self-aware” and preventing fault currents before they occur. With the hardware and software tightly integrated, this type of switch is extremely fast, operating over 16,000 times faster than mechanical circuit breakers. It is able to manipulate the ampacity, thereby mitigating short circuit and arc flash hazards (700 nanoseconds to be exact!).
“Using the Atom OS software platform, the Atom Switch can be controlled for different ratings at any time. The Atom Power team is currently developing their breaker ratings range from 20 amps up to 4,000 amps,” Kennedy explained at a recent closed-door conference in Charlotte, NC.
This “Disruptive-Technology” was formally recognized by the Allied Testing and Commissioning Council, and AATC University presented the 2016 Gold Heart Award to Kennedy for the efforts of his organization to support the future of the mission critical industry. ES