The demand on our electrical grid is increasing by the day. As cities continue to grow upward and out, all aspects of our daily life – from leisurely browsing the Internet on a smart phone to necessities such as heating and light – are all tied in. This makes a resilient approach to the electrical design of our office buildings, healthcare facilities, schools, and homes crucial.
Electrical commissioning plays an important role here. To create modern facilities and spaces that are up to the challenge of quickly ballooning electrical loads, we need to be certain their electrical designs and operation are correct upon installation, and that they are prepared to scale up as the building grows into its maximum capacity. This is a conversation that’s common around data centers and other mission critical facilities. But buildings are much more complex than they used to be. Sustainable building design makes everything mission critical, and the need for electrical commissioning services that ensure efficient designs are installed is growing. It’s the only way to be sure a facility is sustainable, resilient to unforeseen circumstances, and fully operational throughout its lifespan.
Systems with defects become less forgiving as time goes by. As they age, the load on the system increases, and poorly installed parts start showing signs of overheating and shorting. Take, for example, a building that is designed with a 1000-amp electrical distribution system. Hundreds of parts, panels and cables are ordered and shipped to the job site and then they get cut, crimped and assembled by the installing contractor. On day-one the building may only be operating at 350 amps. Maybe the building is a third full and its major commercial tenant has not fully taken over its space. But, as more occupants move in, new equipment is installed, and new technologies are developed and implemented, the amp usage might soon increase to 850 amps. As the system load approaches 80 percent or more, any defects in the electrical system start to cause problems and performance deficiencies will become much more apparent. Sustainable technologies fail, energy efficiencies float out the window, and tenants begin overcompensating in ways that turn a building’s safe and reliable electrical design into a messy, unreliable and – even worse – unsafe system.
So what could go wrong at installation? As an owner, architect or engineer, you may be surprised:
WHAT CAN GO WRONG UPON ENERGIZATION
- Transformers are wired backward, making a step down transformer a step up or vice versa.
- Motors are improperly wired and run backward.
- Controller settings are not properly set causing unsafe environments.
- Phase rotation is not thoroughly verified.
- Tests as required by design are not properly implemented. Any of these could cause serious safety issues or equipment damage.
WHAT CAN GO WRONG OVER TIME
- Connections are not tied or not made at all.
- Cables with defective insulation are installed, which under additional load can start heating and cause unsafe conditions.
- Missing or improper grounding.
- Too many wires in a conduit, which can cause overheating at higher loads.
- Wrong size cables won’t show any overheating effects until they are loaded to near full rating.
- In the case of earthquakes, electrical equipment that is not properly anchored can fall and cause serious problem.
We acknowledge that in an office building the failure conditions do not cause the same immediate disruptions as they would do in a data center. But at the same time the root cause of problems – the rush of a project leading to improper installation and /or lack of attention to details – is the same. If you are spending thousands of dollars to design and install wiring and an electrical infrastructure – it’s critical to ensure it’s installed correctly and will operate safely over the life span of the building.
Early involvement of an electrical commissioning authority is strongly recommended to allow for review of design documents in addition to making sure that certain test requirements are included in contract documents. It is always easier and more cost-effective to fix issues during the design phase rather than after installation.
Efficient electrical design directly contributes to resiliency and sustainability. With a commissioning team providing extra care and oversight at the start of a project, investments in sustainable and resilient systems will pay off down the line.