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Self-help against blackouts

How can I protect my production from a power failure? The German industry needs to ask itself this question.

27 Jan. 2015

How can I protect my production from a power failure? The German industry needs to ask itself this question.

"A highly industrialized country like Germany cannot afford any shortfalls in supply," says the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. Security of supply is "one of the main goals of our energy policy." A stable public power supply is essential for many of the government’s projects for the future. The best example is Industry 4.0.

"IT-based control and servo systems are increasingly permeating factories. However, their integration not only makes installations more intelligent, it also makes them more sensitive," says Marc Siemering, Senior Vice-President of HANNOVER MESSE at Deutsche Messe AG. When everything is linked together, the power supply of each individual component must be secured "because voltage and frequency fluctuations or even power failures are toxic to PCs and programmable logic controllers," adds Siemering.

According to calculations by the Hamburgisches WeltWirtschaftsInstituts (HWWI), a one-hour nationwide power blackout could cost German almost 600 million Euros. The Federal Government’s latest Monitoring Report gives the security of energy supply a "very high" rating, and Germany still has the most reliable power supply system in Europe. According to the European Network of Transmission System Operators (ENTSO-E), Europe's electricity supply is also secure until 2025.

However, power input from renewable energy sources increases the risk of frequency fluctuations, voltage peaks and short blackouts. According to the Federal Network Agency's average interruption duration index (SAIDI), the average interruption of supply per customer has been on the rise since 2009. In 2012, the figure climbed to around 16 minutes – and this does not include mini-blackouts of less than three minutes. In order to guarantee a more or less steady supply, transmission system operators had to intervene twice as often in 2013 as they did before the energy transition.

"Grid quality at risk due to the rising number of regenerative power producers and the falling number of grid stabilizing power stations," says Andreas Kühn, Head of Product Management at Jean Müller. This is fatal since "the unspecified reason for many machine breakdowns has to do with power quality," states Kühn.

Even though the European standard EN50160 assesses the supply voltage at the customer's point of common coupling, Andreas Kühn advises industrial consumers with sensitive installations in particular to monitor their grid quality. Only in this manner can they "provide evidence of unreliable variations and call the transmission operator to account." For this purpose, the German company Jean Müller GmbH has a new high-precision power quality measuring device in its portfolio. In addition the company manufactures fuse switch devices and housing technology.

Compact circuit breakers are another protective component for production sites and large buildings. Siemens alone installs more than 30 million of these each year all over the world. For disruptions caused by short circuiting and overloading, they switch off the electricity and protect power lines, devices and installations from electrically caused damage and blackouts. More and more, these switches can record energy data and create the transparency needed for Industry 4.0 in terms of consumption data and plant conditions.

"In effect, all important control and monitoring electronics should be safeguarded against power disruptions," says Ulrich Borkers, Operation Manager for Industrial Power Supply and UPS at Bocholter Benning GmbH. According to him, there are still an astonishing number of companies that are not taking precautions. Benning is one of the most notable exhibitors of uninterrupted power supply units (UPS) at Energy 2015. More innovative systems for energy management and modern switching devices for power flow control can be found at the leading international trade fair for energy, which also features novel buffer storage, battery fuses and switches. In order to bail out computers and production units in an emergency, even UPS batteries themselves need to be safeguarded against short-circuiting.