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Does  your facility have a game plan to remain operational during an unexpected outage?

Stories of mass disruptions caused by electrical power outages make front-page news. We hear about extreme weather events, such as Hurricanes Katrina (2008) and Sandy (2012) and the Ontario Ice Storm of 2013 that cause widespread power outages due to damaged electrical utility infrastructure. International airlines have experienced disruptions with a multitude of stranded passengers due to electrical outages in the data centres that manage bookings. Cybersecurity and physical security have also become prevalent subjects with the continuous expansion of networked systems and recent acts of hacking and terrorism around the world. While difficult to quantify, executives understand the impact power outages have on corporate revenue, restart costs and poor public image with customers.

In the event of an unexpected electrical power outage, does your facility have a game plan to remain operational and restore systems? Does your operations group have a program that maintains emergency preparedness for electrical outages?

Internal power outages originating within a facility can be both short-term and long-term events. Short-term outages typically result from nuisance tripping, where overcurrent protection de-energizes a circuit due to an abnormal event, an increase in electrical load, the addition or replacement of equipment with new ratings, or incorrect protective settings. In most instances, short-term outages do not result in any significant equipment damage, and power is restored after the cause is identified and subsequent diagnostic tests are performed. Long-term outages can result from a variety of causes and typically result in permanent equipment failures and damage that renders a portion of a distribution system inoperable. When a long-term outage occurs, facilities fortunate enough to have redundancy built into their distribution system can rely on alternative feeders, transformers or circuits with spare capacity to restore power in the interim. Without the luxury of built-in redundancy, temporary solutions and temporary equipment rentals may be required, while replacement equipment is being manufactured (a process that can take upwards of 20-plus weeks). In order to fully appreciate the possibility and impacts of unexpected internal power outages, let’s consider a few case studies.

Short circuit

Electrical work can create the potential for electrical hazards, accidents and associated power outages. In this case study, an electrical contractor was expanding on a newly installed 15,000V (15kV) distribution system. A dedicated electrical-service space was being constructed in a critical, process-based facility in British Columbia. The contractor was in the process of running a 15kV feeder circuit to connect an existing load to the new distribution system and new medium voltage cables had been run in anticipation of an upcoming shutdown to make the final connections. Prior to the shutdown, the contractor was performing some final checks within the 15kV switchgear and accidently energized the 15kV circuit. The new MV cables, which were left unterminated and coiled together, became energized and created a three-phase bolted fault. The accidental energization resulted in a short-circuit event of about 10,000A and was near the maximum fault level stipulated by the local utility. Multiple medium voltage circuit breakers tripped as a result of the fault, including a main breaker in the service entrance switchgear for the site. The facility’s standby generators came online, due to the tripped circuit breakers and powered the facility for a number of hours, until the a procedure to properly isolate the circuit was implemented and utility power was restored. Fortunately, no injuries occurred and a subsequent assessment revealed that no damage to equipment or cables occurred, with the exception of the cable ends, which were cut back several inches.

Failed transformer

Facilities often rely on service groups to perform routine electrical tests, circuit switching and isolation requests. The exact switching procedure is typically left up to the service group and they are responsible for operating distribution equipment. In this case study, a service contractor was manually switching between utility power and standby generator power via a set of 480V circuit breakers. The system was placed into manual operation, utility power breakers were opened, standby generation was brought online and generator breakers were closed to provide power to the switchboard. When it came time to return to utility power, the utility power breaker was inadvertently closed, while the standby generators were still powering the switchboard. The switchboard did not have any synch-check protection, paralleling equipment or interlocks. The individual generator breakers tripped open several seconds after the unintended paralleling condition was created. Unfortunately, large magnitude currents had circulated within the distribution system, before the generator breakers tripped. These large magnitude currents created significant magnetic forces, which damaged bus work in a dry-type transformer that was close coupled to the switchboard. The bus work was bent outwards and insulating paper covering a portion of the bus was dislodged, creating a condition where uninsulated bus was bent into contact with the grounded steel frame, supporting the core and coil assembly. The resulting line to ground fault melted the entire bus connection, until the phase to ground fault was eliminated and the bus connection was no longer in contact with the steel frame. Fortunately, proper safety procedures had been followed and no one was injured in this incident. The switchboard was supplied with power from a redundant transformer and the damaged transformer was permanently removed from service. The facility subsequently shifted downstream loads to other distribution within the building, to further offload the remaining transformer.

Latent installation defects

Electrical failures can also occur unexpectedly within a distribution system, without any precipitating factors such as electrical work or switching operations. A variety of recent cases come to mind, with causes that include latent installation defects, utility supply issues and failures related to aging electrical infrastructure. A critical facility, in the Greater Toronto Area, experienced a localized extended power outage for several weeks, when a dry-type transformer unexpectedly failed. The dry-type transformer provided essential power to both occupied areas in the building and critical process-based loads. The transformer had been recently upgraded to a new energy-efficient model and the replacement core and coil assembly had been site installed, due to space limitations and access requirements for a newly manufactured unit. The failure analysis confirmed that low-voltage control wiring for power metering had been installed in close proximity to uninsulated 5kV buswork and a flashover had occurred due to the insulation rating of the wiring and insufficient physical clearance. Operations were shut down in the affected area until a refurbished transformer was sourced and installed.

In another example, an Ontario- based electric utility experienced an outage to one phase in a distribution circuit, when parallel fuses for one of the phases in a disconnect switch unexpectedly blew. The utility replaced the blown fuses and restored power within several hours. However, by this time the facility had determined that several 30 hp motors, critical to the central plant’s chilled water and condenser water system, had burned out due to the single-phasing condition and inadequate motor overload protection. Mechanical services were interrupted for 15 hours while motors were replaced. In yet another example, an underground 5kV distribution cable, in an institutional campus, unexpectedly failed after approximately 25 years in service. Temporary generators were brought in for a week, until a portion of the failed cable could be removed and re-fed with replacement cable. While the cable had not yet reached statistical end-of-life conditions, it was determined that the early failure was attributed to physical damage, which had reduced the cable’s anticipated life expectancy.

Modes of failure

How can an operations manager plan for an unexpected electrical outage in their facility? To start, a well-structured preventative maintenance program and an infrastructure review can help diagnose potential risks. Is equipment being maintained and are recommended diagnostic tests being performed? Equipment should be reviewed for age and reliability. Consideration should be given for redundancy in the power distribution system and how the failure of a particular component could affect continued operation. Taking meter readings on a frequent basis will confirm if there has been any load growth and how load is segmented throughout a distribution system. If metering is unavailable, consideration should be given for installing permanent metering or taking readings with a portable meter. Operational data can be used to expand on a facility’s electrical single-line diagram and performing a detailed review can determine options for supporting load in emergency situations. Emergency scenarios should include how critical loads are supported during an extended utility outage, how load can be supported during equipment failures (transformers, switchboards, panels and main feeders), points in a distribution system for connecting a temporary generator and options for interlocked tie connections. Abbreviated single line diagrams for modes of failure and electrical load data can be used to create a standard operating procedure (SOP), in the event of an unexpected power outage. A well-developed SOP will include detailed, step-by-step operations to help diagnose an electrical outage, isolate faulted equipment if applicable and restore power using alternative means, if available. Photographs of equipment should be included and operating switches, buttons and HMI screens should be identified. Having a guide readily available will increase response times and decrease downtime.

Plan ahead

To complement the effectiveness of standard operating procedures, any work performed on a power distribution system should be subject to a detailed method of procedure (MOP). A typical MOP will outline a step-by-step procedure for work being performed and includes information on demarcation of work (who is doing what?), the duration of tasks, a back-out plan to deal with the unexpected occurrences and a list of emergency contacts. A dry-run of switching operations and load transfers should be performed in advance of a planned shutdown, especially when a number of complex switching operations and load transfers are involved. Operations staff should actively participate in the process, as this will further develop familiarity with a power distribution system and mitigate risk when electrical work is being performed. Consideration should also be given to providing regular training sessions on electrical systems for operators. Training should focus on the topology and equipment in the distribution system, facility procedures (SOPs and MOPs), preventative maintenance requirements and general troubleshooting practices. Having well-trained operations staff will not only ensure that a facility’s first responders can effectively deal with issues when they arise but also ensure outside contractors follow an approved procedure before commencing work.

Unexpected electrical outages in a facility can be caused by a variety of factors, including electrical work, routine switching operations, issues with the incoming utility supply, or aging infrastructure. A proactive approach to managing an electrical power distribution system and maintaining emergency preparedness should include: a well-developed preventative maintenance program; the creation of SOPs to identify an approved response to emergency scenarios and to troubleshoot issues; MOPs for all electrical work, including preventative maintenance and isolation procedures; and having regular training sessions for operations staff. Undertaking a detailed needs assessment will help a facility review procedures currently in place, identify any shortcomings with existing practices and provide opportunities for improvement. Creating documentation for SOPs, MOPs and training will typically involve a detailed review of existing systems, creating a site-specific set of procedures, and drawing upon industry standards and best operational practices. By investing in a plan for emergency preparedness, operations managers can equip their staff with the knowledge to deal with the next electrical outage, thereby increasing response times, decreasing downtime and ensuring their facility remains operational.

Published in the Canadian Consulting Engineering Magazine September 2017 Page 23-24. 

Authors :

Phil Chow, P.Eng., P.E., Senior project manger & electrical engineer at HH Angus

Mathew Walker, P.Eng., Senior electrical engineer at TELUS Communications

High-resistance grounding provides safer, more reliable electrical distribution for healthcare facilities

High-resistance grounding is relatively simple and easy to apply in radial distribution systems. It has been used in the healthcare industry for many years, considered to be “best practice” for hospitals. The concept is well-known, recognized by the Canadian Electrical Code, and driven by four basic factors: power is not interrupted in the event of a single ground fault; negligible damage at the point of fault, resulting in lower repair costs and faster return of equipment to service; negligible arc flash hazard in the event of a single ground fault; and negligible risk of a single ground fault escalating into a damaging line to line or three phase fault.

It is best practice to have the low voltage (600V) and high voltage (4,160V) systems equipped with high-resistance grounding. This has often taken the form of a neutral  grounding resistor applied between transformer neutral and ground. An alarm is raised on the occurrence of a ground fault in the distribution as required by the installation codes. In modern relays, the zero-sequence sensor signal causes a pick up; then the simultaneous presence of unbalanced voltage to ground is verified before an alarm is indicated. To avoid the possibility of nuisance alarms caused by inrush currents and non-inear loads, the zero-sequence current sensor output is filtered and only the fundamental signal is extracted. These measures have been effective in avoiding nuisance alarms and trips in sensitive ground fault relays.

The primary benefit of using high-resistance grounding is the faulted feeder does not need to be isolated on the occurrence of a phase to ground fault.

Vantage Point

The use of high-resistance grounding offers many benefits.

Arc flash and blast hazard for a line to ground fault is prevented. For systems up to 4,160V, where the resistor let-through current is 10A (amperage) or less, the arc blast is unlikely. Such systems can continue to operate with one ground fault. The fault does not escalate so the distribution system is safer. Accidents causing line to ground faults will not produce a hazardous blast or arc flash.

Fault damage at the point of fault is very low and can be easily repaired. It minimizes maintenance repair costs. Motor and generator laminations will not get burnt and winding repair costs will be small.

For systems up to 4,160V, where the resistor let-through current is 10A or less, the line to ground fault can be kept on the system continuously. No fault isolation needs to occur per Canadian Electrical Code 10-1100 through 1108.

Damaging voltage transients that can occur on ungrounded systems are avoided since the system is grounded.

On the other hand, four application concerns arise when resistance grounding is applied to distribution.

All cables need to have a line to ground voltage rating of line to line voltage for the maximum duration of the line to ground fault. This is not an issue at low voltage, such as 600V. The standard cables have adequate ratings.

Lightning arrestors and surge suppression devices that are connected line to ground also need to be adequately rated.

Voltage to ground impressed on capacitors will also increase to line to line value.

The circuit breakers and contractors employed in resistance grounded systems must be able to break L-L voltage across one pole of the device. For example, a three pole 600V breaker must be able to open fault current and withstand 600V across one pole, which most 600V breakers are capable of. However, some breakers only have a 347/600V rating. This  means they are able to interrupt only 347V across one pole, making them unsuitable. The same would apply to contractors.

In this scenario, a ground fault occurs in the switchboard downstream of a transfer switch.

Fault Scenario

In a typical hospital, there will be a 600V normal power system and a 600V generator power system. The most critical loads are fed from the emergency power distribution, which is downstream of one or more transfer switches. The transfer switches get power from both the normal power system and the generator power system. In this scenario, a ground fault occurs in the switchboard downstream of a transfer switch. This fault could have a number of causes.

In the solidly grounded system, the ground fault results in a large current flow creating significant damage within the switchboard, vapourizing components and coating the inside of the switchboard with semiconductive residue. The high fault current subjects the upstream transformer to high stresses and causes the upstream breaker to trip. All power to the critical loads is lost. The loss of power is sensed at the transfer switch, which starts the emergency generator and transfers the critical load over to the generator. Since the switchboard is contaminated with residue from the previous fault, another fault occurs and this further damages the switchboard. It also stresses the generator with a high magnitude fault current and causes the generator breaker for the transfer switch to trip. The critical loads, including the emergency department and intensive care unit, are shut down and remain so until their feeders can be cut away from the failed switchboard, spliced and extended to another source of power – a process that takes many hours and leaves the critical loads on normal power only. The hospital is forced into emergency mode and must transfer critical patients to other areas of the hospital, which were not designed for their care, and in some  cases to another hospital. Full restoration of the system requires replacement of the switchboard. This takes many months as switchgear is built to order.

In the resistance grounded system, the ground fault results in an alarm. There are no power interruptions, the main transformer is not subjected to the stresses of a fault, and the generator does not start, and is not exposed to a fault current. Most importantly, the damage to the switchboard is minimal, requiring the replacement of a single insulator, which is scheduled for a time when the hospital can accommodate the short shutdown necessary to perform the work.

Ground Current Detection

A major functional enhancement occurs when detection and alarm of ground faults is supplemented with monitoring of all the feeders to indicate which feeder is faulted and administer assistance for quickly locating the fault.

To provide assistance in locating a fault in highresistance grounded systems, the fault current is modulated by oscillating it between values such as 5A-10A, typically at one cycle per second. This is accomplished by changing the resistor value using a contactor, which has been called ‘pulsing’ in the industry. The  pulsing is manually started. A flexible zero-sequence sensor or a clamp on the current transformer encircling all phase conductors is used to provide an oscillating signal to a handheld multimeter. Readings are taken on the faulted feeder moving away from the switchboard. The signal will disappear once the fault location is passed. Often, two or three measurements are sufficient to point to the fault location. Readings are taken from the outside of the grounded raceways, conduits or busways, while the system is energized and running. This technique has been in use for many years. It is quite effective for voltages up to 4,160V.

Tripping Up

The primary benefit of using high-resistance grounding is the faulted feeder does not need to be isolated on the occurrence of a phase to ground fault. While the faulted system continues to operate, there is a possibility that another phase to ground fault may occur on a different phase in some other weak spot in the distribution system. With the presence of a second fault, the fault current is no longer limited by the resistor and will be a higher magnitude fault. The zero-sequence sensors continue to monitor the fault current and if a significantly higher current than that limited by the resistor is detected, then the system recognizes that a line to ground to line fault  exists and identifies the two feeders involved. Only one feeder breaker needs to be tripped to revert the rest of the system to a single fault condition. A level of priority can be assigned based on the relative importance of the feeders. The one feeder with lower priority is tripped. Fast operation provides protection and minimizes fault damage. Such systems have been in use for a long time and this first fault alarm and second fault trip is best applied to monitor specific loads.

Improving the System

On low voltage systems and systems up to 5 kilovolt (kV), high-resistance grounding  provides a safer and more reliable distribution system. The arc flash hazard in the event of a line to ground fault can be eliminated and power continuity maintained. The  performance of the distribution system can be enhanced by using high reliability neutral grounding resistors with low temperature coefficients, monitoring the neutral ground resistor continuously, using a pulsing system to find ground faults and using coordinated selective second fault tripping. In many applications, it is more beneficial to apply the neutral grounding resistor at the main bus. In such a case, the incoming supply feeders can be monitored for ground fault very cost-effectively by applying multi-circuit relays.


Ajit Bapat, P.Eng., Owner of Power Solutions
Nick Carter, P.Eng., Principal at HH Angus & Associates Ltd.
Sergio Panetta, P.Eng., Vice-president of engineering at I-Gard Corp.


Casino Rama recently hired H.H. Angus & Associates Consulting Engineers (HHA) to help them overhaul their existing power infrastructure. Today’s digital Casino offers a wide variety of electronic gaming machines that provide patrons with an unlimited amount of choice, thrilling graphics and an overall interactive playing experience.

With over 2,500 of the latest state of the art electronic gaming machines, Casino Rama is located just north of Toronto, on land belonging to the Chippewa’s of Rama First Nation, over 3 million patrons visit this popular entertainment destination annually. Concerned that power quality issues occasionally damaged the sensitive electronics in their gaming machines, Casino Rama gave HHA the mandate to find a solution that protected their equipment while minimizing the games downtime as well as the shutdowns required to implement the selected solution.

These machines offer visually stunning touch screen LCD monitors with color changing LED lighting, crisp audio systems and onboard computer systems with state of the art software. While Casino operators have a multitude of choices that are available with respect to gaming machines and the choice of games available, they are often left with little choice on the incoming power quality of their casino’s utility service. Power quality issues were increasingly adversely affecting these gaming machines and interrupting a pleasurable entertainment experience, especially during adverse weather conditions which often resulted in power disruptions. It should be noted that at no time are the security or integrity of the games affected by the power quality.

Power quality is a term that is used to determine the compatibility of an electrical power supply (voltage) to the connected consumer devices. In this case, the devices are electronic gaming machines. Issues affecting power quality can be divided into two groups: steady-state disturbances that are periodic and/or of lasting duration and event-based disturbances which are momentary in nature. Both groups are further defined by categories that pertain to voltage levels above expected tolerances, voltage levels that are below expected tolerances and momentary fluctuations in voltage. Specific examples of each type of phenomena include:

•    Failures/Blackouts/Brownouts – system outages where utility power is unavailable or operating at a reduced level.
•    Surges/Overvoltages – increased voltage magnitude for short durations or prolonged durations.
•    Sags/Undervoltages – reduced voltage magnitude for short durations or prolonged durations.
•    Frequency variations – deviation from the standard 60Hz voltage supply.
•    Switching Transients – very brief fluctuation in the magnitude of voltage, usually in the nanosecond duration.
•    Harmonic Distortions – distortion of the voltage waveform caused by non-linear loads.

HHA started the process of finding a power quality solution by analyzing Casino Rama’s existing power distribution systems, existing critical loads and plans for future electrical load growth. Existing building infrastructure was reviewed including available service space and mechanical infrastructure. A number of recommendations were put forth to Casino Rama with varying degrees of risk mitigation and budgetary requirements. Casino Rama opted to incorporate a 1.2 MW centralized uninterruptible power supply (UPS) into the portion of the existing emergency generator powered distribution system dedicated for their electronic gaming machines. In simplistic terms, UPS systems operate by converting an incoming utility power supply from AC to DC and using that power to feed a rechargeable bank of batteries. The battery bank subsequently feeds an inverter which converts DC to AC and feeds the critical loads – the casino’s electronic gaming machines. Power quality disturbances on the incoming AC supply are filtered out and there is no possibility of having any disturbances transferred through the AC-DC/DC-AC conversion process. In addition to providing protection against power quality disturbances, the centralized UPS can provide gamer’s with an uninterrupted playing experience during a utility power outage, as the UPS will bridge the gap between the onset of a utility power outage and the time it takes the Casino’s onsite 3 MW emergency generators to come online and support the critical loads. 

Implementing the centralized UPS system at Casino Rama had its own unique challenges. Available service space had to be sourced. The system had to be integrated within the facility’s electrical system, in a way that minimized the duration of machine shut-downs and tie-ins. Additional air conditioning units had to be provided to ensure that the requisite ambient temperatures are maintained for the system.  Structural reinforcement was required to ensure the floor slab was able to support the added weight of the battery banks. All of these requirements had to be taken into account when designing the project that would install the centralized UPS system. Construction documents were prepared for all of the various trades and the project was tendered to electrical contractors. The competitive bidding process resulted in a project that ensured a prescribed level of quality, with respect to construction materials and methods, at fair market value.

Since the installation of the centralized UPS system, Casino Rama has had zero power quality incidents affecting their sensitive electronic gaming machines. In addition, electrical distribution fault related downtime has been eliminated resulting in a substantial reduction in annual maintenance costs. John Haley, the Director of Engineering and EVS at Casino Rama states “The installation of protective electric equipment designed and specified by H. H. Angus and Associates Ltd. is working amazingly and has afforded us the confidence that we no longer need to pre-start all three of our 1 MW generators during every looming lightening storm”. Given the growing trends towards electronic gaming, today’s digital casino can learn an important lesson from Casino Rama and take the proactive approach towards removing power quality issues from their facility. Removing the adverse of effects of power quality issues at your casino can maximize a gaming experience that can be enjoyed by all.

Steve Smith, C.E.T. and Philip Chow, P.Eng., PE, are senior members at H.H. Angus & Associates Consulting Engineers Ltd., and specialize in critical power solutions for the gaming industry. As independent service providers, they bring a wealth of experience in electrical systems, building infrastructure and construction. H.H. Angus and Associates Ltd. is a privately held engineering firm headquartered out of Toronto, Canada, with offices in Chicago and Dallas.

Originally published in Canadian gaming business

According to a nano-energy expert who spoke in Toronto last week, in the future the glass walls on our buildings could be generating the energy we need to run those buildings, while "e-boxes" would enable us to transmit that power wirelessly...

According to a nano-energy expert who spoke in Toronto last week, in the future the glass walls on our buildings could be generating the energy we need to run those buildings, while “e-boxes” would enable us to transmit that power wirelessly from building to building and beyond.

Justin Hall-Tipping is an “energy-evangelist” who spoke at H.H. Angus and Associates’ first “Ideation” event held November 8 in downtown Toronto. The mechanical-electrical engineering company held the breakfast event for an invited audience of executives in the buildings, property, government, education, finance and energy sectors.

Hall-Tipping is the chief executive office of Nanoholdings, a U.S.-based company of entrepreneurs and scientists who work in partnership with university researchers around the world. They develop new technologies that they believe will help solve our global problems of overconsumption and depletion of resources.

“We’re pushing the earth to its breaking point,” Hall-Tipping warned, pointing out that the 7 billionth person was now being born. He said the earth takes 1.5 years to replenish the resources we use, and global population growth is “unforgiving.”

“I look at finding answers to the world’s biggest problems with the smallest,” said Hall-Tipping.

He held up what he believes is one of those answers — a small, extremely thin almost transparent piece of material no bigger than his palm — which he said could help us to stop “burning up our planet.” He said he would pass the nano-device round the audience for people to look at, except that it cost million to make the first one.

Incorporating carbon nanotubes “100,000 times thinner than a hair” the nano-device could be affixed to a window to convert light into energy. At night it can do the same with infrared light.

Instead of relying on huge central power plants, said Hall-Tipping, in the future we could be using these extremely localized technologies to condition our interiors.

As for storing energy on site, Hall-Tipping suggest the “eBox,” an idea which he said he’d plotted out on a hotel napkin and which went on to be developed by scientists at the University of Dallas and the University of Toronto.

The eBox is a device that can store, manage and transmit electrons. “Now that looks very much like the computer business to me,” said Hall-Tipping. A prototype has been running for over 2 years. The device would be small enough to be stored in a home and would allow you to store power smartly at off-peak hours.

Combining these kinds of “puzzle pieces” opens up all kinds of possibilities, he said. He can see a time when we could beam the energy we generate in our homes and buildings via wireless transmission to other locations where it’s needed. In this brave new world we might not need a conventional grid at all and the energy produced “on the margins” would be available free.

These concepts may seem far-fetched and impossible now, he said, but he reminded the audience of the rapid pace of technological change that took place last century. His own grandfather had watched Louis Bleriot land after being first to fly an airplane over the English Channel in 1909, and just 60 years later we had landed a man on the moon.

Nanotechnology — playing with the building blocks of the universe, building technologies from the bottom up — “will probably save our world,” he said.