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This article was published in the IEE Power Engineering Journal of December 2000, Volume 14 Number 6 - page 1/7

Switchgear for 2000

and beyond
Customer values associated with medium
voltage switchgear have undergone a
significant shift during the last decade. The
privatisation of the electrical distribution
industry in the UK has resulted in increased
demands on medium voltage switchgear in
performance terms, including procurement
and operating costs, ease of installation and
reduced maintenance. Safety has remained
of paramount importance and the
environmental impact has become an
essential element of designs.
Switchgear manufacturers, have in recent
years, risen to the challenges brought about
by the privatisation o the electricity supply
industry and have developed a new
generation of medium voltage switchgear
using state of the art technology. Products
have been developed for the global market
using both vacuum and SF6 switching
technologies within air and gas insulated
Fixed Pattern Switchgear
A major part of switchgear business is in the
field of withdrawable panels in the 12-24kV
range. However, the well established fact
that vacuum and SF6 circuit breakers are
virtually maintenance free has led to a wide
acceptance of fixed pattern switchgear. This
configuration of switchgear has the
advantage of fewer moving parts, lower
maintenance, greater reliability, compact
dimensions and lends itself to gas-insulated
switchgear (GIS) technology.
For example the ZX0 panel range comprises
a vacuum circuit breaker, disconnector /
earthing switch and busbars all contained
within a single gas chamber. This maintains
the integrity of the GIS technology with all
live parts inclusive of busbars inside the gas
chamber and not vulnerable to the
environmental conditions. This provides
optimum conditions for long lasting and wear
free operation.
1. REF542 relay
2.Switch mechanism
3. Test socket
4. VCB mechanism
5. Cable terminations
6. CTs
7. Arc vent
8. Outgoing bushing
9. Vacuum CB
10. Discon/E switch
11. Busbars
FIG 1: ABB fixed pattern type ZX0
Busbar Connections
A patented method of tubular plug in busbar
connections has been developed and
adopted for use in medium voltage
switchboards. This is a proven technology
applied in movable electrical joints in high
voltage circuit breakers and in high voltage
GIS switchgear. The system employs a coil
spring contact principle providing a large
number of current transmission points,
which result in a low contact resistance and
consequently low losses. The system also
simplifies any assembly/disassembly of the
connected parts. The spring contacts have
an IP6X degree of protection ( dust tight
design ) which prevents environmental
degradation in service.
FIG 2 Plug in busbar connections applied
to ABB BEU21 switchgear
This article was published in the IEE Power Engineering Journal of December 2000, Volume 14 Number 6 - page 2/7
This technology has been adopted across
the medium voltage switchgear range. The
gas insulated ZX0 vacuum circuit breaker
panel range and BEU21 SF6 circuit breaker
panel range both use this technology for
busbar connections between shipping units.
This plug in method eliminates the need to
access the gas tight compartments.
Switchboard installation is simplified to
positioning the panel sections, inserting the
busbar plugs and then bolting the panel
sections together. The possibility of loose
busbar connections is eliminated and there
is no need for handling SF6 gas on site thus
protecting the environment by minimising
the risk of release of SF6 gas into the
FIG 3: The AX1 switchpanel makes
exclusive use of plug in coil spring
The concept of tubular busbars and coil
spring contacts is used to maximum benefit
in the latest air insulated design, the AX1
switchgear range. This revolution panel uses
coil spring contacts on all dismountable
connections in the main circuit. With welded
permanent connections there are no bolted
connections, which results in very low
contact resistances and losses in the
switchgear. This provides an environmental
benefit in reducing energy loss with
associated cost savings.
FIG4: Details of coil spring plug in
connections in AX1 switchgear
The AX1 panel tubular busbar system uses
bare copper tubes configured to give a
harmonious electric field distribution. The
busbar system is very compact with small
phase to phase clearances. Despite this the
required dielectric strength is achieved with
an ample margin above the values given in
the standards. The triangular configuration
also ensures that there is a low surrounding
magnetic field. This increases the freedom
of choice for the location of the switchgear
when considering EMC effects. The use of
bare copper busbars makes recycling of the
copper at the end of life more efficient
reducing the life cycle costs and
consequently the environmental impact of
the switchgear.
Cable Terminations
The development of outgoing power cable
termination configuration has focussed
around the use of proprietary cable
termination systems. Typical cable
terminations have single phase enclosures
or boots, which are touch proof eliminating
the risk of dangerous accidental contact and
arcing. Installation is simple, as connectors
are easy to fit on the cable without the need
for any special tools. The terminations
incorporate a test facility which simplifies the
switchgear whilst improving performance
This article was published in the IEE Power Engineering Journal of December 2000, Volume 14 Number 6 - page 3/7
FIG5: Proprietary cable termination
systems provide improved safety and
The fixed pattern air insulated AX1
switchgear range allows a lower support
frame to be set up before the installation of
the rest of the cubicle providing plenty of
space for the preparation of the cable
terminations. The termination can be
completely prepared with the help of a
special adapter mounted on the lower frame
prior to the delivery of main circuit enclosure
to site. This facilitates installation of cables
while other work is ongoing in the substation
without exposing the switchgear to the risk
of damage under construction site
conditions. The final switchgear installation
and cable connections can then be
completed within a very short time interval.
FIG6: The support frame for AX1
switchgear allows cable terminations to
be prepared prior to panel installation
Vacuum Circuit Breakers with Magnetic
The well proven VD4 vacuum circuit breaker
range has recently been extended by the
introduction of the VM1 vacuum circuit
breaker with a magnetic actuator replacing
the spring charged operating mechanism.
The actuators, which dramatically reduce
the number of operating parts, are free of
wear and thus are maintenance free. The
magnetic actuator operating mechanisms
are rated for 100000 operating cycles and
the vacuum interrupters 30 000 cycles at
rated current and 100 operations at short
circuit current providing a truly long life
circuit breaker. The magnetic actuator is
controlled by an electronic controller with
low power consumption of less than 4 watts
at rest and only 2A recharging for a few
seconds after an autoreclosing cycle.
Sufficient energy is stored in capacitors to
provide a 200 second buffer time on failure
of the auxiliary supply. Switch position is
sensed using proximity sensors, which
eliminate the need for maintenance of
auxiliary contacts.
The VM1 circuit breaker range is
dimensionally compatible with the VD4
circuit breaker and direct exchange of the
breakers is therefore possible. The VM1
range is available with ratings up to 2500A
and 31.5kA at 12kV.
Embedded Vacuum Interrupters
The VM1 circuit breaker also uses a
specially developed embedding technology
in which the vacuum interrupter is directly
potted in epoxy resin to form an integrated
circuit breaker pole part. External influences
on the switching element are eliminated,
improving reliability and reducing
maintenance and costs.
High Speed Transfer System HSTS
The VM1 vacuum circuit breaker with
magnetic actuators has made possible the
development of a high speed transfer
system used in applications which require
high levels of quality of supply. Supply can
be switched from one incomer to another in
a total transfer time of 30ms. The system
can avoid expensive downtime due to
voltage disturbances. Applications include
computer server installations, process
industries and hospitals
SF6 Circuit breaker Technology
An auto-puffer breaking technique has been
developed for the range of SF6 circuit
breakers. This technology combines the
This article was published in the IEE Power Engineering Journal of December 2000, Volume 14 Number 6 - page 4/7
advantages of the puffer type and the self
blast interrupting principles. When switching
low levels of load current the mechanical
movement of the circuit breaker provides the
flow of gas to extinguish the arc. The arc
energy of fault currents is used to propel the
contacts and provide an increased flow of
gas necessary for arc extinction when
clearing a fault. Operating mechanisms
require less energy and are therefore lighter
with longer life and lower maintenance
requirements than for conventional puffer
type circuit breakers. The auto-puffer
technology type H BreaKing range of circuit
breakers are supplied as standard
withdrawable cassettes for use in traditional
withdrawable air insulated panels or in a
fixed format integrated into the AX1 and
BEU21 switchgear ranges
Integrated Apparatus
Designs that integrate the circuit breaker
and disconnector/earthing switch when
applied in fixed pattern switchgear have
been developed. The ZX0 vacuum circuit
breaker integrates the disconnector /
earthing switch onto the epoxy housing of
the vacuum bottle resulting in a compact
design which can be pre-assembled. This
technology optimises the manufacturing and
assembly processes enhancing quality and
reducing cost.
FIG7: Vacuum circuit breaker with
integrated disconnector/earthing switch
as used on ZX0 switchgear
On the AX1 range the circuit breaker and
disconnector/earthing switch are integrated
with one another in a single epoxy chamber
per phase. The chamber, which is filled with
SF6 gas, protects the switching devices
against corrosion and other external
environmental influences. A further degree
of integration is achieved by placing the
Rogowski coil for the current monitoring
inside the same enclosure. Thus the AX1 air
insulated switchgear has all primary
operational devices integrated into a single
pole unit in each phase.
FIG8: The complete AX1 switchgear
primary part from busbar to cable
FIG9: Integration of the SF6 auto puffer
circuit breaker, disconnector/earthswitch
and Rogowski coil current sensor for
AX1 switchgear
This article was published in the IEE Power Engineering Journal of December 2000, Volume 14 Number 6 - page 5/7
Intelligent Switchgear
The concept of intelligent switchgear has
been introduced where using data from
different sensors a switchbay computer of
the ABB REF54* range can execute
intelligent commands such as tripping,
interlocking, sounding an alarm, providing
information about operating data and
different events, announcing when
maintenance is needed, and so forth. The
bay computers can communicate on their
own initiative or answer questions from
operating staff via remote control. This
ensures highly effective control and
monitoring of the switchgear system, which
leads to greater service reliability, and better
operating economy. Periodic maintenance
can be completely replaced by maintenance
on demand.
The bay computers give an alarm if any
abnormal conditions exist in the switchgear
or when service is necessary. The total
monitoring covers, amongst other things, arc
eliminators, circuit breakers, disconnectors
and cables.
All the arc eliminator functions are
The circuit breaker movement sensor
provides information about the number
of ON/OFF operations performed as
well as closing and opening times,
consequently giving the bay computer
the necessary data for it to be able to
give information in good time about
when service must take place or the
switching device requires exercising
(inactivity alarm)
If the opening/closing time of the
disconnector is wrong, an alarm is given
and the circuit breaker is blocked
If an auxiliary cable in the operating or
monitoring circuits is damaged, an alarm
is given
Because the circuit breakers and
disconnectors/earthing switches are
operated via the bay computer there are no
pushbuttons, switches or knobs on the front
of the switchgear. An emergency stop button
is set up in a suitable place in the switchgear
FIG10: The ABB REF542 switchgear
control unit combines protection, control
and monitoring of each circuit
The flexibility of the bay computer in
configuring the control, interlocking,
measuring, protection and communication
functions also allows a level of
standardisation of hardware not previously
possible. Secondary wiring is made to
standardised designs with all customer
specific requirements configured in the
software. This allows switchgear lead times
to be reduced and higher levels of
consistency and quality to be achieved at
lower costs.
The bay computer also simplifies the
switchgear in taking over all interlocking
functions, which previously required
mechanical interlocking. Use of the REF542
relay in the ZX0 range of switchgear has
allowed the elimination all mechanical
interlocks. All control and operation of the
primary switching devices is undertaken
through the REF542, which also
incorporates all interlocking requirements.
The REF542 does not allow the operator to
perform any operations which are not
permitted such as operating the
disconnector/earthing switch while the circuit
breaker is closed. Locking out is achieved
by isolating the control supply to the circuit
breaker and the disconnector/earthing
switch through padlockable auxiliary
switches, which prevent operation of the
associated primary switches.
This article was published in the IEE Power Engineering Journal of December 2000, Volume 14 Number 6 - page 6/7
The integrity of the interlocking is assured as
this is programmed into the REF542 and
cannot be changed on site. The control
engineer is thus secure in the knowledge
that the interlocks remain in their as built
state. Individual solid state proximity
switches provide positive sensing of open
and closed positions. Failure of any switch
would result in an alarm generated through
the REF542 relay.
Sensors Technology
The application of the REF54* range of bay
computers has facilitated the use of sensor
technology other than the conventional
current transformers and voltage
transformers. Current sensing is achieved
using Rogowski coils. Rogowski coils exhibit
very low losses and are linear over their
entire operating range from a few amperes
to short circuit currents. One and the same
size can measure currents up to 25kA. The
sensor with its connection to the bay
computer is jointly tested and any
measurement errors are given in the form of
a correction factor which corrects the error in
the bay computer.
FIG11: Modern sensors used with
REF542 relays include the Rogowski coil
current sensor and a resistive voltage
Voltage sensing is achieved using resistive
voltage dividers. Again these dividers are
linear over their measurement range and
have low losses. Designs have been
developed integrating the voltage and
current sensors into a single epoxy housing
called a combi sensor. Use of combi
sensors simplifies panel assembly resulting
in quality improvements and cost reductions.
Arc Eliminator
ABB has been in the forefront of developing
switchgear which improved operator safety
through such features as internal arc proof
switchgear with pressure relief vents and arc
ducts which would direct the arc away from
the operational engineers and safely out of
the substation. The development of the arc
killer device is a further step in improving
operator safety with the additional benefit of
reducing down time and damage to the
switchgear in the event of initiation of an
internal arc. The arc is detected by an arc
monitor, which sees an arc with the help of
optical fibre sensors located in the
switchgear bays. The arc monitor activates
the arc eliminator, which short circuits the
supply to earth within 10ms from the instant
the arc developed. This prevents damage
due to pressure and thermal effects.
Furthermore toxic arcing gasses do not have
time to be produced. A high level of personal
safety is consequently achieved, and the
switchgear can be immediately be taken
back into operation again after the cause of
the fault has been determined. The active
arc protection ensures that no pressure
relief is needed.
FIG12: Operating sequence of the arc
eliminator used in the AX1 switchgear
The arc eliminator is incorporated into the
AX1 air insulated switchgear as a standard
feature. The switchgear configuration with a
single primary enclosure is ideally suited to
the application of the arc eliminator
technology and is further evidence of the
advantages of this development in
switchgear technology.
This article was published in the IEE Power Engineering Journal of December 2000, Volume 14 Number 6 - page 7/7
Fast Recovery System
When an internal arc occurs the pressure
within the switchgear increases abruptly
from a fraction of a bar to several bar. To
achieve grading, normal protection would
often require between 0.5 to 1 second to
operate to clear the fault. The fast recovery
scheme maintains this selectivity, but trips
the circuit breaker on the supply side in
under 100ms only in the event of an internal
arc. Sensors in the various compartments
detect the rising front of the pressure wave
and open the appropriate circuit breakers a
few milliseconds of the initiation of the arc.
The system has a high index of reliability
and limits the degree of damage to the
switchgear in the event of an internal arc.
Arc Ducting
Apart from pressure relief vents which
operate in the event of an internal arc the
latest designs of switchgear incorporate arc
ducts which are used to channel the arc
away from personnel and out of the
substation. Examples are evident on both
the ZX0 and BEU21 panel ranges. The
Sentinel 3 ring main unit incorporates an arc
duct with various optional chimney
configurations to direct the arc safely away
from the operators.
Environmental Impact
ABB is fully committed to the protection of
the environment. New developments in
switchgear are evaluated to determine and
minimise their environmental impact. For
example the AX1 range has undergone a full
lifecycle assessment where the
environmental load of the product has been
analysed and evaluated over the entire
lifetime of the product from cradle to grave.
The LCA covers raw materials,
manufacturing, use, recycling and
The factors accounting for the principal
environmental impact in medium voltage
switchgear are
Materials used in the switchgear
Operating losses during the life of the
Recycling possibilities
The switchgear makes extensive use of raw
materials having a low environmental impact
including aluminium, stainless steel, aluzink
and bare copper. The compact designs also
contribute to a reduction in the
environmental loading. The coil spring plug
in busbars and connections reduce contact
losses and measuring sensors have much
lower losses than conventional instrument
The end result is that the environmental
loading of new switchgear such as the AX1
range is roughly half that of a conventionally
built switchgear system
In conclusion the latest ranges of switchgear
are a clear example of the successful
application of state of the art technology to a
well-established and traditional field of
electrical engineering. Where applicable the
technology has been applied to more
traditional withdrawable switchgear in the
form of circuit breakers with magnetic
actuators, sensor technology and intelligent
relays. However, the maximum benefit is
derived by embracing the full spectrum of
complementary new technologies as seen in
switchgear ranges such as the ZX0, BEU21
and the AX1.
Ken Bode
Design Manager
ABB Power T&D Ltd