Article
I thought my phone was smart … well, it is. Probably smarter than me by a long shot. In fact, the phone is the least intelligent part of the device. With all the technologies packed into on small device, a smartphone handles everything from online banking to document generation. But … have you heard of an intelligent breaker?

Intelligent Power and High Voltage GCBs

Steve Maurer, IME
I thought my phone was smart … well, it is. Probably smarter than me by a long shot. In fact, the phone is the least intelligent part of the device. With all the technologies packed into on small device, a smartphone handles everything from online banking to document generation.

But … have you heard of an intelligent breaker?

The breakers I'm talking about aren't found in homes or offices. Although many of those are getting smarter, becoming more than short circuit and overload detectors, they're current limiters on a small scale.

What I'm talking about are the huge circuit breakers found in power plants around the world. These amazing devices protect the equipment used to generate electricity on a massive scale.

These huge breakers are way more than just bimetal heat sensing strips that flip open a set of contacts when an errant condition is detected. GCBs use a combination of technologies to detect faults and other conditions and separated contacting surfaces quickly and safely.

These technological wonders handle a range of short circuit ratings from 63 kA to 300 kA. They are designed to cover nominal currents from 6,300 amps to well over 50,000 amps. They're used, not only in power plants, but for synchronous compensator applications.

The preventive maintenance is more involved than that used in the circuit breaker maintenance I've been used to performing. With industrial circuit breakers used to supply power to machinery, thermal imaging or thermography is utilized to discover hot spots and loose connections. This allows for breaker replacement or buss bar maintenance to prevent failures that cause downtime and potential damage to life, property, and even the environment.

The massive GCBs require that much more involved and complicated testing procedures be employed.

And as you can imagine, continuous monitoring is essential to ensuring operational efficiency. These huge GCBs often use a hybrid cooling system to draw heat away from the breaker. Therefore, advanced digital monitoring technology ensures smoother operation and extended life of these critical breakers.

They don't just monitor for fault indication, but continuously check the system, using gas monitoring and data logging to intuitively indicate when service to the GCB may be recommended.

This data ensures that power plant operators and maintenance engineers can plan for services downtime without disruption of critical power generation.
Photo courtesy of ABB
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