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Lifeline of the Modern World

A reliable power supply is taken for granted in Switzerland. At the same time, it is the Achilles heel of our highly industrialized world.

In one second, darkness takes over Italy. On a wintry day, the lights go off in the entire country – and the electric power networks collapse around Europe due to lack of load: Power stations shut down, gas stations stop working, and human beings get stuck in elevators and subways. This frightening scenario from Marc Elsberg’s technology thriller “Blackout” released in 2012 is in fact pure fiction, but nevertheless, a widespread power outage lasting several days would also be a disaster in reality.

Vulnerable industrialized societies

Power supply is the Achilles heel of highly industrialized societies. Almost all areas of the living and working world depend on electrically operated devices, control systems to an ever growing extent. In the course of digital transformation, which sparked the fourth industrial revolution, secure power supply is becoming the lifeline for all walks of life more than ever, from day-to-day communication via smartphones to complex corporate and production processes.

Even local and temporary power outages expose the vulnerability of the modern world. For example, in August 2003, in the North-east of the USA as well as in parts of Canada, there was a blackout lasting several days caused by poorly maintained lines, which affected more than 50 million people. In Switzerland, a line overload in June 2005 paralyzed the Swiss railways: 200,000 travelers were stranded for three hours.

Short blackouts, great loss and damage

Major blackouts in Switzerland are usually very rare; the quality of the power supply is one of the best compared with international benchmarks. According to the Council of European Energy Regulators (CEER), Switzerland had no electricity for about 13 minutes in 2014. Similar values are achieved by Germany, with 12.3 minutes and Denmark, where the outage time was only 11.6 minutes. In contrast to this, there was no electricity for 50.2 minutes in France during the same period. The power supply in the USA is considerably more prone to failures. Due to outdated electric power networks and extreme weather incidents, power outage times of 2 hours are not rare.

Even short blackouts may cause serious financial losses. Even a few seconds without electricity or just minor voltage fluctuations are enough to bring complete production processes to a standstill. “In sensitive industries such as the semiconductor industry or in metal production, plant shutdowns may cause losses amounting to millions”, says Raphael Görner, Business Division Manager for Grid Integration at ABB. In Switzerland, the national loss due to power outage is estimated to be 3 million Francs per minute.

Protection at all levels

As a pioneer in technology, ABB offers a number of tried and tested and reliable products for a secure power supply at all voltage levels. The range of products covers digital switchgear for transmission networks, medium voltage and low voltage switchgear, mobile switch panels, battery storage, static and dynamic solutions for uninterrupted power supply (UPS), voltage preparation systems as well as diesel generators with an intelligent controller. In the medium and high voltage segment, for example, the solutions from the FACTS portfolio (Flexible AC Transmission System) not only improve the voltage quality, but also ensure provision of needs-based reactive power.

Among the UPS solutions, an innovation from ABB is MNS-Up. The worldwide unique modular low voltage switchgear system combines energy distribution and uninterrupted power supply in a unique compact and scalable system. “MNS-Up offers an efficient power supply infrastructure, which requires considerably less space and grows with the requirements of the company”, says André Schärer, Managing Director of Electrification Solutions at ABB in Switzerland. The University Hospital in Basel is one of the first customers to use this novel product.

ABB also provides complete solutions for electrification and power protection for applications, where outages are critical, customized for the requirements of respective companies, be they computer centers, hospitals or companies in the semiconductor and electronics industry.

Safety consciousness is growing

At the location in Lenzburg in Switzerland, ABB has been operating a competence center for safe electrification solutions for many years now. Its customers include renowned Swiss and international companies. “It is a matter of great importance for us to first listen attentively to our customers to understand where the shoe pinches. Based on this, we then develop solutions for the specific challenges”, emphasized André Schärer. The range of products is being well received by increasingly more customers, since the awareness of the importance of power supply for all business processes is growing: “In the meantime, our emergency power systems are also in demand by companies, for whom uninterrupted power supply has not been an issue so far.”

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