How to protect electrical enclosures at water treatment plants

Jul 28, 2021 | Water & Waste Treatment

By Emily Newton, Editor-in-Chief at Revolutionized

Keeping industrial electrical equipment well-protected at wastewater treatment plants is essential for helping the facility operate safely and reliably. Here are some practical ways to achieve those goals.

Incorporate Temperature Control Measures

When electrical enclosures get too hot, the equipment housed inside may malfunction. Moreover, prolonged exposure to excessive heat could shorten the lifespan of components with capacitors.

Professionals can rely on several methods to keep things cool inside an enclosure. For example, passive cooling measures involve strategically placing vents that allow hot air to escape and get replaced by cooler air. Alternatively, choosing active cooling may mean installing an air conditioner inside the enclosure.

Besides figuring out the best ways to maintain the right temperature, people should also consider installing wireless monitors that give alerts when conditions go outside of the recommended range. Some models measure both the internal enclosure temperature and the ambient air, giving technicians ample warning that the equipment could overheat soon and needs proactive attention.

Choose the Correct Conduit Materials

Conduit systems protect electrical wiring and equipment. However, due to the corrosive substances used at water treatment plants, it’s essential to select conduit materials that can tolerate them.

Water treatment professionals should start by understanding which parts of the plant’s operation are most likely to become corroded. For example, polyvinyl chloride (PVC)-coated conduit is commonly recommended for areas that use hydrogen sulfide, which often leaves a white residue. However, if people wipe it away, they’ll usually find the conduit unharmed.

The same goes for electrical equipment in parts of the plant associated with bleach treatments. Tanker trucks usually deliver that chemical, and spills often occur when transferring it to pump stations. However, PVC coatings can tolerate bleach exposure.

Conduit directly attaches to electrical enclosures via fittings. However, fittings made from inappropriate materials will not provide the desired protection. Thus, there’s an elevated risk of power outages or equipment failure.

Besides ensuring that all wires going into an enclosure have the proper conduits, the responsible individuals must also check that the material of the cabinet itself can withstand corrosive materials. Stainless steel is frequently chosen due to its resilience against such chemicals.

Restrict Access to Authorised Parties

Keeping electrical equipment safe also requires taking appropriate measures to distance people from dangerous situations. For example, padmount transformers keep energized parts behind locked doors. That design eliminates the need for safety fencing, even if installing a transformer in a place that receives public access.

Installing signage near electrical enclosures to warn people of the risks is still a good idea, though, in addition to using locks. Those measures bolster awareness among the public, who may occasionally visit a plant for approved reasons, and employees who do not have the appropriate training to work near electrical cabinets.

Keeping the enclosures alarmed helps technicians immediately receive alerts of problems like tampering. Moreover, if a company has previously dealt with unauthorized access to its electrical cabinets, installing a camera for 24/7 monitoring could provide better visibility while deterring people from causing trouble.

Since water treatment plants don’t typically receive regular visitors, there should be a reduced chance of people trying to gain access to enclosures, whether for malicious reasons or due to unchecked curiosity. Even so, showing people that cabinets remain closely monitored even with no employees in sight should reduce potential issues.

Plan for Enclosures That Accommodate Generators

On-site generators can be crucial for helping a water treatment plant remain resilient during natural disasters. Federal authorities released a power resilience guide specifically for water and wastewater utility operators, in which generator enclosures get mentioned.

More specifically, the guidance recommends using weather-proof enclosures for generators or other industrial electrical equipment. People can verify how well a product will keep out the elements by looking at the Ingress Protection (IP) rating. The first number indicates the protection against dust and dirt, while the second relates to safeguarding against water.

Additionally, National Electrical Manufacturer Association (NEMA) ratings are even more robust and include an enclosure’s ability to protect technicians against hazardous parts.

The federal guidelines also suggest getting a generator enclosure large enough to accommodate the machine’s radiator, fuel tank, filters, and other essential aspects. That’s particularly necessary since people will need to maintain those components to keep the generator running smoothly.  Ensuring the enclosure provides 3 to 4 feet of space around the generator promotes good ventilation, too.

A generator’s height is another critical consideration, especially since flooding often accompanies power outages due to severe weather. Following the federal recommendations means placing the generator at least 3 feet above the 100-year floodplain. Some utility decision-makers also mandate abiding by the 500-year floodplain for even more safety.

Smart Choices About Industrial Electrical Equipment Enclosures Prevent Disruptions

These tips highlight why water treatment plant managers can’t take universal approaches when protecting a company’s electrical equipment enclosures. Considerations such as whether the cabinet gets used indoors or out, what corrosive substances may come in contact with it, and how likely it is a cabinet could get too hot should guide people’s choices about which enclosures to use and how to keep them safe.