Enduring market volatility when purchasing onsite power distribution equipment

Nicholas G. Domich, Business Development Manager, PG&E
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Locating, purchasing, and transporting critical power distribution equipment is becoming an ever-increasing feat since the inception of the pandemic. Due to hampering supply constraints, many of our customers are experiencing unprecedented lead times and project delays. In a recent article by the Wall Street Journal (08/02/22), the author cites that "wait times for transformers…have quadrupled and are averaging well over a year (for delivery)." Exasperating the situation, heightened attrition rates paired with the struggle to hire quality personnel has resulted in less throughput for various manufacturers and service providers across a host of industries. Raw commodity volatility in concert with personnel retention has left many businesses in difficult positions.

This has led to a scramble to seek alternative paths, such as stockpiling various components and buying equipment from neighboring facilities. These options often come at a premium and are not sustainable approaches over time.

In addition to fervent communication with all parties within a given project, we have found that a sound predictive and preventive maintenance program is the single-most effective way to aid in the planning/forecasting of any facility type. Not only is it good practice, but a necessary component for any operation while journeying through these turbulent waters.

Here is a list of seven ways to help you get started in the endeavor:

  1. Inventory your equipment. Give it a traceable ID number, and house that data in a facilities management software. A great place to start is to obtain nameplates from equipment, either by taking pictures and/or entering that information into a database where it can be formatted and used for multiple purposes. Ensure comments are made every time the equipment is touched/observed.
  2. Perform a scrupulous budget dissection. It is imperative to know how much is spent on emergency, reactive scenarios versus planned, proactive measures. Reactive measures almost always have a higher cost as compared to proactive maintenance. Furthermore, this is a great tool to cost justify a project that you feel has legitimate value.
  3. Develop a business continuity plan. Some may have heard of integrated resource planning before; BCP would be a derivative of such thinking. Know where your vulnerabilities and strengths exist via dialogue with accounting, engineering, and risk management to name a few. Document and post on a shared drive so that all parties can stay fresh on the evolution of the plan, while holding quarterly meetings to stay apprised of needed action.
  4. Execute a site audit with an external party. Having an external set of eyes will bring new perspective and helps break the mold of stagnant checklists. Furthermore, this gives a chance to build rapport with a potential service provider that can bring real value to your operation.
  5. Consider used equipment from a reputable source. Using transformers as an example again, a rebuilt and/or rewound transformer could be an option. We have found the lead times to be less than a new build, and there are plenty of folks out there working this market segment. The cost is typically more palatable than a new unit, and we have found that companies are willing to apply a guarantee/warranty to back their work.
  6. Relentlessly test insulating liquids/gases. Performing an oil test, along with a dissolved gas analysis, will give you "eyes" inside of a component, such as a transformer. Same goes for high voltage switches with sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) gas. Have a trusted and competent party analyze and translate the test results. This will ultimately help in ascertaining if there is paper breakdown and/or arcing in a transformer or moisture intrusion in a SF6 circuit breaker, thus allowing for better life cycle management.
  7. Set a reoccurring annual date to de-energize your facility for maintenance. Once you have a site audit, conduct and infrared thermographic (IR) and ultrasonic investigation. This is a reliable methodology to understand how equipment is operating under load as well as seat potential points of failure, which typically happen at the juncture points of two different surfaces.

By blending these approaches to your existing framework, you will be better equipped to endure market volatility and positioned to thrive. PG&E's Energy Consulting Services is available to support your behind the meter energy needs. If you are interested in setting up a site audit, executing a preventive electrical maintenance scope, or developing a business continuity plan, you can contact me at Nicholas.Domich@pge.com.