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Brian Schmalberger, ABB
Industrial Solutions

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Designing Energy Efficient Electrical Panels to Combat Rising Electricity Costs


Brian Schmalberger, GE Industrial Solutions
April 2018  |  By Brian Schmalberger
Brian Schmalberger is an OEM segment market leader for ABB.


As certain as the light going on when the switch if flipped, the rising electricity cost of powering machines and buildings is always on the minds of facility managers.

Despite trends around alternative, renewable energy, costs of utility-generated three-phase electricity continue to rise(1), and can heavily impact planning or upgrading of any industrial or commercial electrical distribution system.

Today, electrical panel designers need to factor the use of energy-efficient power panel components and technologies into all of their systems. Savings generated through energy-efficient design, insight into operating conditions, and employing lower heat-generating components all contribute to net reduction of energy and operating costs.

Designing- Energy Efficiency into Power Distribution Panels

Tackling power consumption challenges for any power distribution technology really begins during the design and specification phase. Designing-in energy efficiency might focus on a single component. For example, using a contactor with a universal service coil provides energy reduction via a combination of electro and permanent magnets. This coil technology requires less energy to close and hold the contacts. Our contactor, for example, only draws 2.6W for an 80A contactor.

Insights into the Electrical Efficiencies of Power Distribution Systems

Real-time information on operating conditions of an electrical distribution system can help control both operational and energy efficiency. Next-generation circuit protection, such as some of our molded case circuit breakers (MCCB), can monitor, collect and analyze a circuit breaker’s mechanical and electrical performance and efficiency to help users make better operational and maintenance decisions. Metering capabilities also offer real-time data on both circuit breaker and trip unit system efficiency, as well as the power demands of operating equipment on a particular power panel circuit.


Sometimes, performance and related efficiency data is built into operational interfaces, such as newer solid state reduced voltage starters with real-time read-outs on system performance and ongoing health. Some of these interfaces include data that provides:

  • Insight on power usage and conditions such as line voltage or motor current
  • Fault diagnostics including overload, overvoltage or undercurrent conditions
  • Records of elapsed run time or fault or trip events
Beating the Heat at Industrial Facilities and Data Centers

A disproportionate amount of the power at industrial facilities and data centers is used to cool the ambient air around power equipment to improve operational performance and extend the life of the device. There are two key methods panel designers use to achieve performance while generating less heat.


  • Reduce the size and thermal properties of critical power protection components. Circuit breakers, such as miniature circuit breakers (MCBs), employ high performance materials and alloys. The use of these thermally-efficient materials lowers heat output, which in turn helps reduce the size of power panel enclosures, cutting cooling demands by up to 25 percent.
  • Combine the functions of multiple power devices into single, integrated units. Devices such as the soft starter unit mentioned above integrate bypass technology into the starter, eliminating the use of a separate contractor and its additional energy consumption and heat output.   

Given the range of design approaches and power-efficient technologies available today, power panel designers have a broad tool kit to rein in energy costs and improve operational efficiencies.


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(1) U.S. Energy Costs in US for past ten years

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