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Upgrading your electrical installation: Why and how?

Published on 29 November 2021

Upgrading your low-voltage electrical panel becomes essential when your process and the equipment you supply change. In order to carry out this change, it is necessary to ask the right questions, to study the needs for additional protection that are driving the evolution of the electrical installation and the impact of this work on the current installation, to evaluate the potential risks for the safety of goods and people in order to create the best possible conditions for launching this project.

It is then necessary to assess how the extension of the electrical installation will be carried out and under what conditions. It is possible that it will have to be done under voltage, that your electrical substation will be congested, that your protections will need to be re-evaluated in order to guarantee an optimal level of safety.
In this context, it is important to choose a trusted partner to advise you and accompany you throughout your extension project in order to offer you a quality service in complete safety.

Download the white paper

Upgrading your electrical installation: What is at stake?

Above all, it is important to define the need for additional protection or changes in ratings, to identify potential risks to avoid accidents and ensure an optimal level of safety for goods and people.

3 questions to ask yourself before changing your electrical panel

Changing an obsolete main switchboard is often the solution chosen when it comes to upgrading it. But other reliable and more environmentally friendly solutions exist: the extension of outlets or columns or the renovation of the equipment that makes it up. This is a more ethical and economical choice, when possible.
If your main switchboard is still maintainable, without any risk for the operation, and if you still have spare parts: it is then possible to upgrade or renovate it! 
You can make your switchboard evolve in several ways: addition of extra outlets, addition of extension columns, renovation of the outlets.

There is a lot of information to gather in order to find out whether an upgrade is feasible.

1. Does the manufacturer still manufacture the functional units?

If this is the case, good news: It is not mandatory to change your obsolete main switchboard. There are several possibilities for upgrading your switchboard: adding a column or adding new feeders. However, there are several low-voltage switchboards for which it is no longer possible to obtain new columns, but the manufacturer still ensures the manufacture of new feeders according to the original design.

2. Is the obsolete low-voltage switchgear expandable by means of an adaptation?

Perhaps your obsolete LVB no longer meets your needs, but there is still a solution to consider before changing it! The extension is possible with a new technology that complies with the NF EN 61439-2 standard which defines the design rules for low-voltage distribution boards to respect the safety of people and goods, quality and reliability. This solution allows the addition of columns with new functional units on different types of switchboards.

3. Can the obsolete LVB be renovated?

The main switchboards are designed to last and ensure continuity of service to its operators over many years, which makes their renovation possible and sustainable.
The addition of extension columns is also a way to gradually renovate your switchboard by installing new functional units. You can thus gradually transfer your obsolete equipment to new functional units.

Adding new equipment: the potential impact on your electrical switchboard

When adding new equipment, improving applications, optimising processes or even expanding, the need for energy distribution changes. These changes have several consequences for your electrical panel

  • Can the switchboard meet the new requirements?
    To connect these new devices, the switchboard must be sized accordingly to meet the new power requirements. To begin your approach, you need to study your new needs and carry out an audit of the existing system with a view to reconfiguring the electrical panel.
  • Is the safety of goods and people still assured?
    You should know that about 30% of fires are of electrical origin! (source: INRS).
    To protect yourself from these electrical risks, it is important to be equipped with protection devices that are in perfect working order and that your installation is correctly connected to the earth network. Changes to an electrical switchboard must be made according to new requirements after a study of the expected operation and new dimensions of the switchboard.
    When changing your installation, keep in mind that it is imperative to protect your personnel and your property from electrical risks.

Keeping the electrical room safe: 3 major risks to consider

First of all, it is your safety that you must think about when you enter the electrical room. Wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment depends on the operations to be carried out there. Every year, several dozen workers are electrocuted. 

These accidents occur mainly during operations on fixed low-voltage installations when using portable tools or when working on or near live equipment. Other types of incidents in your electrical room can be the cause of fires.

Over the past 40 years, the average number of electrocutions per year has been decreasing. On average, there are 30 electrocutions per year in France for 3200 electrisations. (Source: ONSE). The switchboards installed in the electrical room carry dangerous voltages. 

  • The risk of electrocution by direct or indirect contact
    A person suffers an electric shock when an electric current passes through their body and causes injuries of varying degrees of severity. Electrocution is when this electric current causes the person's death. A shock can occur through direct contact (with an active part) or indirect contact (with an accidentally energised mass).
The equipment may be the cause of the accident, which requires particular attention to the safety of the installation and its maintenance. 85% of electrical installations in France over 15 years old have electrical faults (defective protective conductors, damaged insulation, poor tightening, etc.).

  • Internal arc risks
    These can occur in electrical equipment when the operating conditions for which it was designed are not met or due to lack of maintenance (presence of damp or conductive dust, rodents, overheating).

  • Fire risks
    According to the ONSE, electricity is the cause of a quarter of fires.
    They are often caused by external elements due to non-regular and/or insufficient maintenance.

Download the infography 4 checks to do on your electrical panel before changing your process

How do you upgrade your electrical installation?

When you want to upgrade your electrical installation in complete safety, it is important to ask yourself a number of questions: does the extension of my LV panel need to be carried out under voltage? What do I need to do to carry out this work in complete safety?  Is my substation congested? How do I extend my switchboard in this case?

How do I extend and modify my electrical panel when it is live?

Energy needs change over time, the question of adding new equipment to meet these changing needs may arise and it may happen that the extension of a low-voltage switchboard must be carried out under voltage because the switchboard cannot be completely disconnected. 

To add additional feeders to an existing switchboard, care must be taken to :

  • Have sufficient spare space.
  • Check certain criteria that allow the switchboard to be modified while energised: the figure of 2 or 3 must be present for the evolution part (Service Index), the open door protection index must be XXB, the forms must be 3 or 4 and associated with the "b" to be sufficiently protective for the workers.

How can a main switchboard be extended in a crowded substation?

Extending your LV switchboard is a solution to keep the existing and to adapt to the space constraints.
There are several possibilities of evolution according to the available space: 

  • The simple extension: a simple extension of the existing main switchboard answers the problem of space when there is sufficient space in the vicinity of the existing switchboard
  • The remote extension is adapted in case of insufficient space in the vicinity of the existing main switchboard. This extension must be in the same room, close to the main switchboard (about 2-3m) or in a different room with a disconnecting device to isolate the two parts.

But it may be necessary to change the Low Voltage Switchboard to meet the new needs and to adapt to space constraints. This solution is recommended if the existing LV panel is obsolete, dangerous or dilapidated. It is also suitable if you wish to keep the interchangeability of the drawers when the existing low voltage switchboard is obsolete.

Expanding your LV switchboard while guaranteeing the level of safety

When you have to work on existing installations, you have to know how to assess the risk, protect yourself against it and not refrain from upgrading your LV switchboard to improve its intrinsic safety. No one is immune to electrification. Even if there are many solutions to protect yourself from touching a live conductor, the extension of your electrical panel will require a complete shutdown.

In order to proceed with the extension of the switchboard in complete safety, you must:

  • Identify the existing switchboard: a prerequisite for making the extension
  • Check the need to reinforce the protection on the extension
  • Follow the steps for the safe installation, setting up, assembly and electrical splicing of the extension:
  • Choose a suitable transport
  • Follow the recommendations for unloading and handling
  • Hold an electrical qualification 
  • Follow the steps of electrical consignment
  • Carry out mechanical assembly, electrical splicing and commissioning

Download white paper : Why and how to upgrade your electrical installation


COMECA, your partner for the evolution of your Low Voltage Switchboard

COMECA offers a complete multi-brand support, from the study to the commissioning of your extension.

Case study : How Comeca increased the capacity of the obsolete main LV board of a pharmaceutical company?

Our client's production site, a pharmaceutical company with around 300 employees, needed to meet the growing demand for its products and thus increase the number of installations supplied by the main LV panel.

Following an audit of their switchboard to determine possible solutions and noting that there was space available without modifying the electrical room, we proposed to the company to extend their switchboard with a new GALAXIS column.
We took measurements of the existing columns and busbars.
Then we transmitted all this information to our technical design office for the 3D design of an adaptation cell, interface between the existing switchboard and the new GALAXIS column.
Once our customer had validated the studied solution, we manufactured the adaptation cell and the GALAXIS column in one of our French factories, then proceeded with the installation of the solution and assisted the customer when the switchboard was powered up again.

The extension offers by COMECA

Your energy distribution needs change as new equipment is added, your applications are improved, your processes are optimised and you expand. Changes to your electrical panel must be made according to these new needs, which sometimes mean adding an extension.
COMECA offers you  complete, multi-brand support from the study to the commissioning of your extension.

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