A closer look at CHP and generator switch failure fire risks:

Here's why maintenance is of paramount importance

Insufficient maintenance of electrical installations can not only lead to a standstill but is also a major cause of fire. In the glasshouse horticulture sector, insurer Hagelunie draws the attention to the maintenance of the generator switch in CHP installations.

Peter van der Sar, risk expert for Hagelunie customers from greenhouse horticulture, establishes during discussions about technical risks, that entrepreneurs sometimes hardly realize that electronics also wear out. "Everybody understands that moving parts like a motor, show wear in the long run. Often one does not know that this is also the case with electrical installations. My colleagues also notice this in other sectors. And we see it back in the development of damage and the cause of fires."

In economically difficult times, maintenance is one of the things that are deferred first, or not carried out. Many greenhouse horticulture companies have not earned much in recent years. They therefore save on the maintenance of their cogeneration plant (CHP). The generator switch is a part of this. This switch couples the generator to the lighting system or the electricity grid and is intensively used in greenhouses. "The manner of lighting or return supply in greenhouse horticulture has an effect on wear. Many companies underestimate that, more than in any other sector, they put a very heavy burden on the generator switch. When they start with lighting or return supply, the switch will be charged at 100%. When switching off the lighting or return supply everything is switched off all at once."

A well-functioning CHP installation and generator switch are essential for business continuity of the glasshouse horticulture company. Regular maintenance of this switch is therefore no superfluous luxury, especially because it is often subject to moisture and dust in glasshouse horticultural companies. If the switch does not function, it may stop or cause fire. The purchase of power or use of an emergency power generator to save crops is expensive. Moreover, a fire in the switch increasingly leads to fire damage to the distribution system and CHP installation.

Production chain
Often the insurer is the first one to point out the risk to the greenhouse horticulture entrepreneur. Part of the problem, according to Van der Sar, is the long route for a switch, from manufacturer to end user. Among them are panel builders, CHP suppliers and suppliers of complete installations for greenhouse horticulture. "There is not much chance that the manufacturer's information about the maintenance requirement, reaches the end user, who is not always aware of this. Certified installers do know, but are themselves part of the production chain for CHP installations and under commercial pressure in the current market, so this theme is not given a high priority. This means that we, as an insurance company, are going to play a greater role in communicating about the minimal maintenance."

Company Continuity
An additional challenge: in the past, maintenance on the generator switch was often part of the maintenance contracts of CHP suppliers. These 'old' contracts are disappearing from the market. In the new contracts, maintenance on the generator switch often is no longer included. One more reason for Hagelunie to point this out. "Of course, there are many greenhouse horticultural entrepreneurs who invest heavily in the maintenance of their installations. But they also can come across the fact that an approach for maintenance contracts has been chosen that does not fully match the manufacturer's maintenance vision. As we repeatedly see that these switches are the cause of fire, we as insurer take our responsibility to keep in touch with greenhouse horticultural entrepreneurs. We point out the consequences of insufficient maintenance in the interest of their business continuity and supply security. We review the state of maintenance and use this as a condition for the coverage we offer. We make the agreement with our customers conditional to having the generator switch maintained once a year."

In CHP installations there are also switches that function as a power switch with an overflow function. Also these should be well maintained. Hagelunie continuously strives to raise customer awareness of this. "Fortunately, we notice that - also among CHP suppliers - awareness is increasing." What role does Van der Sar see for manufacturers of switches like Siemens? "One could equip the standard switch with a numerator. In a normal way of switching, a switch would need replacing after 5,000 to 10,000 switches, but when switching off at full power, sparking may occur. According to regulations, the switch needs checking when this is done. In practice, this is frequently not done, nor is kept track of how often the power is switched off. However, for the end user it is important to have insight in the load on the switch so that he can take timely measures to prevent stoppage or fire."

Source: Siemens

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