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Making buildings safer

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Anuj Khanna, director, Controls & Switchgear Group, discusses the significance of using busbar trunking systems as Indian buildings become taller and more complex

By 2020, it is estimated that half of India’s population will move to urban centres. These centres will witness unprecedented growth, as buildings spread not just across but also upwards, forcing urban planners to look at innovative ways to connect the teeming millions with their energy needs safely and more efficiently.

In the complex web of cities, urban planning has moved beyond the functional to a more complex calculation of cost effective strategies and engineering skills to manage the power distribution for multiple sectors like public health, transport, security and housing. 

Matter of choice

For most structural engineers and planners, electrical cables seem to have been the conventional choice at every level. As mixed dwellings, work places and large public utilities are getting taller and more interconnected, the demand for safer power distribution networks has seen greater acceptance of busbar trunking.

Many other countries have already made it the normal practice to use busbar trunking for distribution in large buildings. This is because large clusters of cables create problems due to heating and making the access difficult for maintenance. Moreover, the structure’s reliability is reduced and it becomes vulnerable to fire spread.

Benefits beyond safety

The demand for alternatives like busbars systems has risen due to many factors. Power consumption per unit area has increased by over ten times during the past 25 years. Technological developments and availability of new electrical and electronic gadgets have created higher loads, higher generation, larger transformers and hence greater potential for higher system faults and fires.

Busbar systems are designed in such a way that they do not promote a combustive spark to become a fire. We all know that whenever there is a fire, the report invariably carries a statement that the fire has been caused due to a short circuit. In fact, fire from any cause will affect the distribution system and combustible elements of the distribution system (such as the PVC insulation) also feed further energy to the fire. This does not happen in a busbar trunking system and the systems are tested to verify this.

The industry stands to gain a lot by using busbars for power distribution networks. Busbar trunking is not just beneficial from safety aspects, but also from the aspects of space saving, aesthetics, easier design, easier connections and reduced losses.

Legislation supports busbars

The National Building Code (NBC) 2005 recommends the use of busbar trunking. The codes published by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) are based on consensus, obtained after wide circulation.  Adding on to the NBC for end consumers is the new Energy Conservation Building Code 2007. The parameters laid down are clear that all consumers of more than 500 kVA will be audited on account of systems used for energy efficiency. The BIS has also found that busbars promote energy efficiency in the distribution systems by reducing the drop in voltage and by improving transmission.

Being serious and responsible

Currently we face a peculiar situation. State electricity boards or electricity distribution companies demand that energy metres be located on the ground floor of the buildings to remain accessible to their metre readers. This invariably leads to a maze of cables across multi-storied complexes thus immediately exposing the buildings to fire hazards. For the sake of convenience of a metre reader (once in a month or two months), we are tolerating a known risk.

These are precisely the concerns raised by the Delhi fire service. The fire service has found that 86 buildings in the central area of the nation’s capital do not comply with fire safety requirements.

Therefore, it is not surprising that busbar trunking systems have found ready acceptance amongst blue chip customers in India – major IT firms, commercial and retail developers, banks, hotels, designers of green buildings and of course major industries, especially automotive.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg – if we are serious about energy conservation and fire safety, we should learn from other countries like Dubai (UAE) or Singapore, where busbar trunking is a required and enforced standard for distribution of power above a certain capacity in a building.

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June 2020
10 Jun 2020