Avoid Energy Challenges Through Partial Discharge Monitoring

Matthew Sands, Power Systems Marketing Manager, Schneider Electric UK & Ireland


Non-intrusive partial discharge detection presents a fast, simple, and efficient method for identifying TEV and UHF energy across panel surfaces

Click image to enlarge

It has never been so tough to run a business in the UK. The first quarter of 2023 saw the largest net decrease in business numbers, with over 105,000 closing and just 79,000 opening. At a time where all sectors are feeling the squeeze of rising running costs and high energy bills due to months of inflation and economic volatility, UK businesses have had to change tack.

Leaders are starting to look inward and reassess business operations, finding more creative ways to see where savings can be made. This is especially important in industrial organisations where it is impossible to get employees to work from home and downsize the company’s physical footprint – and the work is energy intensive.

A big area of opportunity for cost saving is in energy.  When looking at energy saving initiatives, electrical industry professionals have many options to explore in reducing consumption and cutting costs. One example of a cost-effective tool to transform energy is continuous partial discharge monitoring. This smart technology helps to detect threats before they present major issues, therefore helping to extend the life of important equipment and minimise the buying of new equipment.

Moving to a Predictive-Based Approach

Energy has never been a higher priority for businesses. Often, preventative maintenance systems are the focus for many organisations in terms of regulating their energy levels and operating as normal. However, with new solutions hitting the market in recent years, this method is now deemed to be ineffective and often fails to spot issues. This leaves businesses to pick up the pieces, having to continually adapt, effectively manage their energy costs, and avoid expensive disruptions.

The best chance businesses can give themselves to use energy more efficiently and monitor their equipment more effectively is to switch to a condition based predictive maintenance approach. This method is powered by smart software and IoT sensor technology, creating a complete overview of a site’s equipment and energy needs. Due to the precision of predictive maintenance, it can be a vital tool to monitor, assess, and analyse electrical equipment.

There are many components that make up a predictive maintenance strategy.  Businesses would be equipped to conduct power system assessments, infrared inspections, and implement intelligent protective devices, however, the area that requires most critical investment is partial discharge monitoring.

In electrical engineering, partial discharge is a localised dielectric breakdown of a small portion of a solid or fluid electrical insulation system under high voltage stress. As insulation systems age, they become more susceptible to these types of breakdowns, leaving businesses to deal with outages and disruptions. Partial discharge monitoring and condition based predictive maintenance offer companies the least expensive and most efficient method of reducing equipment-related downtime. This model allows maintenance work to be scheduled based on diagnostic evaluations determining when to perform servicing, limiting disruption and preventing costly equipment replacement down the line. Monitoring equipment conditions also provides trending data to help anticipate future maintenance needs, allowing leaders to make more informed, data-based decisions.

Using Predictive Approaches to Find Safety Wins

As well as helping leaders plan more effectively, the benefits of partial discharge monitoring and condition based predictive maintenance span safety, efficiency, and resiliency.

When it comes to safety, electrical fires pose a significant threat to any business, accounting for 22% of workplace fires. While the causes of electrical fires are extensive and are often due to defects in medium or low voltage system wiring, switches, and motors, one major insurance carrier estimates that around 25% of all major electrical failures are due to loose or faulty connections.

Click image to enlarge


There are many traditional methods used to catch the warning signs of electrical fires, including infrared thermography. However, these are proving less effective long-term as inspections are limited to specific intervals and have constrained visibility. This means that small faults may go undetected between inspections and turn into a greater problem, or worse, a fire.

In contrast, non-intrusive partial discharge detection presents a fast, simple, and efficient method for identifying TEV (Transient Earth Voltage) and UHF (Ultra High Frequency) energy across panel surfaces. These measurements are crucial as they highlight potential sources of insulation failure. By detecting partial discharge in real time within MV switchgear, the risk of equipment damage and electrical disasters can be significantly reduced. The combination of continuous thermal monitoring and access to live data empowers engineers to make real-time fire assessments remotely. This approach also reduces unnecessary callouts that come at a cost to businesses, and improves safety for engineers who can effectively monitor and diagnose problems without physical contact. By leveraging condition-based monitoring and maintenance, potential issues can be identified and addressed proactively. Not only does this prevent significant consequences, including the occurrence of fires, but protects engineers from potential lethal equipment and wiring faults.

An Easily Accessible, Durable Maintenance System

As a number of organisations have employees that lack direct data handling knowledge, condition based predictive maintenance solutions has often been something that businesses decide against implementing due to a lack of internal skills. Furthermore, amidst an economic crisis with budgets more squeezed than ever, businesses may perceive the introduction of an infrastructure investment as surplus to their requirements or an unnecessary expense. What’s more, the belief that this investment will require extra resources in upskilling employees makes predictive maintenance an even more unappealing prospect. However, the cost-effective benefits and sustainable electrical system safety and resilience solutions presented by condition-based predictive maintenance and partial discharge monitoring are too great to pass up – and might not require as much on-site expertise as leaders think.

Thanks to remote maintenance and online troubleshooting, it is possible to avoid the equipment needing to have a physical evaluation, thanks to certain providers’ offerings. Engineers can discover and successfully target potential faults, carrying out accurate equipment assessments without ever needing a tradesperson to step foot in the building. Not only does this address and mitigate the electrical talent shortage, but also permits the available workers to be deployed where they are needed, ensuring that long-term workforce sustainability is protected.

Having the ability to monitor data in real-time permits businesses to make smarter decisions that protects infrastructure, equipment, and staff. Partial discharge solutions evolve and upgrade existing technology, and can identify, resolve, and predict issues before they pose a major threat to business continuity. As this new technology is so flexible, engineers can ensure that their pre-existing equipment remains agile and resilient to disruption by carrying out precise and pro-active risk assessments.

At a time where every penny counts and every investment needs full justification, businesses need to ensure that they can manage their energy in an effective, cost-efficient manner. Organisations will struggle to fix accidents if they fail to move away from a preventative approach to their electrical networks. Rather than focusing on correcting damages, switching tact to a more predictive approach will prevent damages and, in turn, provides a cheaper and more sustainable option. Partial discharge monitoring has longevity and is a future-proof technology that will extend product life, serving to protect the company’s cash flow and preserve the planet.


Schneider Electric