Did you know that automatic circuit breakers are designed to cut off an electrical current when a circuit experiences either a short circuit or overload due to high currents? They are similar to fuses in that regard. However, unlike fuses, circuit breakers do not “blow” when they’re affected by a power surge.
In automatic circuit breakers, there are two components that allow them to shield a circuit — and anything connected to it — during an overload: magnetic circuit breakers and thermal circuit breakers. The magnetic breakers can shield against short circuits and smaller surges, while the thermal breakers successfully ward off power overloads and react to them automatically.
When a fuse “blows,” it must be manually replaced. A circuit breaker, on the other hand, can be reset automatically, remotely or sometimes manually to continue operation as normal. Note that fuses must be replaced, while circuit breakers — unless the device is faulty — can simply be reset.
Why Does any of This Matter?
Due to increasing power needs, largely because of a higher demand for power from consumers and various markets (electronics, telecommunications, automotive, electrical), there has been an international rise in safety concerns when it comes to large-scale circuits. In turn, this means the market for automatic circuit breakers may also be increasing, as predicted by Transparency Market Research.
Circuit breakers — and their installation — aren’t exactly cheap. According to Homewyse, the average cost per breaker — when installing new equipment — is about $255 at a high estimate. That’s just one breaker, usually for a new or renovated home. Now imagine that cost on a much grander scale for large power grids.
Of course, just because the market is on the rise doesn’t necessarily mean all of these devices have to be brand spanking new. Collecting and rebuilding old circuit breakers is another option, and it’s one that could essentially reduce the cost of installation.
Why Are Automatic Circuit Breakers in Such High Demand?
One element the high demand can be attributed to is the widespread adoption of smart-grid infrastructures, which calls for them. They are used in both micro-grid and super-grid systems which are built to transfer electricity across great distances.
When you are transferring electricity over a long distance, you need to ensure the system is outputting the proper voltages across the entire circuit. Automatic circuit breakers are installed along that circuit to ensure the electricity transmission is smooth and secure.
As for traditional power lines, many of them have been redesigned as high-voltage alternating current (HVAC) or high-voltage direct current (HVDC) systems. The circuit breakers are installed in those types of power transmission systems to ensure when an overload happens, it doesn’t ruin or destroy the high-voltage lines.
The circuit breakers are designed to trip at the sign of trouble, keeping the entire grid from failing all at once. They do this through a process called “islanding,” as it’s referred to in the electrical world. The circuit breakers essentially reroute the healthy parts of a circuit to an alternate power source, while opening the circuit and removing the unhealthy or overloaded parts of the grid. This backup process is used in micro-, super- and smart-grids all over the world.
This is one reason why some customer and business regions in a power grid may experience blackouts or power failures while neighboring regions do not. Without automatic circuit breakers, the entire grid would fail in one fell swoop. When you look at it that way, it’s no wonder they are in such high demand, and why they are desired in multiple markets.
Photo credit: UN