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Iberdrola Chooses Novec 1230 Fluid For Substation

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    As part of a 400 million Euro investment plan, the Spanish electrical supply utility, Iberdrola, is installing 17 new electrical substations in the city of Madrid. All of the substations will include fire suppression systems utilizing 3M™ Novec™ 1230 Fire Protection Fluid, which was chosen based on its excellent fire control performance and its outstanding environmental properties.

    Following a series of blackouts in the Spanish city of Madrid, many of which were caused by substation fires, the local government of Madrid presented electric power utility Iberdrola with a new decree – the Electricity Supply Law. This legislation seeks to protect consumers against supply interruptions and, in particular, requires that the electrical power must be restored within six hours should a failure occur.

    The law also requires the network to be configured so that every consumer can be supplied from at least two different sources, so that if the primary source fails, the supply to the consumer can be quickly restored from the secondary source. Finally, since many of the earlier problems had been associated with fires, the Electricity Supply Law makes it mandatory for substations to be equipped with efficient fire extinguishing systems.

    To meet these requirements, Iberdrola developed a 400 million Euro investment plan that involves the construction of 17 new substations in the Madrid area. This plan, the largest ever implemented by Iberdrola in a major city, puts all of the substations and other electrical distribution facilities underground, thereby freeing up more than 355,000 square meters of surface space for other uses such as the construction of houses and offices.

    When Iberdrola, which proudly claims to supply the cleanest energy on the planet, began to consider in detail the fire protection systems mandated by the Electricity Supply Law for its new substations, 3M™ Novec™ 1230 Fire Protection Fluid was always among the leading contenders based on the fluid’s outstanding properties.

    Although there were several alternatives available, Iberdola conducted a full-scale evaluation to determine the best alternative for the applications. Among the list of potential alternatives were water mist and foam. These agents were extensively tested to assess their suitability. Because of their mode of action, however, they were unable to meet the requirements of this demanding application.

    Water mist depends on energy input from the fire to achieve their full extinguishing potential, not too much and not too little. With smoldering fires in transformers, however, too little energy was available and the fires were not extinguished. Conversely, with full-scale transformer vault fires, water mist again proved ineffective. Application of aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) based systems was also attempted, but using a two-dimensional agent on a three dimensional fire ended in failure.

    CO2, which was also considered, is able to extinguish fires of all sizes effectively but had two major drawbacks. The first was that the number of cylinders required would have occupied more space than could be readily made available in the underground substations. The second drawback was CO2 is lethal at concentrations needed to extinguish fires quickly and effectively..

    Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), the first generation of replacements for the extremely environmentally damaging Halon agents, were also potentially suitable for this application, but were rejected because of their environmental risks. While the environmental properties of HFCs are much better than Halon, they still pose environmental concerns due to their climate impact.

    These considerations prompted Iberdrola to turn to 3M and their Novec 1230 Fire Protection Fluid, a next generation clean fire extinguishing agent.

    The comparison on environmental grounds between Novec 1230 fluid and HFCs is convincing. Like HFCs, Novec 1230 fluid has no ozone depletion potential (ODP), but when it comes to global warming potential (GWP), the contrast between HFCs and Novec 1230 fluid is striking.

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    The global warming potentialof the HFC most widely used in fire protection is 3,140 times that of CO2, the most common greenhouse gas (2007 IPCC assessment for HFC-227ea). In contrast, the GWP of Novec 1230 fluid is just one (1). Further, Novec 1230 fluid has an atmospheric lifetime of only five days, compared with about 30 years for HFCs. The environmental profile of HFCs was unacceptable for Iberdrola in the environmentally conscious energy sector.

    In fact, the high global warming potential and atmospheric persistence of HFCs are already leading to significant pressure to reduce their emissions.

    The first steps toward this can already be seen in the F-Gas Regulations that have recently been introduced in Europe. While these regulations stop short of banning the use of HFCs, they do impose requirements specific to HFCs for technician training, inspections, leak testing and reporting.

    Measures addressing the use of HFCs are also being drafted in the USA. An early action identified under the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 includes a consideration that, beginning in 2012, all new fire suppression systems in California must use an agent with a global warming potential below a minimum threshold level.

    The California Air Resources Board (CARB) proposal reflects the regulators’ concern that, while emissions from this sector are currently low, installations of such fire suppression systems are growing quickly and the emission potential of this ever growing installed base represents a significant future liability. The only meaningful way to limit this future liability is to reduce the use of HFCs.

    These issues were important to Iberdrola. If restrictions on the use of HFCs were introduced in the future, it would almost certainly mean that a fire suppression system based on a high GWP HFC agent would either have to be replaced in its entirety, or at the very least, substantially modified. This is an unacceptable proposition for such a large and important new infrastructure project, especially as the new substations would be expected to have a lifetime of decades.

    Further, making major changes to the fire protection systems in the substations would be an expensive and difficult undertaking given their underground location. The work would be further complicated by the need to guarantee continuity of power to consumers.

    In contrast, the 3M Company is so confident in the environmental characteristics of Novec 1230 fluid that it offers its unique Blue SkySM warranty. This guarantees that if Novec 1230 fluid is banned from or restricted in use as a clean extinguishing agent based on ODP or GWP during the next 20 years, the company will refund the cost of the fluid.

    In addition, unlike CO2, Novec 1230 fluid has a wide margin of safety for use in occupied areas, which makes it safe to use, even if engineers are working in a substation when a discharge takes place.

    “Margin of safety” reflects the difference between the design concentrations necessary to put out a fire and the threshold concentration recognized by approval bodies as suitable for use in occupied spaces. In a typical application, Novec 1230 fluid is used at a concentration of about 5%, but it is acceptable for use up to 10%. Therefore, its safety margin is about double, which is the largest margin of safety for any chemical Halon replacement.

    Another important benefit of a system using Novec 1230 fluid is that it requires little space for storage. It is a liquid at room temperature, although it rapidly forms a gas when it is discharged through properly designed nozzles. This provides significant benefits to customers, because, as a liquid, Novec 1230 fluid can be shipped and stored in non-pressurized containers. It also means that installations can be more easily recharged by a liquid transfer. Such on-site refilling allows systems to be back online and operational within short period of time, often within 24 hours.

    There are two final factors favoring the selection of Novec 1230 fluid for the Iberdrola application. These factors derive from the fact that Novec 1230 fluid is completely inert and electrically non-conductive. This means that discharge of the agent will not damage the equipment in a space protected by a system using Novec 1230 fluid, nor will it carry the risk of causing electrical short circuits.

    Presented with the multiple benefits of Novec 1230 fluid, backed by the reassurance of the unique Blue Sky warranty, Iberdrola decided that it was the only clean extinguishing agent that would meet its requirements in terms of both extinguishing and environmental performance.

    As a result, fire protection systems using Novec 1230 fluid have now been installed in all eight of the new Madrid substations that have been completed, and Novec 1230 fluid has been specified for the remaining nine systems. Similar systems using Novec 1230 fluid are also now being used at many other Iberdrola locations throughout Spain.

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