New substation powered up Oct. 14

State-of-the-art facility supplies electricity to LANL, Los Alamos County

October 21, 2021

T A3 Substation Breaker and Coils
Some of the modern equipment that makes up the new power substation.

With its newly installed gear and equipment passing the rigorous tests required before going live, the new power substation at TA-03 is ready for action. On Thursday, Oct. 14, crews will “cutover” power from the old substation to the new facility, which supplies power to much of the Laboratory, including the Strategic Computing Complex (SCC), National Security Sciences Building (NSSB) and the Dual-Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test (DARHT) facility, as well as to all of Los Alamos County.

Keeping up with modern tech

The new substation replaces its 70-year-old predecessor with modern equipment and state-of-the-art safety features. It has greater current-carrying capacity, and will allow for expansion and flexibility as the power needs of everyone who relies on the substation change.

Some of the features of the new substation include air circuit breakers, which are much more environmentally friendly than the oil circuit breakers used at the old substation. Likewise, the old substation utilized tension to hold conductors in place, which is an outdated construction method that limits substation expansion and capacity; conductors in the new substation are held in place like beams on a building, with nuts and bolts. This “bus bar” method increases the current carrying capacity of the substation, and allows for expansion and greater flexibility as power needs change throughout the lifetime of the substation.

Safety is another big reason that a new substation was necessary. Workers at the old facility had to wear specialized protective equipment, in the form of giant “boots,” to keep employees insulated — and safe — from the risk of electric shock when they entered the substation. This was due to the fact that the old grounding grid, a safety mechanism that is installed under the surface of every substation, was 70-years-old and no longer reliable. The new substation and grounding grid will allow workers to enter the substation without the need for an additional layer of cumbersome protective equipment.

A second safety improvement is the implementation of high-speed arc flash protection on the medium voltage switchgear. State-of-the-art photo sensors monitor for the burst of light that accompanies an arc flash, and cuts off the power source nearly instantaneously. This limits the amount of energy being supplied into a fault, reducing the likelihood of injury to personnel.

“Another great feature about the new substation is that it’s fully automated,” explained Heather Bergen, LANL electrical engineer. “This way, workers can access the switchgear and control room equipment remotely. They’ll be able to see what’s happening at the substation from the power control center, which contributes to its overall safety, flexibility and reliability.”

Modernized protection and automation are vital to grid operation. Microprocessor-based relays help to not only isolate and protect vital equipment quickly, but they also help limit downtime by providing detailed data for more effective troubleshooting. In short, the new substation helps us keep the lights on for all our customers and key LANL missions.


T A3 Substation Circuit Breakers and Conductors