Is the digital circuit breaker the new disruptor? There’s a lot of buzz about them for good reason.
New circuit breakers are making big waves in both residential and global energy markets and spurring the decentralization of the traditional energy grid system. As breaker technology evolves from analog to digital, it brings a wealth of possibilities for local energy solutions and for anyone looking for greater energy independence.
But is switching breakers really necessary? If your breaker box does what it’s supposed to do, does it really need replacing? It depends on how you look at it. As more homes and buildings benefit from smart home innovation, does the old-fashioned circuit breaker still make sense?
If you depend on wireless technology to automate most of your everyday tasks, yet still find yourself down in the basement with cobwebs in your hair, manually flipping breakers whenever there’s an outage or power cut, it’s time to rethink. (Add an extra measure of irony if you’re using your smartphone as a flashlight to read the codes!)
Cobwebs and inconvenience are one thing, but safety is another. With more people working from home and more devices and appliances drawing electricity than ever before, you want to make sure your breaker technology is up to speed to prevent overheating, fires, or even small explosions.
Replacing your old breaker panel with a solid-state digital circuit breaker is a smart safety measure and a wise investment that will optimize your overall energy efficiency and let you control more of the shots.
The Circuit Breaker Gets a Digital Update
Circuits breakers perform a critical function: they monitor electrical current and prevent problems like overheating and fires by cutting off the power if current levels get too high.
Thomas Edison patented the mechanical circuit breaker towards the end of the 19th century, and the basic model has not really changed since. Although they are considered essential safety mechanisms, they are not foolproof. And in terms of functionality, they haven’t really kept up with the times.
With the advent of smart home technology, there was growing interest in bringing the same level of innovation to the traditional breaker box. A few leading manufacturers tested electronic circuit breaker designs with features like wireless connectivity, computing power, and energy monitoring capability. Atom Power, first in line, introduced the first digital circuit breaker to the market in 2019.
Made with semiconductors, new digital circuit breakers are much faster at detecting problems like “arcing faults” or “arc flashes” (small explosions caused by short circuits). And when it comes to electrical emergencies, fractions of a second can mean the difference between life and death.
“Each year in the United States, arcing faults are responsible for starting more than 28,000 home fires,” says the non-profit Electrical Safety Foundation International, “killing and injuring hundreds of people, and causing over $700 million in property damage.”
How Does a Digital Circuit Breaker Work?
Whether analog or digital, circuit breakers play a critical safety role, protecting your home’s electrical circuits from short-circuiting, overloading, and potentially deadly problems. When detecting a fault, they automatically cut power to stop the flow of electricity.
A digital circuit breaker performs the same function as a mechanical circuit breaker but does it much faster, which results in added safety. Using cutting-edge technology, it uses semiconductors to digitally monitor and control the current flow.
While mechanical breakers take a few milliseconds to work after detecting a fault, digital breakers activate in microseconds. Although the difference may sound minuscule, that’s 3,000 times faster!
In addition to safety benefits, digital breakers also give you more flexibility and control. You can easily switch power sources (e.g., from solar to grid and back again) and monitor and manage your household energy usage.
The bottom line: Digitally controlled energy is safer, and a digital circuit breaker brings added benefits like wireless connectivity and computing power.
Digital Breaker Technology Could Create a Smarter Distribution Grid
What do we mean by a smarter distribution grid? A local, independent, and more efficient energy delivery system that is more reliable, resilient, and responsive to consumer needs. Utility grid infrastructure has had a hard time keeping up with growing demands.
Smart energy management, solar energy storage, and microgrids are all expanding as today’s decentralized grid continues to evolve. Net-metering pressures, growth in residential solar, peak electricity prices, and the rise of natural disasters are just some of the factors contributing to this growing trend. More and more, distributed energy resources (DERs) like solar panels, battery storage, and electric vehicles (EVs) are linked together and coordinated by software.
Imagine if the millions of ordinary circuit breakers across the country were replaced with smart digital ones? Through the power of remote connectivity and the latest breaker technology, they could be coordinated to achieve even greater efficiency and huge advances in DERs. As more and more buildings start to get these networked digital circuit breakers, they could replace outmoded infrastructure and technology. Who knows? It might spark more ideas for smart energy innovation.
A Building Can Become Its Own Microgrid with Digital Circuit Breakers
What do we mean when we refer to the “distribution grid”? Distribution grid refers to the final stage of the electrical grid (the network that delivers electricity from producers to consumers). It includes the lines and poles you see on streets and also the transformers that reduce the power down to safe levels.
The distribution grid infrastructure also includes the switching and protection circuits that deliver safe electricity to every end-user. (For more details, see How Power Grids Work.)
What is “distributed generation?” This refers to the technology used to generate electricity using renewable energy resources like solar and wind. Among the many benefits to the environment, it can also harness the energy that might otherwise be wasted. However, according to the EPA, some distributed generation can also lead to negative environmental impacts, so it’s important to do your research and weigh all the factors.
There are many benefits to local energy generation. And you don’t need to wait for a community microgrid to become available to jump on the local energy bandwagon. By installing a smart circuit breaker panel, you can turn your own home or building into its own microgrid.
How does a smart circuit breaker panel work? A product like the Lumin smart electrical panel attaches to any circuit breaker panel, giving you virtual control over all of the major circuits in your home.
When combined with solar and energy storage, Lumin’s digital circuit breaker technology transforms your home into an intelligent microgrid capable of responding to power outages, electricity pricing, preferences and more. It also monitors your battery storage and automates your energy use, which protects it from tripping or being depleted too quickly.
With Lumin you get the smart circuit breaker panel and an entire load management system in one. In the event of a power grid outage, the system is programmed to automatically deactivate large electrical loads and maximize battery performance. With a smartphone app, you can control loads as the available energy changes.
We know that residential energy users want greater control and greater energy independence. At Lumin, we believe in giving homeowners control of the power they generate and consume.
Final Thoughts on Digital Circuit Breaker Technology
Breaker panels are the gateway to every electric circuit and appliance in a building. With the adoption and investment in this new digital circuit breaker technology, the way we use power and interact with the grid is changing and evolving — for the better.
The market for digital breakers and smart circuit breaker panels is booming for a reason. Consumers want control of their energy and care about their carbon footprint. They’re accustomed to remote access, wireless connectivity, and the flexibility that comes along with it. We’ll need modern, digital grids to keep up with the times and government investment to make it happen.
For now, the best bet is to start in your very own home.
After all, isn’t it time to sweep the cobwebs off of that old grey breaker box in the basement?