Interested in our services? contact us

Back to insights

Electrical Infrastructure Upgrades – Avoiding Trip Ups

Property upgrades happen all the time; adding a dividing wall, removing a wall, extending a room, or just changing the use of the space. While the outward appearance is, of course, important, ignoring electrical load impact of the works can be a costly oversight. If you’re considering structural changes, adding more or different lights, outlets and equipment, an Electrical Site Report BEFORE work begins is the smart way forward.

For a designer, developer, builder or renovator, this is a ‘stitch in time saves nine’ scenario. All too often, electrical infrastructure is considered after the work is completed, which may require added costs of remediation, project drag and often redoing work already done. In the end, that means an unhappy client.

To ensure you don’t get tripped up, carrying out an Electrical Site Report is a vital element of the design process.

What is an Electrical Site Report?

Essentially, an ESR helps you understand the limits of your current electrical infrastructure and can make recommendations for upgrades.

Commercial and industrial buildings typically have a long history of expansions and changes of use, many of which are not documented (or if they are, get filed away in the back of the bottom drawer in storage). New owners or lessors likely have no idea who installed the wiring and switchboard, it’s rating, or whether it’s fit for purpose in their venture (though this can be investigated during the conveyancing process). Even long-term owners are usually in the dark about the state of their electrical infrastructure.

Why do projects need an Electrical Site Report?

Oftentimes, site upgrade projects are planned, contracts approved and payment terms are set before a big hiccup that puts everything on hold. Projects managers should ideally book an Electrical Site Report to determine the scope of works before blueprints are signed off.

An Electrical Site Report identifies key issues around the operation and safety of a structure, such as:

How much new power is required?

The power needs of a hospital will differ from a restaurant, which will differ again from a small office. Whether it’s an upgrade to air conditioning, a new oven, or a property extension, we need to measure how much usage is currently needed, and the expected usage from the upgrades.

What is the impact of new load on the local distribution system?

The distribution of electricity through a system is limited. We need to work out the max usage at any one time, and understand how many circuits might be required to ensure it’s not ‘lights out’ at your busiest time. Where a proposal calls for dozens of new three-phase appliances, it’s very likely a switchboard upgrade will be required at a minimum.

Do you have enough power at the site?

While much of Perth’s power is now going underground, we all are familiar with seeing wires that reach from power poles to the front of a home. Needless to say, that won’t cut it for many large buildings.

Find out more information on industrial or commercial electrical supply from Western Power.

Will there be upstream impact on the distribution system?

A large organisation or multi-store building will draw significantly from mains energy infrastructure. In a CBD location, we have to consider the multiple locations all powering on at once. One way this can be partially addressed is through automating systems. Instead of everyone arriving at 9am, powering up their devices and turning on the coffee machine, we can program lights and air-conditioning to start powering up from 8am to steadily increase the draw.

Do you have enough power at the building or floor?

Redeveloping a building for mixed use presents it’s own set of challenges. For example, adding electricity-hungry restaurants where there was once retail or residential. Each floor and outlet will need it’s own Electrical Site Report, as well as one that covers the floor and level where distribution is shared.

Do you need to engage with the supply authority to get additional load?

You (or we) will need to apply through Western Power for industrial or commercial electrical supply with a maximum demand greater than 1300A/1000kVA. It’s not a quick process, either usually 7 weeks for the quote and a further 10 weeks for the build. You will need to supply them with:

  • CAD plan
  • Site photos
  • Single line diagram
  • Load breakdown
  • Disturbing loads
  • Statement of Compliance to AS/NZS 61000.3.11 and SA-SNZ TR IEC 61000.3.14
  • Neighbours authority

What is included in an Electrical Site Report?

An Electrical Site Report (ESR) can be as basic or complicated as required. It ensures you have the right information at the design stage to make decisions around other factors, including design and infrastructure.

An Electrical Site Report will generally include a combination of the following:

  • Load Logging Data – How much power is being used at various times throughout the day, week or month, as well as the peak load measured.
  • Switchboard Information – Will the affected boards be capable of handling the additional load, and whether they meet current standards.
  • Asset Condition Report – What existing infrastructure is to be reused, is it in operable condition and does it meet current standards?
  • Single Line Diagrams – Is the upstream infrastructure suitable to handle the additional load? Will introducing additional load in the area to be upgraded affect the upstream operation, such as overloading a main switch.
  • Network Upgrade – Is the supply authority equipment capable of producing the additional load or is there a requirement for headworks or network engineering?
  • Submain Details – Are the current mains power and submains rated to accommodate additional load?
  • Containment – How has the current installation been completed, is upgrade possible without new cable pathways being installed
  • Site Drawings/Sketches – Information either located onsite or created throughout the investigation that can provide guidance during design. Note that old schematics can be of considerable value – ideally keep them safe with your property deeds.
  • Observations – Other contributing factors may not be evident without a thorough investigation.

A Case Study in Electrical Infrastructure: SM TAFE

The South Metropolitan TAFE campus in Rockingham has expanded greatly over the last 40 years. Their last major refurbishment in 2017 needed to ensure that the infrastructure would be future-proofed for a growing population in Perth’s southern districts.

Already TAFE’s largest campus south of Fremantle, we conducted an Electrical Site Report and identified the need to replace an aged electrical distribution system. More than 20 main distribution boards and several sub mains were replaced.

Barring any substantial infrastructure changes, this will help meet the future needs of the campus, allow the addition of new industry facilities, and provide electrical safety for staff and students.

How can I get and use an electrical site report?

This process should be commissioned and completed early in the design process, considering load and the upstream implications can be costly and consideration of the full impact is vital.

It is useful in all stages of the planning process, including approvals of work, as well as obtaining GreenStar and NABERS ratings.

To arrange an Electrical Site Report, contact IET with your requirements.