SPE Energy

Highlighting best practice as a representative in The Parliamentary Review

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from SPE Energy is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.


Left to right: John Skipper LLB FIoD, director,
with Jeff Jones CEng MIET, technical director,
and Mike Porter, sales director Our office and factory in
Abercarn, Wales – our small size
means we can respond quickly
to customer needs
Access to a safe and reliable power source is one of the
most fundamental requirements for all businesses,
anywhere in the world. SPE Energy help make that
happen by designing and manufacturing innovative, high-quality
medium voltage switchgear panels and circuit breakers that are
cost-effective, environmentally friendly and safe. From airports
and hospitals to breweries, refineries, mines, smelters, factories,
electrical distribution networks and nuclear plants, they work
with clients in any industry, anywhere in the world. Among
others these include Cardiff airport, London’s Royal Free Hospital,
Croydon UniversityHospital, Premier Foods and Top Energy NZ.
John Skipper, director, explains how the business has evolved.
Our business is almost unrecognisable from the venture that started in 1983,
when our focus was on the North Sea oil industry. We’ve changed our name
from Systems Power Engineering to SPE Energy, and our home to Abercarn in
Wales. Most importantly, we’ve grown to become the only small, independent UK
company that manufactures its own circuit breaker mechanism.
The pace of change has heated up in the past few years. In late 2014, we undertook
a fundamental review and realised it was decision time with regards to the fate of the
business. It was clear that many of our systems and processes needed modernising.
We have upgraded all our computer systems and processes, particularly to improve
production, and we totally revamped our management systems. Crucially, we started
a major investment programme to improve our SPE product range and develop new
solid dielectric switchgear control panels and ring equipment for Brecon Energy (BE),
a subsidiary we established with Elmecon Ltd, a switchgear design business, in 2015.
»Director: John Skipper LLB
»Technical director: Jeff Jones,
»Sales director: Mike Porter
»Established in 1983
»Based in Abercarn, Wales
»Products: MV switchgear and
circuit breakers
»Services: HV/MV switchgear
product and systems design,
manufacture and control
»No. of employees: 20
»SPE Energy and joint venture
partners have invested over £3
million in R&D over the past
three years
SPE Energy
Highlighting best practice
Circuit breaker: an automatic and manually controllable medium voltage switching
device for stopping the flow of electrical power acting also as the principal
disconnection point in the event of abnormal destructive power-flow conditions.
Switchgear: generally located in purpose-built substations and defined as “the
aggregate ofswitchingfacilities for power stations and/or points of electrical
Solid dielectric switchgear: equipment using an alternative insulating material, to
replace a gas called SF6, which is damaging to the environment.
Arc-proof switchgear: designed to protect the operator of the equipment by
redirecting any electrical arcing containing destructive power up and out of the
Fruits of our investment
We are now about to enjoy the fruits
of more than £3 million that we and
our joint venture partners have spent
on research and development in the
past three years, marking the start of a
major new chapter for the business.
With these funds we have developed
high-quality new products. This
includes our “Orion” integrally earthed
switchgear panel, incorporating
a vertically isolated horizontally
withdrawable vacuum circuit breaker.
It’s named after the constellation you
can see from anywhere in the world.
Not only is Orion a clean,
environmentally friendly product, but
it’s also arc-proof to deliver enhanced
operator safety. In the unlikely event
of an internal fault it is designed to
deflect any hot gases produced to
the rear of the unit, away from the
operator. To further enhance operator
safety the vacuum circuit breaker
truck assembly is optionally fitted with
local or remote electrically operated
(motorised) raise and lower facilities.
All circuit breakers have the facility for
local and remote control.
Orion is symptomatic of our focus as a
business in 2018, which is to provide
products that are innovative, cost-
effective, reliable, safe and green.
Theyare also of a high quality and
intended to last for decades.
We have installed Orion in a number
of key sites including Croydon
University Hospital. Our challenge
there was to replace a switchboard
within the original space, while
avoiding interruption to the power
supply – essential when nearly
120,000 people attend its Accident
and Emergency department each
Another client, food manufacturer
Premier Foods, needed to upgrade
some of its existing switchgear
panels that contained oil-insulated
breakers with a more environmentally
friendly product. They chose one of
our new specially designed retrofit
vacuum circuit breakers to fit their
existing panels, prolong the life of the
equipment, enhance safety and obtain
benefits from reduced maintenance
costs, with no need to test or
While our major recent investment
drive may be complete, we don’t
plan to stop there. We will continue
to heavily invest, because we
don’t believe that any switchgear
company can thrive unless it’s
continually investing in research
Orion is
of our focus
as a business
in 2018,
which is to
products that
are innovative,
reliable, safe
and green
We have installed Orion
in a number of key
sites, including Croydon
University Hospital
A big opportunity
Our investment in R&D over the
past three years puts us in a strong
position. For a small, innovative
British business like ours, with the
right products and highly skilled
employees – and the ability to attract
more experts to grow the team – the
opportunity is great.
Why? First, because rapid advances
in technology are enabling SMEs like
SPE and BE to mass-produce products
at the same quality as much larger
businesses. That wasn’t possible
just ten years ago and marks a
Similarly, information and data is
accessible to entrepreneurs in a way
it has never been before – again, this
means large organisations don’t have
the same advantage they did in the
past. Coupled with this levelling of the
playing field is the smaller companies’
ability to be nimble and respond
more quickly to customers than their
Finally, helping companies that want to
take advantage of this entrepreneurs’
nirvana are the various government
schemes on offer. In our case, we
secured Innovate UK funding in
late 2017 for developing a novel
new solid dielectric product for BE
called GENiSYS I, for use in primary
distribution networks. We have
also benefited greatly from export
services provided by the Department
for International Trade, formerly
UKTI, which has helped us hugely to
break ground in new markets such
as Oman where SPE has appointed a
distributor. UK Export Finance is a key
Retrofitting in the
Commonwealth countries in particular
provide ripe business opportunities as
much of the switchgear used in the
Commonwealth and across the Middle
East, Africa and South America is
reaching the end of its useful life.
We’re excited about reinvigorating
old trade relationships with
Commonwealth countries and beyond.
We operate in a global market and are
working hard to internationalise so
that we can serve any type of business,
anywhere in the world.
Switchgear equipment is generally segregated into two parts.
The first part contains all necessary electrical control equipment
and wiring, as well as protective devices which detect abnormal
external electrical fault situations. The second part contains the
main circuit breaker with capabilities of breaking normal and
abnormal electrical power flow. Customers typically have a choice
between replacing everything with brand-new equipment, or they
can have vacuum circuit breakers retrofitted to existing panels with
superior electrical performance when compared with the existing
That’s where we come in, with our environmentally friendly
solutions. While most existing circuit breakers rely on unfriendly
oil or SF6 gas as insulating materials, which are damaging to the
environment and dangerous, our circuit breakers use vacuum
technology. Retrofitting in this way not only saves time and capital
expenditure, but also reduces the amount of electrical disruption
to the site, is safer, contributes to carbon reduction and is more
environmentally friendly. By retrofitting, we can potentially extend
the life of the equipment for another 15, 20 or more years.
We operate in
a global
We thrive because of
our employees’ deep


This article was sponsored by SPE Energy. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it.