Switchgear & Switchboard (Complete Guide)

Switchgear and switchboards are important components in electrical systems. The difference between them may be tricky.

In my work, 11KV and 3.3KV switchgear are used to control and protect the generation of turbines. This is the main difference between switchgear and switchboard. This means switchgear is more complicated than a switchboard. Let’s discuss this topic in detail.

Are switchboard and switchgear the same?

While switchboard and switchgear are related components in an electrical system, they serve different functions and have distinct purposes.

What is a Switchboard: A switchboard is a device that is used to control and distribute electrical power in a building or an industrial facility. It typically consists of one or more panels that contain switches, fuses, circuit breakers, and other devices for controlling the flow of electricity to different circuits or electrical equipment. Switchboards are commonly used to facilitate the distribution of power to various loads within a facility and allow for convenient control and monitoring of electrical circuits.

What is a Switchgear: Switchgear, as previously described, refers to a broader set of electrical devices that are used to control, protect, and isolate electrical equipment in a power system. Switchgear includes various components such as switches, circuit breakers, fuses, relays, and other protective devices that are essential for the safe and reliable operation of electrical networks. Switchgear is designed to protect electrical systems from overloads, short circuits, and other electrical faults, ensuring the safety of both the electrical equipment and the personnel operating it.

In summary, while both switchboards and switchgear are crucial for the distribution and control of electrical power, switchgear encompasses a more comprehensive set of protective devices and equipment compared to switchboards. Switchboards are a part of the overall switchgear system, serving as a specific type of panel that houses switches and other devices for controlling the flow of electricity within a building or facility.

Why switchgear is called switchgear?

The word gear, in the term switchgear, means an Integrated system of devices to do one major job.

Switchgear is so named because it is a combination of the words “switch” and “gear.” The term “switch” refers to the function of controlling the flow of electricity within an electrical circuit, while “gear” implies the mechanical or electrical devices involved in the switching process.

Thus, switchgear essentially comprises a range of electrical devices that facilitate the control and protection of electrical power systems, making it an apt description of the equipment’s function and purpose.

The primary role of switchgear is to enable the safe and efficient switching of electrical currents and the protection of electrical equipment from various potential risks such as overloads, short circuits, and other electrical faults.

Switchgear may consist of various components such as switches, fuses, circuit breakers, relays, and other protective devices, all of which work in tandem to control and manage the flow of electricity within an electrical network.

Given the critical role that switchgear plays in electrical systems, its name accurately reflects the combination of switches and other gear-like components that are integral to the proper functioning and protection of electrical power networks.

types of switchgear in electrical system

In electrical systems, there are several types of switchgear, each designed for specific applications and voltage levels.

These types of switchgear differ based on the voltage they are designed to handle, their construction, and their use in various power system configurations. Some common types of switchgear include:

  1. Low Voltage (LV) Switchgear: LV switchgear is designed for use in electrical systems with voltage levels up to 1000 volts AC or 1500 volts DC. It is commonly used in residential, commercial, and industrial settings to control and protect electrical equipment and circuits.

  2. Medium Voltage (MV) Switchgear: MV switchgear is designed for electrical systems with voltage levels ranging from 1000 volts to 33,000 volts. It is typically used in industrial and commercial applications, such as distribution substations and large buildings, to control and protect medium-voltage circuits.

  3. High Voltage (HV) Switchgear: HV switchgear is designed for electrical systems with voltage levels exceeding 33,000 volts. It is used in power transmission and distribution systems, including substations and power generation facilities, to control and protect high-voltage circuits.

  4. Gas-insulated Switchgear (GIS): GIS is a type of switchgear in which the components are enclosed in a metal-enclosed space filled with sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) gas. It is commonly used in high-voltage applications, where space is a constraint and high reliability is required.

  5. Air-insulated Switchgear (AIS): AIS is a type of switchgear where the components are exposed to the surrounding air. It is commonly used for medium voltage applications and is relatively simpler in construction compared to GIS.

  6. Solid-insulated Switchgear: Solid-insulated switchgear uses solid materials, such as epoxy resins or silicone rubber, to insulate the switchgear components. It is often used in medium voltage applications and provides improved safety and reliability compared to traditional gas-insulated switchgear.

These different types of switchgear are essential for the safe and reliable operation of electrical systems, as they help control, protect, and isolate electrical equipment from various electrical faults and disturbances.

difference between switchgear and switchboard

Switchgear and switchboards are both essential components of electrical distribution systems, but they serve distinct functions and have different characteristics. Here are the key differences between switchgear and switchboards:

  1. Function and Components:

    • Switchgear: Switchgear refers to a set of electrical devices that are used to control, protect, and isolate electrical equipment. It includes devices such as circuit breakers, fuses, relays, and other protective equipment designed to ensure the safe and efficient operation of electrical systems.
    • Switchboard: A switchboard is a device that receives power from a distribution panel and directs it to various electrical devices and circuits within a building or facility. It typically consists of panels with switches, fuses, and other control devices for the distribution of electrical power.
  2. Scope of Application:

    • Switchgear: Switchgear is primarily used for protecting and controlling electrical circuits in power systems, including both high and low-voltage systems. It is commonly found in power substations, industrial facilities, and commercial buildings.
    • Switchboard: Switchboards are mainly used for power distribution within buildings, facilities, or industrial settings, where they provide a central point for controlling and directing electrical power to different circuits and equipment.
  3. Complexity and Purpose:

    • Switchgear: Switchgear is more complex and encompasses a broader range of protective devices and equipment. Its primary purpose is to safeguard electrical systems from potential faults and ensure the continuity and safety of power transmission.
    • Switchboard: Switchboards are relatively simpler in design and are focused on the efficient distribution of power within a building or facility, allowing for the control and management of power supply to different loads and equipment.

In summary, switchgear is a comprehensive system of protective devices and equipment used to control and protect electrical systems, while a switchboard serves as a distribution panel that directs power to various circuits within a building or facility.

They work together to ensure the safe and efficient distribution of electrical power but serve different purposes within the overall electrical infrastructure.

Switchgear components, And how does it work?

All types of electrical control and protection devices (such as MCB‘s, contactors, MCCBs) can be used as required in switchgear.

But the main devices are circuit breakers and protection relays.

Relays open the faulty circuit branch and isolate it from the healthy ones. This power isolation ensures power continuity to other loads.

The faulty branch remains isolated until repair or replacement.

Classification of switchgear

Several different classifications can be made

By voltage class

  1. Low voltage (< 1 kV AC)
  2. Medium voltage types(1 kV AC  to approximately 75 kV AC)
  3. High voltage (75 kV to approximately 230 kV AC)
  4. Extra high voltage, ultra high voltage (> 230 kV)

By insulating medium

  1. Oil
  2. Gas
  3. SF6
  4. Air
  5. Vacuum

By type of current

  1. Alternating
  2. Direct

By construction type

  1. Indoor
  2. Outdoor

Housing

  • Lower voltage types may be entirely enclosed within a building
  • Higher voltages types are mounted outdoors and insulated by air
  • Switches may have motor drives to allow remote control or manually operated

Switchgear Main Purpose

Switchgear is a multipurpose system. One of the basic functions of switchgear is to provide suitable protection for electrical loads against short-circuit and overload fault currents.

Switchgear also provides isolation of circuits from power supplies. This electrical isolation is important in case of maintenance of equipment.

It is also used to enhance system availability by allowing more than one source to feed loads as needed.

In this case, the switchgear has two or more power sources, If the main source is down, then the spare or the emergency source will feed the loads.

It also is used to control, protect, operate, and isolate electrical equipment in industrial buildings.

Importance of Switchgear maintenance

Switchgear is one of the important parts of the system protection devices. If switchgear is working well and properly maintained, the chance of a system being wiped by high voltage electrical surges or faults will be less.

That is the reason switchgear importance is the prime concern. It protects the whole system from unexpected shutting down or damage.

Hence, switchgear maintenance strategies will help to save time, cost, and the whole system from damage and power loss.

What is Low Voltage Switchgear?

Low-voltage switchgear refers to a type of electrical distribution equipment that is used to control, protect, and isolate electrical equipment in low-voltage systems.

It is an essential component in the power distribution process, commonly found in industrial, commercial, and residential settings. The term “low voltage” typically refers to voltage levels up to 1000 volts AC (alternating current) and 1500 volts DC (direct current), although the exact definition can vary depending on the specific standards and regulations in a particular region.

Low voltage switchgear is responsible for regulating the flow of electricity within a system, ensuring the safe and efficient operation of various electrical components.

It usually includes devices such as circuit breakers, fuses, switches, relays, and other protective devices that can be used to control and safeguard electrical circuits from overloads, short circuits, and other electrical faults. These devices help in the smooth operation of electrical systems by preventing damage to equipment and ensuring the safety of personnel.

Furthermore, low-voltage switchgear systems are designed to be modular and scalable, allowing for flexibility in installation and expansion as the electrical load demands change.

They play a crucial role in maintaining the overall stability, reliability, and safety of electrical power distribution systems, making them an integral part of modern electrical infrastructure.

Why does switchgear need batteries?

Switchgear may incorporate batteries for several important reasons, primarily to provide backup power in the event of a primary power source failure or as part of its control and monitoring systems. The use of batteries in switchgear serves the following key purposes:

  1. Emergency Power Supply: Switchgear is often employed in critical infrastructure and industrial applications where uninterrupted power supply is essential. Batteries act as a backup power source, providing electricity to critical control and protection systems in the event of a power outage. This ensures that the switchgear continues to operate and safeguards the electrical system during emergencies.
  2. Trip and Close Circuit Operation: Many switchgear systems use battery-powered trip and close coils to operate the circuit breakers. These batteries allow for remote operation and control of the circuit breakers when there is no primary power supply or during power system maintenance.
  3. Control and Monitoring: Batteries are used to power control and monitoring systems within the switchgear. These systems include relays, protection devices, communication equipment, and digital control units. The batteries maintain continuous power to these systems to ensure real-time monitoring, data collection, and control capabilities.
  4. Synchronization and Load Shedding: Batteries are used to maintain the synchronization of power sources and to enable load-shedding schemes. This is crucial in maintaining system stability and reliability during disturbances or outages.
  5. Time-Delay Functions: Some protection and control functions require precise timing, and batteries ensure that these functions are executed accurately, even in the absence of the primary power source.
  6. Auxiliary Services: Switchgear may provide auxiliary services such as lighting, communication, or safety systems. Batteries ensure that these auxiliary services remain operational, even when the main power supply is interrupted.
  7. Cold Start: In some cases, batteries are used to provide the initial power needed to start and energize the control and protection systems of the switchgear, especially after a power outage.

It’s important to note that the size and capacity of the batteries used in switchgear systems are typically designed to meet the specific needs of the application and the duration of backup power required.

Proper maintenance and periodic testing of these batteries are essential to ensure they function as intended during critical situations.

Why does switchgear have heaters?

Switchgear heaters are used to prevent condensation and maintain appropriate temperature levels within the switchgear enclosure.

These heaters help to ensure the proper functioning of electrical components, particularly in environments where temperature and humidity fluctuations can lead to the formation of condensation inside the switchgear. Here are some reasons why switchgear may incorporate heaters:

  1. Prevention of Condensation: Switchgear heaters are used to maintain the temperature inside the enclosure above the dew point, preventing the formation of condensation on the electrical components. Condensation can lead to the accumulation of moisture, which may result in insulation degradation and corrosion, potentially causing electrical failures and equipment damage.
  2. Temperature Regulation: In colder climates or regions where temperatures fluctuate significantly, heaters are used to maintain a stable temperature inside the switchgear enclosure. This helps to ensure that the electrical components function optimally within their specified temperature range, minimizing the risk of performance degradation or malfunction due to temperature variations.
  3. Humidity Control: By preventing the formation of condensation, heaters assist in controlling the humidity levels within the switchgear enclosure. Maintaining appropriate humidity levels helps to preserve the integrity of insulation materials and prevents the development of moisture-related issues, such as tracking, arcing, and insulation breakdown.
  4. Cold Start Support: Heaters can also be used to preheat switchgear components during cold start-ups, ensuring that the equipment functions reliably even in low-temperature environments. Preheating helps to reduce the stress on electrical components during the start-up phase, improving their operational efficiency and extending their lifespan.

Overall, switchgear heaters play a crucial role in maintaining the optimal operating conditions within the switchgear enclosure, protecting the electrical components from potential damage caused by moisture, condensation, or extreme temperature variations.

I have written a detailed article about motor space heater, you can find it here.

protection relay in a switchgear
protection relay in a switchgear

What type of protection devices are used in switchgear?

Various protection devices are used in switchgear to ensure the safety and reliability of electrical systems.

These devices protect electrical equipment and systems from overcurrent, overvoltage, short circuits, and other abnormal conditions. Some common protection devices used in switchgear include:

  1. Circuit Breakers: These devices automatically interrupt the flow of current in a circuit to protect the electrical system from damage due to overcurrent, short circuits, or other faults.
  2. Fuses: Fuses are protective devices that contain a metal wire that melts and breaks the circuit when exposed to excessive current. They are commonly used for overcurrent protection and are often found in low-voltage applications.
  3. Relays: Relays are electromechanical or solid-state devices used to sense abnormal conditions in an electrical system and trigger the opening or closing of a circuit breaker or other switching devices to isolate the faulty section.
  4. Differential Relays: These relays are used to detect the difference in current between two parts of a system and can identify faults such as short circuits or ground faults.
  5. Overcurrent Relays: Overcurrent relays monitor the current flow in a circuit and trip the circuit breaker if the current exceeds a predetermined threshold, protecting the system from damage due to excessive current.
  6. Ground Fault Protection Devices: These devices detect ground faults and provide protection against insulation failures and short circuits to the ground.
  7. Voltage Relays: Voltage relays monitor the voltage levels in a circuit and can trigger actions such as opening or closing a circuit to protect against overvoltage conditions.
  8. Transformer Protection Devices: These devices include differential relays, overcurrent relays, and temperature monitoring devices specifically designed to protect transformers from damage and ensure their safe operation.
  9. Busbar Protection Systems: These systems include various protective devices such as differential relays, overcurrent relays, and busbar differential protection to safeguard the busbars from faults and ensure reliable power distribution.
  10. Motor Protection Devices: Motor protection devices include overcurrent relays, thermal overload relays, and voltage protection relays to prevent motor damage and ensure safe operation.

These protection devices work in conjunction with each other within the switchgear to provide comprehensive protection and ensure the safe and reliable operation of electrical systems.

Is the switchgear the same as the circuit breaker?

Switchgear and circuit breakers are related but not the same. Switchgear is a generic term for a collection of switching devices, fuses, and protective devices used in an electrical system.

It includes various components such as switches, fuses, circuit breakers, relays, and disconnects that control, protect, and isolate electrical equipment.

In contrast, a circuit breaker is a specific type of switch that automatically interrupts an electrical circuit to prevent damage from excess current, typically caused by an overload or short circuit.

Here are some key differences between switchgear and circuit breakers:

  1. Functionality:
    • Switchgear encompasses a broader range of components that control, protect, and isolate electrical equipment, including circuit breakers.
    • Circuit breakers are a specific type of switch within switchgear that is designed to protect an electrical circuit from damage caused by excess current.
  2. Components:
    • Switchgear includes various components such as switches, fuses, circuit breakers, relays, and other protective devices.
    • Circuit breakers are a specific type of switching device designed to automatically open an electrical circuit when abnormal conditions such as overcurrent, short circuit, or overload occur.
  3. Application:
    • Switchgear is used in power systems, industrial facilities, commercial buildings, and other large-scale electrical distribution systems to control and protect electrical equipment.
    • Circuit breakers can be a part of switchgear or can be used independently in various applications, including residential, commercial, and industrial settings, to protect electrical circuits from damage.

While circuit breakers are an essential component of switchgear, they are not the only component. Switchgear comprises a more comprehensive set of devices that work together to ensure the safety, reliability, and efficiency of electrical systems.

How can you learn switchgear design?

Learning switchgear designing typically involves a combination of formal education, practical experience, and self-study. Switchgear designing requires knowledge of electrical engineering principles, as well as an understanding of various components and their applications. Here is a step-by-step guide on how you can start learning switchgear designing:

  1. Foundational Knowledge:
    • Understand the basics of electrical engineering, including circuit analysis, power systems, and electromagnetism.
    • Learn about different types of electrical equipment and their functions, including transformers, circuit breakers, relays, and fuses.
  2. Formal Education:
    • Consider pursuing a degree in electrical engineering or a related field. Look for programs that offer courses specific to power systems and switchgear design.
    • Participate in workshops, seminars, and training programs offered by universities or industry organizations to gain practical knowledge.
  3. Gain Practical Experience:
    • Look for internships or entry-level positions at companies that design or manufacture switchgear. Practical experience will help you apply theoretical knowledge to real-world scenarios.
    • Seek mentorship from experienced professionals in the field. Learn from their experiences and ask for guidance on specific design techniques and best practices.
  4. Self-Study and Research:
    • Read textbooks, technical papers, and industry publications related to switchgear design. Stay updated with the latest advancements and technologies in the field.
    • Explore online courses and tutorials that focus on switchgear design principles, construction, operation, and maintenance.
  5. Hands-on Projects:
    • Undertake personal projects to design and build small-scale switchgear systems. This will allow you to apply your theoretical knowledge and develop practical skills.
    • Join student or hobbyist groups that focus on electrical engineering projects. Collaborate with peers to work on switchgear-related projects and share knowledge and experiences.
  6. Industry Certifications:
    • Pursue industry-recognized certifications related to switchgear design and operation. These certifications can enhance your credibility and demonstrate your expertise to potential employers.
  7. Networking:
    • Attend industry events, conferences, and trade shows related to electrical engineering and switchgear design. Networking with professionals and experts in the field can provide valuable insights and potential career opportunities.
  8. Stay Updated:
    • Keep up with the latest industry trends, technological advancements, and regulatory changes in the field of switchgear design.
    • Follow industry publications, forums, and online communities to stay connected with the broader switchgear designing community.

Remember that learning switchgear designing is a continuous process, and staying curious and proactive in your learning journey will be essential for your success in this field.

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