Two Main Components of Power Distribution Systems


Why are we so dependent on switchgear and switchboards?


What comes to mind when you read or hear the term “Power Distribution”?

Perhaps it might conjure up images of power plants, or tremendous electric power transmission lines spanning a landscape. Or maybe you think about remote substations that are often seen scattered around rural areas.

Whatever the case may be, there are major components to this concept. In this article, we’ll look at these components while touching on why we are so dependent on them, especially as large-scale projects in mining, manufacturing, and transportation, take shape.

Two main components of power distribution that are often misunderstood are switchgear and switchboards.

The fact is the difference between these two components really comes down to the sophistication of the control schemes that switchgear has, compared with switchboards.

Switchboards are generally used for voltages less than 600V, while switchgear is designed for higher voltages reaching up to 350kV. Moreover, their particular components are different because they fall under different standards. Power circuit breakers are different from molded case breakers which is what you typically find in switchboards. Switchgear is required to use devices with a higher power rating to promote system stability. This applies to circuit breakers, fuses, relays, drives, and more. These systems are more robust and reliable; however, both are intricate systems that require a professional to install, maintain, and design to receive the correct system for your electrical loads.


What is switchgear?

Switchgear systems consist of their ability to switch devices on and off. They are associated with control, metering protecting and regulating equipment. The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) states that these assemblies are intended in the principle use of connection with generation, transmission, distribution and conversion of electrical energy. So basically, these devices are responsible for interrupting the current to manage various loads and motors, and can be used in the control of low, medium, or high voltage power distribution

Depending on the system voltage, the devices can switch electrical power to be used in transformers, motors, generators, transmission lines, and the networks of power for homes, commercial, industrial or distribution systems.

Furthermore, these critical components are used throughout various points in our electrical infrastructure. Utilities use breakers that switch different feeders (distribution lines) that may power different sections of a town or city. A lot of industrial facilities and commercial locations will use 347/600V three phase power. It’s all based on the loads that the customer is trying to power, as they would “step up” or “step down” the voltage to suit their manufacturing processes based on the loads they need to supply power to.

What is a switchboard?

For many, a switchboard presents images in the mind’s eye of 1920s flappers, wrangling tangled wires of primitive telephone systems at the dawn of the communications era. It is what was used to connect one “speaking telegraph” caller to another. However, with regards to power distribution, the IEC defines a switchboard as part of a manual or manually supervised exchange at which the interconnection of circuits is manually controlled. Unlike telephone systems, however, in the context of power distribution, we are ensuring that low voltage circuits are functioning properly and allowing for processes to occur through the redirection of the flow of electricity from the source, to several different machines or loads.

There are many different applications in which switchboards may be used. A switchboard can be used to distribute power to individual loads, control equipment, drives, transformers, or panel boards. Each circuit is designed with a function and load in mind and are fashioned with a circuit breaker to protect the machines or devices down the line. These distinct circuits can be metered to ensure that the correct voltage and current are delivered to the loads located downstream which results in increased load management and added protection.


Both the switchgear and switchboards are critical components within our electrical networks.

These two components are not interchangeable, but rather commonly collaborate to provide maximum protection and reliability.

If you are deciding on which system to use, know that it depends on your design and power requirements. To understand more about where each system fits, check us out at T&T Power Group. We are the experts of power distribution solutions!

To learn where we are headed as a power distribution company, we encourage you to read about our new partners in Western Canada - 3 Phase Power Systems.

Power On!

Posted by Reuben Siebenga | Mar 12, 2020 | Categories: Power Distribution