What is Switchgear?

Electrical power systems can be complicated, which is why they’re intimidating to so many people. The truth is, though, we simply can’t live without these systems these days, especially when it comes to running your business. By learning a bit more about your electrical system, you can be better prepared to keep your system running smoothly or communicate issues to an electrical engineer when something goes wrong. One element of your electrical system that you should consider learning about is your switchgear.


How Does Switchgear Work?

What is switchgear in the first place? In short, “switchgear” is a collective term that refers to all aspects of your electrical system that can protect hardware from faults. Elements like fuses, switches, circuit breakers, isolators, transformers, lightning arresters, and relays are all part of your switchgear.

The purpose of switchgear is simple: it de-energizes your power system when maintenance needs to be performed or repairs need to be made. Needless to say, no one should be working on an electrical system when it’s still energized! That’s why having the proper switchgear (and ensuring it’s functioning properly) is so important to the overall health of your system and the wellbeing of your employees.

Switchgear may seem complex, but the way it works is relatively simple. Automated switchgear uses a relay and a circuit breaker to shut off during faulty conditions. If a short circuit or other interruption occurs, the relay will open the faulty circuit and ensure that the line in question is disconnected from the rest of the system. That way, your power supply remains uninterrupted, but you don’t have to worry about your equipment being damaged.

Your switchgear provides several benefits to your business. First, you can be confident in the fact that your electrical system is reliable and will be protected in the event of an electrical malfunction. Your entire facility won’t be completely shut down thanks to the fast action of the switchgear. Additionally, since switchgear shuts down the defective parts of your electrical system, you’ll appreciate knowing that the working components of your system won’t be affected.


Switchgear vs. Switchboards

It’s common to hear the terms “switchgear” and “switchboard” used interchangeably, but there are a few key differences to be aware of.

Switchgear is put in place to transmit power from one source to another and are typically tied in directly to utility. Switchboards, as we know, are used to disconnect the power supply in the event of a fault, as well as control the power supply itself. So, switchgear has a wider range of capabilities than a typical switchboard.

Additionally, switchboards are much less powerful than switchgear. Typically, you won’t find switchboards that can handle more than 600 volts of power. Switchgear, on the other hand, can handle up to 350 kilovolts at its maximum. (That’s 350,000 volts, if you don’t want to do the math.) There’s no question, then, why switchgear is so important in facilities that use high levels of electricity.


Types of Switchgear

In short, we can identify three major categories of switchgear: high voltage, medium voltage, and low voltage. High voltage switchgear can operate above 36 kV, while medium voltage is operable between 3 and 36 kV. Low voltage switchgear operates under 3 kV.

You’ll typically find low voltage switchgear in industries like healthcare, where electrical systems are vital but not particularly intense. Medium voltage switchgear can be used in indoor or outdoor systems and include a cooling function to ensure high temperatures don’t interfere with the operation of the system. Most businesses will use either low or medium voltage switchgear.

Finally, high voltage switchgear, as the name suggests, is only used in high voltage situations, such as electrical power plants or substations. This switchgear directly impacts the quality of the electricity supply, which is why it requires special attention and is only used in specific situations.


How to Extend the Life of Your Switchgear

Since your switchgear is so vital to the operation of your electrical system, it’s important that you work to keep it in good condition. Extending the life of your switchgear not only saves money, it also provides you and your workers with confidence that your workspace is safe and functional for years to come.

Of course, conducting regular maintenance is one of the best ways to extend the life of your switchgear. Be sure to bring in a qualified electrical engineer to examine your switchgear and recommend any repairs or replacements that may be necessary.Speaking of replacements, you can replace the circuit breakers within your system to help your switchgear last longer. Replacing a circuit breaker is much quicker and less expensive than having to repair or replace multiple elements of your switchgear.

Another important part of maintaining your switchgear is reducing the possibility of an arc flash. Arc flashes occur when conductors are not connected properly and electricity is discharged through the faulty connection, potentially resulting in high-temperature explosions that can cause harm to your workers, your equipment, and your facility. Working with an electrical engineer to evaluate your risk of an arc flash incident allows you to take preventative measures against them and can extend the life of your switchgear as well.

When you work with an electrical engineer, ask them about including sensors within your switchgear. Using sensors to monitor the performance of your switchgear can give you advance warning when maintenance may be necessary, allowing you to maintain your existing equipment for years or even decades.


Working with MTA

Switchgear is one of the most vital aspects of your electrical system, which is why you should trust its maintenance and upkeep to the experts. At MTA Electrical Engineers, we have the expertise and experience to help you keep your switchgear in tip-top shape throughout the life of your business.

In addition to analyzing the effectiveness of your switchgear, we also perform additional electrical services such as coordination studies, electrical testing, power system evaluations, short circuit analyses, and more. We’re proud to serve clients in Los Angeles, San Diego, and throughout Southern California.


Contact our team today to schedule your next service!

350 Pauma Place
Escondido, CA 92029

(760) 658-6098

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