The Difference Between Switchgear and Switchboard

The switchboard and switchgear are both important systems that control the way power is delivered to electrical circuits. The terms are often used interchangeably. It is important to understand, however, that the switchboard and switchgear each perform different functions. They are typically designed to work together in tandem, to provide maximum protection and coordination.

Since both units have different capabilities and functions, they are each suited to different installation types and can be used at different electrical network stages. The decision to use a switchboard, switchgear or both will depend on the requirements and design of the power system in question. To understand where each unit works best, we’ll take a look at their fundamental differences and functions and outline the details of switchgear vs. switchboard!

Understanding Switchgear

Quick Switchgear Definition

A switchgear is a collection of switching devices needed to service low, medium, or high-voltage electrical circuits. These devices are needed to switch power on and off for transformers, generators, motors, transmission lines, and power networks in domestic, commercial, and industrial distribution systems.

Full Switchgear Definition

A switchgear is an electrical system that controls and protects electrical equipment, primarily by interrupting power flow in the event of an electrical fault. It is typically composed of multiple switches, fuses, and circuit breakers, which work together to provide a safe and reliable flow of electrical power.

Switchgear is often used in high-voltage power systems, such as those found in substations, power plants, and industrial facilities. These systems can operate at voltages ranging from a few hundred volts to over a thousand volts, and they require sophisticated protection and control mechanisms to ensure that they operate safely and efficiently. Switchgear is designed to provide this protection and control by isolating faulty equipment, protecting other equipment from damage, and minimizing the risk of electrical fires and other hazards.

Switchgear can be divided into two main categories: outdoor and indoor. Outdoor switchgear is typically used in high-voltage power systems, while indoor switchgear is typically used in lower-voltage systems. Both types of switchgear can be further divided into various sub-categories, depending on their specific applications and design characteristics. Some examples of switchgear sub-categories include air-insulated switchgear, gas-insulated switchgear, and hybrid switchgear.

Switchgear vs. switchboard

Switchgear Consists of Two Main Components:

  • Power switcher/conducting components like circuit breakers, lightning arresters, or fuses which can disconnect power flow when a fault occurs.
  • Power control components like control panels, protective relays, and current transformers to protect, monitor, and control power conduction.

Understanding Switchboards

Quick Switchboard Definition

Switchboards can come in single panel, assembly panel or structural frame format. They allow incoming electric power to be divided into smaller circuits, depending on requirements. Circuit breakers and overcurrent protection devices should be selected according to the load current.

After the switchboard has divided the currents, these currents are distributed in terms of load (for example, lighting loads or plug sockets). Some switchboards, such as those used in residential settings, come with an option to meter the amount of power used by each individual circuit.

Full Switchboard Definition

A switchboard is a device used to control and distribute electrical power in buildings or industrial settings. It is typically a large panel that contains switches, circuit breakers, and other electrical control devices that are mounted on the front or back end. These devices help to control the flow of electricity and protect the electrical system from overloading or short-circuiting.

Switchboards are designed to handle lower voltages that are generally less than 600 volts, making them suitable for use in buildings, factories, and other industrial settings. They are primarily used to distribute power to multiple sources and transmit them to individual loads, transformers, panel boards, and control equipment.

Switchboards can be custom-designed to meet specific power requirements, making them versatile and adaptable to various settings. They can also be grouped or individual mounted, depending on the requirements of the installation. Furthermore, switchboards can have either fixed or draw-out mounted circuit breakers, depending on the need for maintenance and repair.

Overall, switchboards are essential components of electrical distribution systems, and their proper selection, installation, and maintenance are critical to ensuring the safe and efficient operation of electrical systems.

switchboard vs. Switchgear

The Main Components of a Switchboard Are:

  • Panels/frames which hold devices like circuitry indicators and switches to allow the delivery of power or the control of each circuit.
  • Control/monitoring devices that connect/control multiple power sources to/from the switchboard. These can include frequency gauges and synchroscopes.
  • Busbars to carry/distribute incoming power from its source to different sections of the installation.

Switchgear vs. Switchboard Comparison Chart

The following chart compares the main differences between switchgear and switchboard. Switchgear vs. switchboard is a common comparison in the electrical industry, as both are used for power distribution and control. This chart provides an overview of the key differences in terms of voltage range, control mechanisms, cost, and applications. By understanding these differences, it becomes easier to determine which solution is best suited for a particular electrical setup.

VoltageSwitchgear is specifically engineered to manage high voltages that may reach up to 350 kV.Switchboards are specifically engineered to manage lower voltages, typically under 600 volts.
Safety FeaturesSwitchgears are equipped with automatic functions and can be manually controlled in emergency situations.Switchboards lack automatic features and are installed to indicate the power consumption of individual circuits.
HardwareSwitchgear utilizes switching devices necessary for low to medium-voltage circuits.Switchboards feature front or back-mounted panels that house switches, buses, and electrical control devices.
UseSwitchgear is primarily utilized in industrial settings to power transformers, motors, transmission lines, generators, and power networks.Switchboards are solely employed for power distribution to multiple sources and transmission to individual loads, transformers, panel boards, and control equipment.
PriceThe cost of switchgear is higher than that of switchboards, owing to their intricate configuration.Switchboards are relatively less costly than switchgear. However, individually mounted switchboards are more expensive than group-mounted ones.
Circuit BreakersWithdrawable units are the typical form of breakers used in switchgear.Switchboards are typically equipped with fixed-mounted circuit breakers that are directly connected to the busbar.
Switchgear vs. switchboard is a common comparison in the electrical industry, as both are used for power distribution and control.

Switchgear vs. Switchboard: The Difference

The main difference between switchgear and a switchboard lies with the voltage each is designed to handle. Switchgear are designed for high voltages (up to 350 kV) whereas switchboards are designed for voltages below 600V.

Because switchgear are designed for high power handling capacity, they make use of devices like circuit breakers. These circuit breakers can be withdrawn or replaced while the system is still operational. Switchgear operate on mechanisms which enable the connection and subsequent disconnection of electrical power to other circuits or loads. This comprises devices like fuses and relays in addition to circuit breakers.

While a switchboard consists of similar mechanisms as those used in a switchgear system, a switchboard is typically made up of a panel, frame or assembly on which buses, mechanisms and instruments like protective devices and switches are mounted.

Ultimately, the difference comes down to cost. While switchgear are more robust, flexible and reliable than switchboards, they are generally much more expensive.

Understandably, HVAC engineering can be complex. If this seems like an issue best left to the professionals, you might be better asking yourself “are there local engineers or plumbers near me that can help me with my issue?”

If you’d like to know more about the differences between switchgear and switchboards or need help and advice on other issues relating to HVAC electrical engineering, air conditioning repair or heating, and cooling, please do not hesitate to contact our family-run business today.