Switchboard vs Switchgear vs Panelboard: What is the Key Difference?

What are the differences between an electrical switchboard vs electrical switchgear…

What are the differences between an electrical switchboard vs electrical switchgear vs panelboards? Read our blog to find out the answer.

what is a switchboard?

what is a switchboard

The U.S. National Electrical Code (NEC) defines a switchboard as “a large single panel, frame, or assembly of panels on which are mounted, on the face, back, or both, switches, over-current and other protective devices, buses,and usually instruments”.

The role of a switchboard is to allow the division of the current supplied to the switchboard into smaller currents for further distribution and to provide switching, current protection and (possibly) metering for those various currents. In general, switchboards may distribute power to transformers, panelboards, control equipment, and, ultimately, to individual system loads.

What Is a Switchgear?

Switchgear is used in low-, medium- and high voltage commercial electrical systems. Switchgear consists of individual components that often power and switch on equipment like transformers, generators, power networks and motors. A system can also use switchgear to identify faults and interrupt the electrical circuit before an overload or anomalous signal causes damage.

What’s included in a switchgear setup will vary based on system requirements. Switchgear made for protection will typically have a fuse, circuit breaker or lightning arrester.

Units made for power control will often have devices like relays, current transformers and control panels to monitor and control equipment. Appropriately rated switchgear is required at every switching point in a network.

SF6 insulated ring network  cabinet

What is an electrical panelboard?

Panelboards are used to safely distribute electricity throughout commercial and industrial facilities. A panelboard is a component of an electrical distribution system which divides an electrical power feed into branch circuits, while providing a protective circuit breaker or fuse for each circuit, in a common enclosure. A panelboard services to protect branch circuits from overloads and short circuits. Panelboards are designed to meet UL 67 and NEMA Standard PB1.  

Components of a Panelboard

An electrical panelboard consists of three essential components which guarantee the provision of electricity to end users and power multiple devices.

what is a panelboard

Main Breaker:

The main breaker has the key function of controlling the electricity coming from the power line to distribution end.

Without the main protection, panelboard can become exhausted by huge amount of power, wires may get damaged, and appliance may blow up which will start an electrical fire.

That is why, main breakers play a significant role in protection of distribution panels.

Circuit Breaker:

Circuit breakers supply protection to their respective branches/circuits against overflow of electricity. If a circuit breaker opens, supply of the only particular circuit will get interrupted, and the remaining branches will have no effect.

Bus Bars:

Bus bars are metallic bars (usually made of copper or aluminum), used to transfer power from the incoming supply to various feeder branches.

Switchgear Consists of Two Main Components:

1.Power control components like control panels, protective relays, and current transformers to protect, monitor, and control power conduction.

2.Power switcher/conducting components like circuit breakers, lightning arresters or fuses which can disconnect power flow when a fault occurs.

The Main Components of a Switchboard Are:

1. Busbars to carry/distribute incoming power from its source to different sections of the installation.

2.Panels/frames which hold devices like circuitry indicators and switches to allow the delivery of power or the control of each circuit.

3.Control/monitoring devices that connect/control multiple power sources to/from the switchboard. These can include frequency gauges and synchroscopes.

Switchboard vs Switchgear vs Panelboards: what is the difference?

different between switchboard switchgear and panelboard

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.

Switchboard and panelboards provide a similar functionality in a power distribution system. Panelboards are typically flush mounted or surface mounted and are limited to a maximum of 1,200 A incoming current (main).  Switchboards are free-standing units that are front connected and, like panelboards, require only front access. 

However, switchboards can allow for both front and rear access if desired. Switchboards can contain bussing and overcurrent devices up to 5,000 A. Where panelboards are designed to UL 67, switchboards are governed by UL 891.

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