What Is a Substation? 3 Types of Substations

Depending on the kind of substation, it can be small like a mobile transformer or it can be massive, much in the way that you would think of a utility plant.

What Is a Substation? 3 Types of Substations
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Put simply, a substation is an electrical system that can handle a high-voltage capacity. Primarily, substations, are used to convert currents from AC to DC. Depending on the kind of substation, it can be small like a mobile transformer or it can be massive, much in the way that you would think of a utility plant.

On top of this, substations don't just vary in size but also by types and usage. From mobile substations to step-up type substations, here are some of the most popular and their applications.

Step-Up Type and Step-Down Type Substation

The step-up type system gets its power from a nearby production facility that relies on a large power transformer to enhance voltage levels for future transmission. Often, this voltage is then set offsite to remote locations. Typically, power transmission is done from a transmission bus to other transmission lines. A step-up type system will include circuit breakers that facilitate switch generation and also includes transmission circuits that are in or out of service as projects and factory apparatuses require.

There is also the step-up type counterpart which is known as the step-down type system. As opposed to the step-up type system which enhances voltage, the step-down type system will reduce a high-voltage current for later distribution. These systems are more commonly placed at different points of a grid or network to connect different sources. Like the step-up type systems, these are critical for converting voltage lines.

Mobile Substation

Mobile substations are critical for providing energy during outages or other power emergencies. Mobile substations are also beneficial for planned outages so there aren't critical interruptions to service. Most commonly, a mobile substation is built as a trailer-mounted system and is completely self-contained. The trailer contains the transformer, low and high-voltage protection, built-in metering systems, and cooling systems. Sometimes, mobile substations can be rented. Otherwise, they are crafted to personalized specifications depending on a buyer's precise needs.

These are factory-tested and you should buy from providers that are IEEE members. The IEEE is the world's largest technical professional organization for electrical engineering.

kV Substations

Depending on its applications, the system can come with a variety of kV specifications. The most common are 11 kV, 220 kV, and 132 kV. An 11 kV system is most regularly used to gather energy. This energy is then transmitted at a high voltage from its producing station. The 220 kV system demonstrates the highest level that a step-down type can produce. Then, the 132 kV system is another step-down type example for systems that require the voltage to be stepped down before it can be distributed further.

Of course, these three examples aren't the only types of systems that exist. In many urban areas, there simply isn't the room to construct a fully-functional system. That's why many companies are investing more in underground distribution stations. These rely on underground spaces to reduce overall urban space requirements and lower the amount of space that is occupied above the ground. Some substations are specifically classified by the following factors:

  • Nature of duties: What duties does the system provide? What are its common applications?
  • Services rendered: These systems commonly require transformers, converting stations, and switching stations.
  • Operating voltage: Operating voltage will typically vary between high, extra-high, and ultra-high voltage scenarios.
  • Importance: These systems are the ones you will find on power grids supplying electricity to consumers.
  • Design: Design-based systems can be indoor or outdoor, mounted, or even affixed to poles.

The substation is a critical part of the power grid and without it, many would go without power or struggle to handle common electrical tasks. They're critical systems with widely varied applications and their uses continue to grow.

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Marshall Stevenson
See all posts by Marshall Stevenson