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AIM: To study to an introductory level, about switch gears and protective schemes.

A great demand of electricity is a notable feature of modern civilisation. Most of the
energy is required for lighting, heating, domestic appliances, industrial electrical machinery
and electrical traction. This importance of electric supply has constructed such
circumstances that we must secure the power system from large faults and provide
protection to the machineries and devices used and to ensure maximum continuity of the
power supply. For this purpose, machines such as generators and motors are needed to be
switched on and off many times. Means provided to achieve this are called ‘Switch gears’.

“The appratus used for switching, controlling and protecting electrical circuits and
equipments is known as switchgear.”

The term switchgear, used in association with the electric power system, or grid,
refers to the combination of electrical disconnects, fuses and/or circuit breakers used to
isolate electrical equipment. Switchgear is used both to de-energize equipment to allow
work to be done and to clear faults downstream. Switchgear is a non-count noun, much like
the software term “code,” and is never used as “switchgears.”

The very earliest central power stations used simple open knife switches, mounted
on insulating panels of marble or asbestos. Power levels and voltages rapidly escalated,
making open manually-operated switches too dangerous to use for anything other than
isolation of a de-energized circuit. Oil-filled equipment allowed arc energy to be contained
and safely controlled. By the early 20th century, a switchgear line-up would be a metal-
enclosed structure with electrically-operated switching elements, using oil circuit breakers.
Today, oil-filled equipment has largely been replaced by air-blast, vacuum, or SF6
equipment, allowing large currents and power levels to be safely controlled by automatic
equipment incorporating digital controls, protection, metering and communications.


Typically switchgear in substations is located on both the high voltage and the low
voltage side of large power transformers. The switchgear located on the low voltage side of
the transformers in distribution type substations, now are typically located in what is called
a Power Distribution Centre (PDC). Inside this building are typically smaller, medium-voltage
(~15kV) circuit breakers feeding the distribution system. Also contained inside these Power
Control Centres are various relays, meters, and other communication equipment allowing
for intelligent control of the substation.

For industrial applications, a transformer and switchgear (Load Breaking Switch Fuse
Unit) line-up may be combined in housing, called a unitized substation or USS.
Switchgear for low voltages may be entirely enclosed within a building. For
transmission levels of voltage (high voltages over 66 kV), often switchgear will be mounted
outdoors and insulated by air, though this requires a large amount of space. Gas- [or oil- or
vacuum-] insulated switchgear used for transmission-level voltages saves space, although it
has a higher equipment cost.

At small substations, switches may be manually operated, but at important switching

stations on the transmission network all devices have motor operators to allow for remote


A piece of switchgear may be a simple open air isolator switch or it may be insulated
by some other substance. An effective although more costly form of switchgear is gas
insulated switchgear (GIS), where the conductors and contacts are insulated by pressurized
sulphur hexafluoride gas (SF6). Other common types are oil [or vacuum] insulated
switchgear. A simple fuse used at our home, or a toggle switch is a simple low tension
switch gear.

Several different classifications of switchgear can be made:

 By the current rating.

 By interrupting rating (maximum short circuit current that the device can safely
o Circuit breakers can open and close on fault currents
o Load-break/Load-make switches can switch normal system load currents
o Isolators may only be operated while the circuit is dead, or the load current is
very small.

 By voltage class:
o Low voltage (less than 1,000 volts AC)
o Medium voltage (1,000–35,000 volts AC)
o High voltage (more than 35,000 volts AC)

 By insulating medium:
o Air
o Gas (SF6 or mixtures)
o Oil
o Vacuum
 By construction type:
o Indoor (further classified by IP (Ingress Protection) class or NEMA enclosure
o Outdoor
o Industrial
o Utility
o Marine
o Draw-out elements (removable without many tools)
o Fixed elements (bolted fasteners)
o Live-front
o Dead-front
o Open
o Metal-enclosed
o Metal-clad
o Metal enclose & Metal clad
o Arc-resistant

 By interrupting device:
o Fuses
o Air Blast Circuit Breaker
o Minimum Oil Circuit Breaker
o Oil Circuit Breaker
o Vacuum Circuit Breaker
o Gas (SF6) Circuit breaker

 By operating method:
o Manually-operated
o Motor-operated
o Solenoid/stored energy operated

 By type of current:
o Alternating current
o Direct current

 By application:
o Transmission system
o Distribution.

Essential features of switch gears are:

(1) Complete Reliability: With continued trend of interconnection and the

increasing capacity of generating stations, the need for a reliable switch gear has
become of paramount importance. This is not surprising because switch gear is
added to the power system to improve the reliability. When fault occurs on any
part of the system, the switch gear must operate to isolate the faulty section
from the remainder circuit.
(2) Absolutely Certain Discrimination: When fault occurs on any section of the
power system, the switch gear must be able to discriminate between the faulty
section and healthy section. It should isolate the faulty section from the system
without affecting the healthy part. This will ensure the continuity of supply of
(3) Quick Operation: When fault occurs on any section of the power system, the
switch gear must operate quickly so that no damage is done to generators,
transformers and other equipment by the short circuit currents. If fault is not
cleared by the switch gear quickly, it is likely to spread into healthy parts, thus
endangering complete shutdown of the system.
(4) Provision for Manual control: A switch gear must have provision for manual
control. In case the electrical (or electronic) controls fail, the necessary operation
can be carried out through manual control.
(5) Provision for Instruments: There must be provisions for instruments which may
be required. These maybe in the form of ammeter or voltmeter on the unit itself,
or necessary current and voltage transformers for connecting to the main switch
board or a separate instrument panel.

[Photograph of a Substation]

One of the basic functions of switchgear is protection, which is interruption of short-

circuit and overload fault currents while maintaining service to unaffected circuits.
Switchgear also provides isolation of circuits from power supplies. Switchgear is also used to
enhance system availability by allowing more than one source to feed a load.

Switch gear covers a wide range of equipment concerned with switching and
interrupting currents under both normal and abnormal conditions. It includes switches,
fuses, circuit breakers, relays and other equipments. A brief account of these devices is
given below.

SWITCHES: A switch is a device which is used to open or close an electrical circuit in a

convenient way. It can be used under full-load or no-load conditions but it cannot interrupt
the fault currents. When the contacts of a switch are opened, an arc is produced in the air
between the contacts. This is particularly true for circuits of high voltage and large current
capacity. The switches may be classified into (1) air switches (2) oil switches. The contacts
of the former are opened in air and that of the latter are opened in oil.

 Oil Switch 

i. Air-break switch: It is an air switch and is designed to open a circuit

under load. In order to quench the arc that occurs on opening such a
switch, special arcing horns are provided. Arcing horns are pieces of
metals between which arc is formed during opening operation. As the
switch opens, these horns are spread farther and farther apart.
Consequently, the arc is lengthened, cooled and interrupted. Air-
break switches are generally used outdoor for circuits of medium
capacity such as lines supplying an industrial load from a main
transmission line or feeder.
ii. Isolator or disconnecting switch: It is essentially a knife switch and is
designed to open a circuit under no load. Its main purpose is to
isolate one portion of the circuit from the other and is not intended to
be opened while current is flowing in the line. Such switches are
generally used on both sides of circuit breakers in order that repairs
and replacement of circuit breakers can be made without any danger.
They should never be opened until the circuit breaker in the same
circuit has been opened and should always be closed before the
circuit breaker is closed.
iii. Oil switches: As the name implies, the contacts of such switches are
opened under oil, usually transformer oil. The effect of oil is to cool
and quench the arc that tends to form when the circuit is opened.
These switches are used for circuits of high voltage and large current
carrying capacities.

FUSES: A fuse is a short piece of wire or thin strip which melts when excessive current flows
through it for sufficient time. It is inserted in series with the circuit to be protected. Under
normal operating conditions, the fuse element it at a temperature below its melting point.
Therefore, it carries the normal load current without overheating. However, when a short
circuit or overload occurs, the current through the fuse element increases beyond its rated
capacity. This raises the temperature and the fuse element melts (or blows out),
disconnecting the circuit protected by it.

[Top: Fuse on line,

Right: Close-up photo
of fuse, Left: fuse in a
CIRCUIT BREAKER: A circuit breaker is equipment which can open or close a circuit under all
conditions viz. no load, full load and fault conditions. It is so designed that it can be
operated manually (or by remote control) under normal conditions and automatically under
fault conditions. For the latter operation, a relay circuit is used with a circuit breaker. The
circuit breaker essentially consists of moving and fixed contacts enclosed in strong metal
tank and immersed in oil, known as transformer oil.

[Photograph of a large oil

circuit breaker, under

[Fig: Fault clearing process] [Photograph of circuit breakers at a sub-station]

Under normal operating conditions, the contacts remain closed and the circuit
breaker carries the full-load current continuously. In this condition, the e.m.f. in the
secondary winding of current transformer (C.T.) is insufficient to operate the trip coil of the
breaker but the contacts can be opened (and hence the circuit can be opened) by manual or
remote control. When a fault occurs, the resulting overcurrent in the C.T. primary winding
increases the secondary e.m.f. This energises the trip coil of the breaker and moving
contacts are pulled down, thus opening the contacts and hence the circuit. The arc
produced during the opening operation is quenched by the oil. It is interesting to note that
relay performs the function of detecting a fault whereas the circuit breaker does the actual
circuit interruption.
RELAYS: A relay is a device which detects the fault and supplies information to the breaker
for circuit interruption. It can be divided into three parts viz.
(i) The primary winding of a current transformer (C.T.) which is connected in
series with the circuit to be protected. The primary winding often consists of
the main conductor itself.
(ii) The second circuit is the secondary winding of C.T. connected to the relay
operating coil.
(iii) The third circuit is the tripping circuit which consists of a source of supply,
trip coil of circuit breaker and the relay stationary contacts. Under normal
load conditions, the e.m.f. of the secondary winding of C.T. is small and the
current flowing in the relay operating coil is insufficient to close the relay
contacts. This keeps the trip coil of the circuit breaker unenergised.
Consequently, the contacts of the circuit breaker remain closed and it carries
the normal load current. When a fault occurs, a large current flows through
the primary of C.T. This increases the secondary e.m.f. and hence the current
through the relay operating coil. The relay contacts are closed and the trip
coil of the circuit breaker is energised to open the contacts of the circuit

[Siemens overload relay family]

The primary purpose of power system protection is to ensure safe operation of
power systems, thus to care for the safety of people, personnel and equipment.
Furthermore, the task is to minimize the impact of un- avoidable faults in the system. From
an electrical point of view, dangerous situations can occur from overcurrents and
overvoltages. For example, an asynchronous coupling of networks results in high currents.
Earth faults can cause high touch voltages and therefore endanger people. The general
problem is always voltage and/or current out of limit. Hence, the aim is to avoid
overcurrents and overvoltages to guarantee secure operation of power systems. For the
safety of the components it is also necessary to regard device specific concerns, for example
oil temperature in transformers, gas pressure in gas insulated components etc. These points
are not directly related to electrical values, but, as mentioned, they always come from or
lead to un-allowed high voltages or currents. Another issue is mechanical stress. Whenever
power is converted electromechanically, one has to consider not only the electrical but also
the mechanical equipment. An example is mechanical resonance of steam turbines due to
under frequency.
Nowadays, electromechanical protection devices are replaced by microprocessor
based relays with a number of integrated features. Currents and voltages are suitably
transformed and isolated from the line quantities by instrument transformers and
converted into digital form. These values are inputs for several algorithms which then reach
tripping decisions. For the design and coordination of protective relays in a network, some
overall rules have become widely accepted:

Discrimination: A protection system should disconnect only the faulted part (or the smallest
possible part containing the fault) of the system in order to minimize fault consequences. It
is the quality of the protective system to distinguish between normal and abnormal
conditions and also its location i.e. within protective zone or elsewhere.

Reliability & Stability: A protection system has to care for reliable function of relays in order
to improve reliability. Reliable functionalities are planed and referred to as backup
protection. Moreover, reliability is reached by combining different protection principles, for
example distance and differential protection for transmission lines. Stability of the system is
the quality of the system due to which system remains inoperative & stable under certain

Requirement adequateness: There is variety of faults and disturbances that exists in the
power system. It is impossible to provide protection against each and every abnormal
condition due to economical reasons. But in spite of that system must provide adequate

Simplicity & Economy: As a rule, “protection cost should not be more than 5% of the total
cost.” Protective system should be as simple as possible so that it is easily operative and
Zones of protection

Fig: One-line diagram of a portion of an electric power system illustrating primary relaying

Figure illustrates primary relaying. The first observation is that circuit breakers are
located in the connections to each power element. This provision makes it possible to
disconnect only a faulty element. Occasionally, a breaker between two adjacent elements
may be omitted, in which event both elements must be disconnected for a failure in either
The second observation is that, without at this time knowing how it is accomplished,
a separate zone of protection is established around each system element. The significance
of this is that any failure occurring within a given zone will cause the tripping (i.e. opening)
of all circuit breakers within that zone, and only those breakers. It will become evident that,
for failures within the region where two adjacent protective zones overlap, more breakers
will be tripped than the minimum necessary to disconnect the faulty element. But, if there
were no overlap, a failure in a region between zones would not lie in either zone, and
therefore no breakers would be tripped. The overlap is the lesser of the two evils. The
extent of the overlap is relatively small, and the probability of failure in this region is low;
consequently, the tripping of too many breakers will be quite infrequent. Finally, it will be
observed that adjacent protective zones of Fig. overlap around a circuit breaker. This is the
preferred practice because, for failures anywhere except in the overlap region, the
minimum number of circuit breakers needs to be tripped. When it becomes desirable for
economic or space-saving reasons to overlap on one side of a breaker, as is frequently true
in metal-clad switchgear the relaying equipment of the zone that overlaps the breaker must
be arranged to trip not only the breakers within its zone but also one or more breakers of
the adjacent zone, in order to completely disconnect certain faults. This is illustrated in Fig
given below, where it can be seen that, for a short circuit at X, the circuit breakers of zone B,
including breaker C, will be tripped; but, since the short circuit is outside zone A, the
relaying equipment of zone B must also trip certain breakers in zone A if that is necessary to
interrupt the flow of short circuit current from zone A to the fault. This is not a disadvantage
for a fault at X, but the same breakers in zone A will be tripped unnecessarily for other faults
in zone B to the right of breaker C. Whether this unnecessary tripping is objectionable will
depend on the particular application.

Fig.: Overlapping adjacent protective zones on one side of a circuit breaker


[1] Art and science of protective relaying, C.R. Mason

[2] Principles of power systems, V.K. Mehta & Rohit Mehta
[3] Gas Insulated switchgear up to 145kV brochure, LS Industrial systems
[4] Protection of power system with distributed generation: State of art, Martin Geidl
[5] Evaluation and Development of Transmission Line Fault Locating Techniques, E.O.


[1] www.google.com
[2] www.wikipedia.com
[3] www.flickr.com
[4] www.lsis.biz