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Single line diagram (SLD)

We usually depict the electrical distribution system by a graphic representation called a single line diagram (SLD). A single line can show all or part of a system. It is very versatile and comprehensive because it can depict very simple DC circuits, or a very complicated three-phase system.

Learn To Interpret Single Line Diagram (SLD)
Learn To Interpret Single Line Diagram - SLD (on photo: An example of 66/6.6kV power substation single line diagram)

We use universally accepted electrical symbols to represent the different electrical components and their relationship within a circuit or system. To interpret SLDs you first need to be familiar with the electrical symbols. This chart shows the most frequently used symbols.

Individual electrical symbols
Transformer symbolTransformerRepresents a variety of transformers from liquid filled to dry types. Additional information is normally printed next to symbol indicating winding connections, primary /secondary voltages and KVA or MVA ratings.
Drawout circuit breaker symbolRemovable or drawout circuit breakerNormally represents a MV drawout circuit breaker 5kV and above.
Future drawout circuit breaker symbolFuture removable or drawout circuit breaker positionRepresents a structure equipped to accept circuit breaker in the future, commonly known as provisions.
Non-drawout circuit breaker symbolNon-drawout circuit breakerRepresents a fixed mounted low voltage circuit breaker.
Removable or drawout circuit breaker symbolRemovable or drawout circuit breakerRepresents a drawout low voltage circuit breaker.
Disconnect switch symbolDisconnect switchRepresents a switch in low or medium/high voltage applications (open position shown)
Fuse symbolFuseRepresents low voltage and power fuses.
Bus duct symbolBus ductRepresents low and medium/high voltage bus duct.
Current transformer symbolCurrent transformerRepresents current transformers mounted in assembled equipment. A ratio of 4000A to 5A shown.
 Potential or voltage transformerPotential or voltage transformerRepresents potential transformers usually mounted in assembled equipment. A ratio of 480V to 120V shown.
 Ground (earth) symbolGround (earth)Represents a grounding (earthing) point
 Battery symbolBatteryRepresents a battery in an equipment package
 Motor symbolMotorRepresents a motor and is also shown with an “M” inside the circle. Additional motor information is commonly printed next to symbol, such as horsepower, RPM and voltage.
 Normally open (NO) contact symbolNormally open (NO) contactCan represent a single contact or single pole switch in the open position for motor control
 Normally closed (NC) contact symbolNormally closed (NC) contactCan represent a single contact or single pole switch in the closed position for motor control
 Indicating light symbolIndicating lightThe letter inside circle indicates the color. The color red is indicated.
 Overload relay symbolOverload relayProtects a motor should an overload condition develop.
Capacitor symbolCapacitorRepresents a variety of capacitors.
Ammeter symbolAmmeterA letter is usually shown to designate the meter type (A = ammeter, V = voltmeter, etc.)
Instantanaeous overcurrent protective relay symbolInstantaneous overcurrent protective relayThe device number designates the relay type (50 = instantaneous overcurrent, 59 = overvoltage, 86 = lockout, etc.)
Emergency generator symbolEmergency generatorThe symbol is frequently shown in conjuction with a transfer switch.
Fused disconnect switch symbolFused disconnect switchThe symbol is a combination of a fuse and disconnect switch with the switch in the open position.
Low voltage motor control symbolLow voltage motor controlThe symbol is a combination of a normally open contact (switch), overload relay, motor and disconnect device.
Medium voltage motor starter symbolMedium voltage motor starterThe symbol is a combination of a drawout fuse, normally open contact (switch) and motor.
 Meter center symbolMeter centerA series of circle symbols representing meters usually mounted in a common enclosure.
 Load center panelboard symbolLoad center or panelboardOne circuit breaker representing a main device and other circuit breakers representing feeder circuits usually in a common enclosure.
Transfer switch symbolTransfer switch• Circuit breaker type transfer switch
• Non-circuit breaker type transfer switch
Current transformer with ammeter symbolCurrent transformer with connected ammeterThe instrument connected could be a different instrument or several different instruments identified by the letter.
Protective relay connected to current transformer symbolProtective relays connected to current transformerDevice numbers indicate types of relays connected, such as:
• 67 – Directional overcurrent
• 51 – Time overcurrent

Simple electrical circuit

Now, that you are familiar with electrical symbol, let’s look at how they are used in interpreting single line diagrams. Below is a simple electrical circuit.

Simple single line diagram
Figure 1 – Simple single line diagram

You can tell by the symbols that this single line diagram has three resistors and a battery. The electricity flows from the negative side of the battery through the resistors to the positive side of the battery.

Industrial single line diagram

Now, lets go through a industrial single line diagram. When interpreting a single line diagram, you should always start at the top where the highest voltage is and work your way down to the lowest voltage. This helps to keep the voltages and their paths straight.

To explain this easier, we have divided the single line into three sections.

A typical industrial single line diagram
Figure 2 – A typical industrial single line diagram

Area A //

Starting at the top, you will notice that a transformer is feeding power to the whole system. The transformer steps the voltage down from 35kV to 15kV, as indicated by the numbers next to the transformer symbol. Once the voltage has been stepped down, a drawout circuit breaker (a1) is encountered.

Do you recognize the drawout circuit breaker symbol?

You can assume this circuit breaker can handle 15kV, since it is attached to the 15kV side of the transformer, and nothing different is indicated on the single line diagram. Following the drawout circuit breaker (a1) from the transformer, it is attached to a heavier, horizontal line.

This horizontal line represents an electrical bus, which is a means used to get electricity to other areas or circuits.

Area B //

You will notice that two more drawout circuit breakers (b1 and b2) are attached to the bus and feed other circuits, which are at 15kV, since there has been no indication of voltage change in the system. Attached to the drawout circuit breaker (b1), a step-down transformer is used to take the voltage in that area of the system from 15kV down to 5kV.

SLD area B
SLD area B

On the 5kV side of this transformer, a disconnect switch is shown. The disconnect is used to connect or isolate the equipment below it from the transformer. The equipment below the disconnect is at 5kV, since nothing indicates the contrary.

Do you recognize the equipment attached to the lower side of the disconnect switch as being two medium-voltage motor starters?

A number of starters could be connected depending upon the particular system requirements. Now locate the second drawout circuit breaker (b2). This circuit breaker is attached to a fused disconnect switch and it is connected to a step-down transformer. Notice that all the equipment below the transformer is now considered low voltage equipment, because the voltage has been stepped down to a level of 600 volts or lower.

The last piece of electrical equipment in the middle portion of the diagram is another circuit breaker (b3). This time, however, the circuit breaker is a fixed low voltage circuit breaker, as indicated by the symbol.

Moving to the bottom area of the single line diagram, notice that the circuit breaker (b3) in the middle is connected to the bus in the bottom portion.

Area C //

To the bottom left and connected to the bus is another fixed circuit breaker. Look carefully at the next grouping of symbols.

Do you recognize the automatic transfer switch symbol?

Also, notice that a circle symbol which represents an emergency generator is attached to the automatic transfer switch. This area of the single line diagram tells us that it is important for the equipment connected below the automatic transfer switch to keep running, even if power from the bus is lost. You can tell from the single line diagram that the automatic transfer switch would connect the emergency generator into the circuit to keep equipment running, if power from the bus were lost.

SLD area C
SLD area C

A low-voltage motor control circuit is attached to the automatic transfer switch through a low-voltage bus. Make sure you recognize these symbols. Although we do not know the exact function of the low voltage motor control in this circuit, it is obvious that it is important to keep the equipment up and running. A written specification would normally provide the details of the application.

On the right side of the third area there is another fixed circuit breaker connected to the bus. It is attached to a meter center, as indicated by the symbol formed by three circles. This indicates that the electric company is using these meters to keep track of power consumed by the equipment below the meter center.

Below the meter center is a load center or panelboard that is feeding a number of smaller circuits. This could represent a load center in a building that feeds power to the lights, air conditioning, heat and any other electrical equipment connected to the building.

Few more words //

This over-simplified analysis of a single line diagram gives you an idea of the kind of story such diagrams tell about electrical system connections and equipment.

Just keep in mind that although some single line diagrams may appear overwhelming by virtue of their size and the wide variety of equipment represented, they can all be analyzed using the same step-by-step method.

Reference // Fundamentals of Electrical Distribution by EATON

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Edvard Csanyi

Electrical engineer, programmer and founder of EEP. Highly specialized for design of LV/MV switchgears and LV high power busbar trunking (<6300A) in power substations, commercial buildings and industry facilities. Professional in AutoCAD programming.


  1. Alejandro Nava
    Dec 04, 2022

    The first figure is NOT a one-/single-line diagram. It’s a circuit diagram. The one you find in circuit analysis textbooks.

  2. Bello Ahmad
    Nov 30, 2022

    Thankd for this opportunity given is an eye opening one for me

  3. Nilesh Raut
    Nov 04, 2022

    What is the symbol of VFD.

    • Trevan Ainsworth
      Dec 12, 2022

      Variable Frequency Drive

  4. Jeffrey Evans
    Sep 21, 2022

    Interesting article, thank you.
    How would you you display a power meter on an 11kv SLD?

  5. Mohamed
    Jun 02, 2022

    Thanks so much for sharing your ideas.

  6. Muhammad Sayyed
    Nov 22, 2021

    Is there a standard symbol list by IEC or ANSI?

    May 11, 2021

    We can learn from excellent described in details of this electrical SLD

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