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Home / Technical Articles / Substation and switchyard support structures for electrical equipment (you SHOULD know)

Substation and switchyard structures

Substation and switchyard structures are used to support the above-grade components and electrical equipment such as cable bus, rigid bus, and strain bus conductors, switches, surge arresters, insulators, and other equipment. Substation and switchyard structures can be fabricated from latticed angles that form chords and trusses, wide flanges, tubes (round, square, and rectangular), pipes, and polygonal tubes (straight or tapered).

Substation and switchyard structures that support electrical equipment
Substation and switchyard structures that support electrical equipment (on photo: Raccoon Mountain Facility switchyard, Marion County, Tennessee; credit: flee the cities)

Common materials used are concrete, steel, aluminum, and wood. This technical article gives an overview of electrical equipment, identifies the various components and structure types, and describes structure outlines. Photos of selected substation structures are also included.

Before going into support structures, let’s define the basic terms and definitions you already know, but nevertheless. It’s always good to remind ourselves!

Please note that the photos in this article are shown for reference and pictorial purposes only. The structures shown are not necessarily representative of good engineering practice and are not necessarily the only support type to be utilitized.

Table of contents:

1. Terms and Definitions

1.1 Substation

A common definition of the power substation is “an assemblage of equipment through which electrical energy in bulk is passed for the purpose of switching or modifying its characteristics.” Larger substations may contain control houses, transformers, interrupting and switching devices, and surge protection.

See Figure 1.

Substation Aerial View
Figure 1 – Substation Aerial View (photo credit:

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1.2 Switchyard

The term switchyard is generally applied to the assemblage of switches, power circuit breakers, buses, and auxiliary equipment that is used to collect power from the generators of a power plant and distribute it to the transmission lines at a load point. The switchyard may include step-up or step-down power transformers.

As far as structures are concerned, the terms substation and switchyard will be used interchangeably.

Switchyard layouts
Figure 2 – Switchyard layout (photo credit: Transformers Magazine)

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1.3 Unit Substation

For lower voltages (typically 69 kV and lower), metal-enclosed unit substations are typically used to home switches, fuses, circuit breakers, transformers, and controls. They are usually mounted on reinforced concrete pad foundations.

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1.4 Transmission Line

Transmission lines are power lines, typically with voltages at 69 kV and above. Voltages lower than 69 kV are usually referred to as distribution lines. Transmission lines can be protected from lightning strikes by shield wires or surge arresters.

Shield wires found on transmission lines entering substations are used for protection of the substation equipment. Shield wires may also be used for communication.

Transmission Line Components
Figure 3 – Transmission Line Components (photo credit: Christopher Maciosek at Flickr)

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1.5 Air-Insulated Substation and Switchyard

An air-insulated substation or switchyard (AIS) has the insulating medium of air. The high-voltage bus is bare metallic tubing or cable, supported by insulators, and insulated from adjacent conductors, grounded structures, and substation grade by air.

This type of switchyard or substation uses disconnect switches, which when open depend on the air for insulation across the switch’s open gap.

Bushings, porcelain or composite, are used to route electrical energy into the circuit breaker or the transformer.

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More Information

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.

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