Pin Me

How a Substation Works

written by: Sunita Sanguri • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 5/19/2010

How does a substation work? Substations are used for stepping up voltage for transmission, stepping it down for distribution, and for switching purposes. In this article we discuss the various functions of a substation and its working principles. We also discuss the safety devices used.

  • slide 1 of 6


    How does a substation work? Why is it known as a “substation?"

    Normally stations are where we catch trains and where people get on and off. By the same analogy we can explain what a substation does. Electricity has to be transmitted over large distances as the place where the power is being generated and the place where it is consumed can be far apart. The electricity is transmitted at very high voltages and low currents to reduce the heat, eddy currents, and other transmission losses.

    The substations are where the voltages are increased to high values by using step up transformers, and after the transmission, they are again stepped down for distribution. In addition changing the voltages the substations have a variety of protective devices like circuit breakers and fuses to protect the distribution networks. These are designed in such a way that various distribution circuits can be isolated for repairs and load shedding.

    Substations are normally outdoors and are enclosed by a wire fence. However in residential or high density areas, the substation may be indoors and housed inside a building to restrict the humming noise of the huge transformers.

  • slide 2 of 6

    View of a Substation

  • slide 3 of 6

    Function of Substations

    The substations apart from the distribution of the electricity have many other functions as follows:

    1. Step up and step down of the voltage for transmission and distribution: As for the same power transmitted at a higher voltage the current is lower it results in lower transmission losses, hence is the need of stepping up and stepping down the voltage.
    2. Switching and isolating the circuits for maintenance: Switching is also an important function of substations. Closing down a feeder circuit when the load demands are high needs to be done for the safety of the generating plants. Switching high voltages is a dangerous work, and special circuit breakers like air circuit breakers and oil circuit breakers for quenching the arcs have to be used.
    3. Load shedding: When the power demand is more than the supply, the substations do load shedding on distribution circuits to maintain balance.
    4. Correction of power factors circuits: The power factor has to be kept at the correct value when reactive loads are there to protect the generating plant and increase efficiency.
    5. Safety devices like circuit breakers and fuses: These safety devices are provided for protecting the machineries on the distribution circuit as well as in the substation against high short circuit currents.
    6. It contains bus bars for splitting the power for distribution: Thick bars of copper to which various distributing circuits are connected by nuts and bolts are known as bus bars.
  • slide 4 of 6

    Power Distribution

    Electricity Distribution
  • slide 5 of 6

    Operation of a Substation

    Electricity is generated in a thermal power plant, hydroelectric power plant, and nuclear power plant, etc. This electricity is then supplied to a transmission substation near the generating plant. In the transmission substation the voltage is increased substantially using step up transformers. The voltage is increased to reduce the transmission losses over long distances. This electricity then is supplied to a power substation where it is stepped down using step down transformers and then supplied to a distribution grid. In the distribution grid there are additional transformers and voltage is further reduced for distributing further down the grid. From here the electricity is supplied to step down transformers near residential quarters that step down the voltage to 110/220 Volts as per each country's requirement.