The Unseen Role of Utility Cabinets Regarding Switchgear Power System Security and Safety

In order for electrical energy to be transferred from coal, nuclear or renewable energy power stations and reach the appropriate residential, commercial, industrial or infrastructural utilization, it must first pass through numerous different control and regulation locations. Some of these various locations are high, medium and low voltage switchgear power systems.

In one of their three forms switchgear systems exist along the entirety of the electricity supply chain. high voltage switchgear systems occur in the form of power substations that contain circuit breakers, contact boards, sensors and disconnection devices to control and regulate energy. Medium and low voltage systems in comparison, exist within facilities, however they generally contain the same basic components as the higher voltage systems.

Although switchgear power systems were designed to help protect power workers, industry personnel and the general public from dangerous electrical exposure, these systems can themselves be extremely dangerous. For this reason, such systems are usually enclosed in locked utility cabinets to impede access to the live, hazardous portion of the installation.

The Role of Utility Cabinets in Securing Switchgear Power System Sites

Electrical utility cabinets can house many different forms of electrical equipment in order to prevent unintentional contact by humans or animals, intentional tampering and unwanted contamination. In the case of switchgear power systems utility cabinets fulfill all three of these roles.
Within high voltage power substations the electricity handled by switchgear power stations can reach 1100 kilovolts (ultra high voltage), whilst medium and low voltage systems in industrial settings handle approximately 300 kilovolts and less than 100 kilovolts respectively. This amount of energy is unimaginable regarding unintentional contact or tampering. Housing of components is therefore contemporarily increasingly important, due to the escalating prevalence of break-ins at power substations and industrial complexes.

This year, in the United States alone, over 2700 thefts and break-ins regarding power substations have been reported, most of these centered on the theft of copper wire. This is due to the fact that copper, a key component of power installations due to its irreplaceable role as a conductor, has rapidly increased in value. A number of these break-ins have also involved the intentional vandalism of switchgear components, one of which resulted in a fire.

The role of utility cabinets in protecting components such as fuses and Circuit Breakers from the weather or contaminants such as dust is also extremely significant. Dust contamination is well known as leading to short circuits and general outages. In an industrial or substation setting, this could be potentially catastrophic.

Although utility cabinets help to prevent issues occurring within switchgear systems, certain problems with the design of modern cabinets do exist. It has been shown in various situations, that cabinets can be opened by thieves and vandals without too much effort. It has also been found that the construction of cabinets cannot withstand certain electrical fault occurrences, with situations been reported where doors were blown of the installation by a fault.

In general however, design and safety aspects of these cabinets are rapidly improving, and for the most part these installations provide concerned personnel with a safer work environment than would otherwise exist.