The electric panel must be considered a component of the electrical installation in the same way as a circuit breaker or a plug socket. It is made up of several pieces of switchgear and control gear assemblies grouped into one or more adjacent enclosures. This article describes the definition, components, and types of electrical panel boards. It helps you to understand the types of low-voltage electrical panels.
What is an Electrical Panel?
The electrical panel is the main component of an electrical distribution system that divides electrical power to the branch circuits while providing protection devices for each circuit in a common enclosure.
The National Electrical Code® (NEC®) defines an electrical panel as a single panel or group of panel units designed for assembly in the form of a single panel; including buses, automatic overcurrent devices and equipped with or without switches for the control of light, heat or power circuits; designed to be placed in a cabinet or cutout box placed in or against a wall or partition and accessible only from the front
According to the NEC® definition, electrical panels are:
- Used to control light, heat, or power circuits
- Placed in a cabinet or cutout box
- Mounted in or against a wall
- Accessible only from the front
Other definitions of the electrical panel:
- Distribution board
- Electrical switchboard
Electrical Panel Types
Electrical panels are often categorized by their general application, whether they are used for lighting and appliances or used for power.
1. Lighting electrical panels
Lighting and appliance electrical panels contain overcurrent protection and a means to disconnect lighting, appliances, receptacles and other small load circuits. All other electrical panels are used for power and may also feed other panels, motors and transformers in the building’s or site’s overall power distribution systems.
2. Power electrical panels
Power electrical panels are generally used in industrial facilities and new or retrofit commercial construction applications where the electrical distribution needs are more complex and require system-level solutions. These electrical panels offer broad system application capability for service entrance requirements or general power circuit distribution. For example, multi-tenant use facilities commonly employ power panelboards for electrical distribution. Increasingly, power electrical panels are specifically designed to meet applications where changes and additions must be fast, convenient and easy.
Today’s innovative power electrical boards enable facilities to achieve reliable power performance at optimal energy-efficiency levels within the smallest footprint possible. The primary benefits of power electrical panels are their ability to accommodate wider ranges of volts AC while housing more breakers in less space. Both circuit breakers and fusible switches can be included in a single, bolt-on chassis design. A variety of special power electrical panel features enable facility managers to coordinate power distribution selectively, meter and monitor power usage closely and remotely and ensure personnel safety with arc flash and fault protection options.
For larger-scale buildings or sites, a large single panel, frame or assembly of panels can be used for mounting the overcurrent switches and protective devices, buses and other equipment. These floor-mounted, freestanding solutions are known as switchboards.
Switchboards are most often accessible from the front, mounted on the floor and close to the wall. Switchboards function the same as panelboards (and often simply feed other panelboards) but on a larger scale and at a low voltage of 600 Vac or less. They are used to divide large blocks of electrical current into smaller blocks used by electrical devices. This division helps distribute power to loads; disconnect loads for safer maintenance; and protect conductors and equipment against excess current due to overloads, short circuits and ground faults.
Generally, switchgear should be considered whenever the highest degree of power reliability is desired. It is especially appropriate for critical power applications—those that are so important to a user’s enterprise that they cannot sustain a loss of power without incurring a harmful loss of revenue, production or human safety.
4. Low voltage switchgear
In some cases, more highly functional low-voltage distribution equipment is needed to best protect, control and monitor critical power electrical distribution systems safely and efficiently. In these instances, low-voltage switchgear is often the optimal solution. Low-voltage switchgear provides centralized control and protection of low-voltage power equipment and circuits in industrial, commercial and utility installations involving transformers, generators, motors and power feeder circuits.
5. Motor control panel board
The motor control panel board allows operators to control the starting, stopping and speed of the motors in a safe and efficient manner. The board typically contains a combination of both manual and automatic controls, as well as safety features such as emergency stop buttons and overload protection. The components of the board are designed to work together to ensure the motor operates within safe and optimal conditions.
Motor control panel boards can be custom-built to meet the specific needs of a particular application and can range in size from small panels that control a single motor to large panels that control multiple motors. They play a critical role in ensuring the safe and reliable operation of industrial processes.
6. Power factor correction panel board
A power factor correction panel board is an electrical device used to improve the power factor of an electrical system. Power factor is a measure of how efficiently electrical power is being used in a system. A low power factor means that the system is not using electrical power efficiently which can result in higher electricity bills and decreased efficiency of electrical equipment.
The power factor correction panel board works by monitoring the power factor of the electrical system and then automatically adjusting the reactive power to improve the power factor. This is done by using capacitors which are devices that store electrical energy to offset the reactive power.
7. Automatic transfer switch panel board
These panel boards are used to switch between the utility power and backup power during power outages. They contain an automatic transfer switch that will switch to the backup power source when the utility power is lost.
The ATS panel board is designed to monitor the power supply from both sources and automatically switch to the secondary source when the primary source fails or becomes unstable. This ensures uninterrupted power supply to critical loads such as data centers, hospitals and other essential facilities.
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