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What does a Substation Electrician do?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Electrical substations are energy distribution posts found throughout cities and countrysides. A substation receives high-voltage electrical energy from a power plant, transforms it into low-voltage streams, and distributes it to nearby homes and businesses via power lines. A substation electrician performs routine maintenance and emergency repairs on circuit breakers, transformers, power cables, and other elements at a substation. The work of a substation electrician can be very dangerous, and professionals receive several years of formal training and supervision before they are allowed to work independently.

Most substation electricians are employees of utility companies or municipal government organizations. A professional may be responsible for working at a single, large substation or servicing many smaller substations within a certain geographic area. In rural settings, a substation electrician may need to travel hundreds of miles between substations to conduct preventive maintenance and perform repairs. Some substations are housed within buildings, but most are outdoor structures enclosed by fences. A substation electrician, therefore, must be prepared to work during inclement weather conditions to prevent or correct power outages.

The main responsibility of a substation electrician is to ensure transformers and voltage regulars are kept in proper working order. Daily duties include inspecting power lines, testing voltage and current levels, and replacing old circuit breaker fuses. When a particular element is not working correctly, an electrician temporarily disables incoming electricity to diagnose and fix the problem. He or she must have extensive knowledge of the schematics of a substation to avoid personal injury and widespread power outages while performing repairs.

A person who wants to become a substation electrician usually needs to hold a high school diploma and participate in a four- to five-year apprenticeship program. As an apprentice, a new worker splits his or her time between classroom studies and on-the-job training. He or she takes courses to learn about the physical properties of electricity, blueprint reading, safety measures, and emergency procedures. At job sites, an apprentice works as an assistant to experienced electricians gain firsthand knowledge of the trade.

Upon completion of an apprenticeship, an individual can take a regional licensing exam to receive substation electrician credentials. A professional who gains several years of experience in an entry-level position might have the opportunity to become a supervisor within a private power company or a quality control inspector for a city agency. Some substation workers eventually decide to pursue continuing education and additional training to become independent commercial or residential electricians.

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Discussion Comments

By everetra — On Jul 13, 2011

@SkyWhisperer - We sell database software and electrical utilities are among our customers. What they do is take all of the substation information, along with the relays, transformers, and circuit breakers – basically any device that they want – and import it into the software.

They also use the database to store results from electrical safety testing that they’ve performed on substation equipment; primarily this would be relay equipment but it includes tests on other devices such as transformers and circuit breakers.

The reason that it’s so important is that government auditors will come from time to time and have them verify that the equipment is in proper working order. Our software will produce reports of the last test times, and test results. If they were to fail the audit, they could be hit with million dollar fines.

By SkyWhisperer — On Jul 12, 2011

As part of my job duties I had to visit a sub station once, with a coworker who had experience in the electrical industry. I remember arriving at the sub station and seeing one of the badged employees open the gates for us. Obviously only certain people were allowed inside.

I was given a brief tour of the facilities. They took us inside one building where they showed us relay panels and so forth, and outside we could see the huge transformers and circuit breakers.

My associate politely told me, “Don’t touch” – and believe me, it was the furthest thing from my mind. When you see those wires and massive standing structures, you realize the amount of power that they can deliver and have a healthy respect for electricity and for everything that goes on in a sub station.

After a few minutes we left, but overall I found it to be a very educational experience.

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