The evolution of substations

Leading substation development for over 100 years

Dependable substation performance is a key factor for grid reliability. ABB has been designing and building substations since the 1900s. Since then, we have supplied tens of thousands of air-insulated, gas-insulated and hybrid substations with voltage levels up to 1,100kV to a range of very different sites: from the most densely populated locations to the harshest environments on earth. ABB engineers, manufactures and delivers complete substations for greenfield installations, carries out retrofit and extension projects.

Inside a substation

ABB has over 100 years of experience in building substations.
A typical air-insulated substation consists of the following equipment, all of which is manufactured by ABB:
  • Switchgear, including circuit breakers, for interrupting rated and short-circuit current
  • Disconnectors for visibly cutting power during no-load conditions
  • Earthing switches for connecting parts of the substation to earth
  • Power transformers for stepping the voltage up and down
  • Instrument transformers for measuring the current or voltage
  • Surge arresters for protecting the switchgear from high overvoltages caused by lightning
  • Substation automation, control and protection systems for the electrical equipment in the substation
  • A control building, housing the medium voltage switchgear as well as the electrical control and protection systems.
Bringing innovations to fruition for maximum customer benefit

ABB focuses on the continual development of new technologies to increase the availability and reliability of substations, and address the crucial issues of size, speed and automation.

Some of ABB’s milestones:
Slashing substation size by up to 70 percent

220 kV GIS substation, Ras Laffan C, Qatar
The first major step in reducing the footprint of substations was ABB’s launch of gas-insulated switchgear (GIS) in 1965. The new technology enabled a reduction in the area needed to accommodate the substation by up to 70 percent, as compared to the conventional air-insulated switchgear (AIS), which in those days covered an area the size of a soccer pitch.



In 2001, ABB combined GIS and AIS technologies in a hybrid substation, cutting space required by up to 50 percent as compared to a conventional AIS substation.

In AIS substations, the DCB can now massively reduce footprint.
Alongside the development of GIS technologies, ABB has significantly improved the performance of conventional AIS substations. The latest innovation, the “combined” disconnector circuit breaker (DCB), integrates the disconnecting function into the circuit breaker. This eliminates the need for two separate free-standing disconnectors and reduces the footprint of the substation by up to 50 percent. ABB is the first company to develop this technology for voltage levels up to 500kV.

Ushering in automation and IEC 61850

In the late 1980s, ABB innovations in substation automation replaced conventional protection and control systems with numerical ones. These offer advanced applications and enable operators to safely control and monitor the entire substation from a central control room.

ABB is also dedicated to the development of industry standards, including those used in substation automation. ABB has been a driving force in the development and verification of the IEC 61850 substation communications standard* since 1995. It has fully implemented the standard throughout its portfolio of substation automation products and systems.

Extensive experience in substation automation and system integration allow ABB to provide optimized solutions for transmission and distribution substations.

Since implementing the world’s very first IEC 61850 multi-vendor substation automation system in 2004, ABB has supplied hundreds of systems and thousands of products for new and retrofit projects.

ABB is the world's leading supplier of air-insulated, gas-insulated and hybrid switchgear and substations, as well as IEC 61850 substation automation solutions and systems.

* IEC 61850 standard for “Communication networks and systems in substations”

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    What is a substation?

    • Electricity is stepped up and stepped down to higher and lower voltages several times on its way from the power generation plant to the consumer. This takes place at a substation. There are two types of substation: transmission substations with voltage ratings from 170 kV to 800 kV, and distribution substations which step down the voltage from 170 kV to the medium voltage level required by the customer.

    The creation of substation

    • ABB delivers more substation projects than any other supplier worldwide. Our capabilities are global and total – from complete project management to the manufacture of components and parts, and the upgrading, optimization and servicing of existing installations.

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