As the demand for renewable energy sources continues to grow, solar electrical engineers are becoming more and more essential. These professionals are responsible for designing, installing, and maintaining solar energy systems that convert sunlight into usable electricity.
One critical aspect of designing a solar energy system is selecting the appropriate electrical components, such as switchboards and panelboards. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they serve different functions and are not interchangeable.
A switchboard is a device that distributes power to various loads or circuits. It acts as the primary power distribution point in a building or facility. Switchboards are typically used in larger commercial or industrial applications that require high voltage power distribution. They are designed to handle large amounts of power and are often customized to meet specific requirements.
On the other hand, a panelboard is a device that distributes power to smaller loads or circuits. Panelboards are commonly used in residential and smaller commercial applications. They are designed to handle lower voltage power distribution and are typically pre-engineered and pre-configured to meet general requirements.
Panelboard vs Switchboard with Solar
When it comes to solar energy systems, the choice between a switchboard and panelboard depends on the size and complexity of the system. Larger solar systems that generate high levels of power require a switchboard for efficient power distribution. Smaller systems, such as those used in residential applications, can be powered by a panelboard.
Another consideration is the ability to handle the unique requirements of solar energy systems. Solar systems require specific components, such as inverters, that convert DC power generated by solar panels into AC power that can be used by electrical loads. The choice between a switchboard and panelboard must consider the ability of the device to integrate these components and handle the unique power distribution requirements of a solar energy system.
Interestingly, the NEC treats panelboards and switchboards similarly when it comes to interconnection in solar energy systems. However, the NEC also allows for some flexibility in design under engineering supervision. Section 705.12(B)(3)(5) (2020) allows for interconnections to switchboards, switchgear, and panelboards that do not comply with the 120% rule if they are made under the supervision of a licensed professional engineer. This means that, under certain circumstances, switchboards can be used in solar energy systems even if they do not meet the 120% rule, as long as they are designed and installed by a qualified professional.
In summary, solar electrical engineers must carefully consider the electrical components they choose when designing solar energy systems. While switchboards and panelboards may appear similar, they serve different functions and are not interchangeable. The choice between a switchboard and panelboard depends on the size and complexity of the solar system and the ability of the device to handle the unique requirements of a solar energy system. With the right choice of electrical components, solar electrical engineers can design efficient and effective solar energy systems that meet the needs of their clients. By working with knowledgeable professionals like our team at Ecuip Engineering and staying up-to-date on regulations, solar electrical engineers & installers can design systems that are both effective and compliant.