One of the more notable pieces of engineering that makes complex power distribution easier and more affordable is busbars. Generally housed inside switchgears, panel boards, or busways, busbars serve to conduct an ample current of electricity. Instead of branching the main power supply at one location, busbars enable new circuits to branch off anywhere along the busway.
Typically, a busbar is used to connect high voltage equipment at electrical switchyards, and low voltage equipment in battery banks, but it also finds use in the automotive and defense industries. It is considered a conductor used for collecting electric power from incoming feeders and delivering it to outgoing feeders. In simplistic terms, they are a type of electrical junction point where all incoming and outgoing electrical currents meet.
The busbar system consists of an isolator and a circuit breaker. In the event of a fault, the circuit breaker trips and the fault portion of the busbar can be easily disconnected from the circuit. With such capabilities, busbars find use in a wide range of applications. There are however, two primary types of busbars, those of which are laminated and flexible.
Laminated busbars are often utilized in cellular communications, power and hybrid traction, base stations, large network equipment, and more. Flexible busbars, on the other hand, are used in electric, hybrid, and fuel cell vehicles, power links for generators, transformers, charging stations, and many other applications. Beyond these uses, busbars also offer several benefits that make them crucial in electrical distribution systems.
In electrical power distribution systems, busbars reduce operational costs while allowing for greater flexibility. While busbars are more expensive than wiring harnesses, they last longer and do not necessitate regulator replacement. Furthermore, they distribute power more efficiently which reduces overall energy consumption. More than that, they are easily adaptable for renewable energy integration and can be customized for many purposes.
Busbars are often preferred over other conductors because they can withstand external weather conditions. This makes them ideal options for electrical substations and switchyards. Additionally, they are produced in a variety of shapes, including flat strips, solid bars, or rods, and they are usually made of copper, brass, or aluminum. When space is limited or alternative electrical distribution options are needed, busbars are go-to choices for many industries.
The type of material and the shape of the busbar determines the “ampacity.” Ampacity is the maximum current, in amperes, that a conductor can carry without exceeding its temperature rating. Plating a busbar with tin or silver helps protect against oxidation. For example, copper coated busbars are durable and good conductors with high thresholds for high temperature fluctuations. If a busbar is not plated, the surface may oxidize over time, making it lose its conductivity. Lastly, silver coatings offer the highest electrical and thermal conductivity with the lowest contact resistance.
Coatings may also be added for cosmetic purposes. Finger marks and handling smudges during the assembly of busbars are quite common. The natural oils in these marks darken the surrounding copper, making them appear dirty. As such, coatings are used to prevent such occurrences. It is important to note that coatings may hinder maintenance, increasing working temperature, and add to overall cost.
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