What is Electrical Panel – Its Types, Components & Function

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What is Electrical Panel – Its Types, Components & Function

An electrical panel is like the brain of electricity distribution. It receives electricity from the grid and safely sends it to all the circuits in buildings in residential industrial or commercial settings. In case of a short circuit or overload, it protects the electrical system. The performance of an electrical panel is key to the efficient distribution of electricity.

An electrical panel is a control centre for the distribution of electricity. The power which comes from the DISCOM’s grid is received by the electrical panel. Thereafter, it sends the electricity to the different outlets and appliances in the building.

Importance of Electrical Panels

The following points illustrate the importance of electrical panels:

  • An electrical panel plays a vital role in troubleshooting electrical issues. If there is a problem in turning on a device, or if turning on a device creates a problem in other devices, you can trace the root of the problem to an electrical panel.
  • An electrical panel is crucial for a building’s safety. A panel uses circuit breakers to stop the electricity in case of overload or short circuit.
  • An electrical panel ensures efficient distribution of electricity.
  • Electrical problems play an important role in industrial automation.
  • Electrical panels are important for the safety of industrial operations.

How Does An Electrical Panel Work?

An electrical panel receives electricity from your DISCOM’s grid. First, the current goes through a main breaker. From the main breaker, the current goes through busbars and reaches the circuit breakers. Then the electricity goes to different circuits.

Each circuit breaker is connected to a particular circuit. A circuit will function so long as electricity passing through it is within the amperage limit of the circuit breaker. A circuit breaker will turn off the supply when the current passing through it exceeds its amperage limit. If the main breaker turns off, the power supply across your house will automatically turn off.

Components of an Electrical Panel

components of an electrical panel

An electrical panel consists of the following components:

1. Main Breaker

A main breaker is a large circuit breaker and is usually located at the top of an electrical panel. It handles the electricity load of a building. As a result, a main breaker is the circuit breaker with the largest amperage rating in an electrical panel.

If a main breaker trips, the power supply to the entire building is turned off. A main breaker can trip due to power demand being too high or due to a surge in power which the grid sends. A main breaker may also trip because an individual circuit breaker failed to trip. 

Usually, main breakers do not trip as individual circuit breakers trip before the need arises for a main breaker to trip.

2. Circuit Breakers

Circuit breakers are individual switches connected to different circuits. Each circuit breaker has an amperage limit. A circuit breaker will trip if the current passing through it exceeds its amperage limit. It stops current from flowing and protects an electrical panel and devices from damage.

3. Transformer

A transformer decreases AC voltage after receiving it from the grid and ensures that each circuit and device gets the appropriate voltage. It uses primary and secondary coils to change the voltage without changing its frequency.

4. Busbars

Busbars are conductors which carry electricity from a main breaker to circuit breakers. A busbar is a strip or bar made of copper, brass, or aluminium.

6. Neutral Bar and Ground Bar

A neutral bar is connected to a neutral wire linked to a DISCOM’s grid and a ground bar is connected to grounding wires attached to the circuits of a building.

6. Terminal Block

It receives electricity from multiple wires and sends it to different outlets. Terminal blocks make it easy to connect and modify the wiring. It can serve as a junction for connecting the components of the electrical panel.

7. Relays

Relays are switches which open and close circuits to turn on and off devices which require low electricity such as fans and pumps. Depending on the relay’s voltage and amperage rating, it can trip to protect the devices it sends electricity to.

8. Contactors

Contractors are similar to relays in function. The difference is that they are used for controlling the load for devices which require more current.

9. Enclosure

An enclosure is the metal box which holds the electrical panel. The back panel is used for mounting the components of the electrical panel. The ducts efficiently organise the wires connected to the panels. It reduces the noise between the devices of the electrical panel.

10. Wiring and Cables

There are several wires in a panel. They are used for connecting its components. Cables are used for connecting the panel to other devices.

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Types of Electrical Panels

types of electrical panels

There are several types of electrical panels based on their functionality. They are as follows:

1. Main Electrical Panel

The main electric panel is the main panel of any building. It has a main breaker to control the flow of electricity to the building. The power supply to the building is turned off if the main breaker trips. It controls the supply of electricity after receiving it from the grid. Modern versions of the main electric panel consist of circuit breakers while outdated ones consist of fuses.

2. Main Lug Panel

These panels do not have a main breaker. Instead, they are connected to a device called a lug. The lug supplies electricity to other circuits in the building. The main lug panel itself draws power from a main breaker panel.

3. Subpanels

Subpanels are used to expand the number of circuits in a building. It can be used to supply electricity to a specific part of a building such as a garage. It is connected to the main electrical panel by a circuit breaker.

4. Three-Phase Panel

Three-phase panels are used in industrial establishments. They provide a consistent supply of power to meet the electricity needs of an industry. Such panels can have 3 to 4 wires.

5. Automatic Power Factor Control (APFC) Panels

APFC panels use capacitors to improve the power factor in industrial establishments. They aim to deal with voltage fluctuations and are used in industries which use motors and transformers.

6. Motor Control Centre (MCC) Panels

Industries using multiple motors use MCC panels to control the electricity supply to the motors.

7. Power Control Centre (PCC) Panels

PCC panels distribute electricity to several sub-circuits. PCC panels control the distribution of electricity to equipment such as transformers, motors, and generators.

Capacities of Electric Panels for Homes

You must choose an electrical panel based on its capacity. If for some reason, your house needs more electricity power, accordingly, you must raise the capacity of your electrical panel. For example, if you install a solar system, it will increase the load on your electrical panel. 

Electrical panels are mostly available with the following capacities:

  • 100, 125, or 150-Amps: These electrical panels can substitute the older 60 or 80-ampere panels. Their major disadvantage is incompatibility with AFCI breakers.
  • 200-Amps: It is the standard electrical panel found in most Indian homes. It can meet the power requirements of most houses.
  • 400-Amps: Buildings with significant electrical requirements use electrical panels with a 400 Amp rating.

Factors to Consider While Buying an Electrical Panel

To ensure the safety and efficiency of the electrical supply in a building, it must be equipped with the right electrical panel. Here are the factors to consider while installing an electrical panel:

1. Power Needs

The electrical panel which best suits a building depends on its power needs. While a house can be expected to have moderate power requirements, an industrial or commercial establishment will have a significant power requirement.

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2. Future Plans

Do you intend to renovate or expand your house in the future? Will you add new appliances to your house? 

You must be clear about your plans. For example, if you buy a new AC or fridge, it will increase the electrical load on your electrical panel. Accordingly, you have to buy or upgrade your electrical panel.

3. Number of Circuits Required

You must check the number of circuits you need in your house.  The electrical panel must have the required number of slots to accommodate all the circuits required.

4. Safety Features

A panel must be equipped with good-quality circuit breakers and devices such as ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) and arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs).

How to Maintain Your Electrical Panel?

Here are some tips you can follow to maintain your electrical panel:

  • Visually inspect your panels for signs such as rust, damage or burns. Check for loose connections and proper labelling of all the components.
  • Ensure the panel is properly ventilated. It ensures that the panel does not get overheated.
  • Always check your electrical panel’s capacity before adding new appliances to your house.
  • Test the circuit breakers regularly to ensure that they are functioning properly.
  • Get your electrical panels checked by a professional if you hear weird sounds or smell a burning odour from the panel.

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Is It Time to Upgrade Your Electrical Panel?

Here are some ways in which you can decide if you need to upgrade your solar panel:

1. Burning Smell

If you smell a burning odour from the electrical panel, it is a clear indication that your panel is overloaded. In the worst-case scenario, it may even catch fire.

An electrical panel is crucial for a building’s safety. A panel uses circuit breakers to stop the electricity in case of overload or short circuit. As per a Hindustan Times report, nearly 70% of fire incidents in Mumbai happen due to short circuits.

2. Frequent Tripping

Another indication of overloading of your electrical panel is that the circuit breakers frequently trip. Tripping protects the panel and the entire electrical system against excessive power demand. If it happens frequently, it means that the panel is subjected to a power demand greater than it is capable of handling. Upgrading the panel is the best option in such a case.

3. Unusual Sounds

Frequently hearing strange sounds coming from the panel indicates that something is wrong with your panel. It could have something to do with a fault in the wiring or overloading of the panel.

4. Dimming Lights

If you see the lights get dim when you turn on devices such as the AC or the microwave, it could mean that the power demand exceeds the load which your electrical panel can handle.

5. Fuses Instead of Circuit Breakers

In outdated electrical panels, fuses perform the same function which the circuit breakers perform in today’s panels. Circuit breakers are better, safer, and more efficient than fuses. So if you have fuses in your electrical panel, it is time to upgrade the panel.

6. Panel is Old

If the panel is 25-30 years old, it will be outdated and won’t meet the standards of modern electrical devices. You can upgrade the panel to raise its capacity and efficiency standards.

7. Rust

Your electrical panel and its components such as screws and cables can get corroded due to rust. It can compromise the safety of the electrical panel and the rest of the electrical system of your house.

Plans to Add Appliances or Expand Your House

If you plan to add new appliances or renovate and expand your house, it will increase the load on your electrical panel. To manage the increased load, you must consider upgrading your electrical panel. 

For example, installing a solar system will increase the load on the electrical panel. If you want to know more about the types and benefits of a home solar panel system, you can check my blog.

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An electrical panel is critical for your house’s safety. It ensures the proper distribution of electricity across the circuits in your home. You must maintain your panel diligently and upgrade it if necessary.

Frequently Asked Questions:

An electrical panel receives electricity from the grid and distributes it across a building. It regulates the supply of electricity and ensures a building’s safety. It is used for troubleshooting electrical problems.

There are several signs you should watch out for. For example, circuit breakers may be frequently tripping, you may smell a burning odour from your electrical panel, or lights in your house could be flickering. In such cases, you must contact a professional to check your electrical panel and upgrade it if necessary.

Some common types of electrical panels you can buy include the main electrical panel, main lug panel, sub panel, 3-phase panel, APFC panel, MCC panel, and PCC panel.

The main components of an electrical panel are the main breaker, circuit breaker, busbars, transformer, and terminal block.

Fuses are an outdated technology. You must use modern circuit breakers in your electrical panel.

You must check if your electrical panel can accommodate the capacity of your solar system. If not, you must upgrade your electrical panel.

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