What Is A Substation? 15 Things (2024) You Need To Know

Are you considering buying a house near an electrical substation?

This equipment is a critical part of the electrical power system, and there are benefits and drawbacks to living by one.

In this blog, we’ll tell you what you need to know about purchasing a property near a substation.

Let’s get started.

1. What is an electrical substation?

Substations are part of the electrical generation, transmission, and distribution system.

They transform voltage from high to low (or vice versa) and perform several other critical functions.

Before the power reaches the consumer from the generating station, the electric power is likely to flow through several substations at different voltage levels.

2. Who owns a substation?

Substations are often owned and operated by an electrical utility.

However, they can also be owned by a large industrial or commercial customer.

Generally, they’re unattended facilities that rely on SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition, a computer-based monitoring system) for remote supervision and control.

3. Where does the term “substation” originate from?

The term “substation” comes from the days before the distribution system became a grid.

Central generation stations started to become larger and small generating plants were converted to distribution stations.

These smaller stations would receive their energy supply from a larger plant instead of using their own generator.

In the beginning, substations were only connected to a single power station as subsidiaries of that power station.

Now, of course, they are part of a much more complicated system.

4. What are the different types of substations?

There are a variety of ways that substations can be described.

This includes their voltage class, their applications within the power system, the method used to insulate most connections, and the style and materials the structures use.

We’ll include the most common types of substations below:

bulletTransmission substation: This type of substation connects two or more transmission lines.

In the simplest situation, all transmission lines have the same voltage.

bulletDistribution substation: This substation transfers power from the transmission system to the distribution system of an area.

bulletStep-up substation: These substations raise the voltage from generators (usually at power plants) so electricity can be transmitted efficiently.

bulletStepdown substation: These facilities lower the voltage from transmission lines to what is known as a sub-transmission voltage, which is sometimes used for industrial purposes.

bulletCollector substation: A substation that may be required in projects like a wind farm or photovoltaic power station.

It resembles a distribution substation, but power flows in the opposite direction.

bulletConverter substation: Stations that change the frequency of the current or converts it from alternating to direct current or the reverse.

Converter substations may be associated with high-voltage direct current converter plants, traction currents, or interconnected networks.

bulletSwitching station: A substation without transformers and which operates only at a single voltage level.

These stations are sometimes used as collectors and distribution stations.

bulletRailways: A substation used by electrified railways.

bulletMobile substation: A substation on wheels mounted on a self-contained semi-trailer meant to be pulled by a truck 

5. What are the components of a substation?

Substations have transformers that lower the very high transmission voltages into a voltage of less than 10,000.

This voltage is suitable for distribution systems (or the lines that deliver power to the consumer).

Substations have circuit breakers and switches that allow the isolation and direct control of certain parts of the transmission and distribution systems.

You’ll also find capacitors in substations to smooth the voltage output.

6. Where is a substation located?

The location of a substation must be carefully considered.

Sufficient land area is required for installation with necessary clearances for electrical safety.

The land must also have access for heavy equipment so that large apparatuses (such as transformers) can be properly maintained.

Substations that are in coastal areas may be impacted by flooding or tropical storms.

These substations may need to be on elevated structures to keep equipment sensitive to surges hardened against these elements.

Additionally, the site should have room for expansion due to load growth or planned transmission additions.

Environmentally, the location should consider drainage, noise, and road traffic effects.

Finally, the substation should be reasonably central to the distribution area that must be served.

The site must be secure from intrusion so that passersby cannot get in and people are protected from electric shock and arcs.

Ensuring the substation is secure will also protect the electrical system from misoperation due to vandalism.

7. Will the EMFs impact you?

 EMFs (electric and magnetic fields) are produced wherever electricity is used.

This means they’re around us constantly in daily life.

People are exposed to EMFs from the distribution lines along the street and the wiring in their homes.

That said, you can also experience EMFs in schools, factories, offices, public transport, etc.

While not many people live close to a high-voltage power line, those who do will also experience this as a significant source of exposure.

In the last several decades, there have been some indications that EMFs have caused diseases like childhood leukemia.

However, the evidence for this linkage is lacking and the science is uncertain.

Ultimately, it remains only a possibility.

What you should do before purchasing a home near power lines is do your due diligence.

There are a variety of charts that explain safe distances from power lines, and there are plenty of homes that experience the benefits of living near a substation (see below) while minimizing risks.

8. What are the advantages of living near a substation?

bulletMore privacy: One of the biggest benefits of living close to power lines is increased privacy due to regulations that require large setbacks between houses near this type of infrastructure.

bulletNo chaos: Because you’ll have fewer neighbors, your neighborhood is unlikely to be chaotic.

You can enjoy a quiet life.

bulletMinimal power supply cuts: When you’re farther away from power lines, you’re more likely to experience power supply cuts.

When you’re located right along the lines, you’ll benefit from being the first supplied without many interferences.

bulletQuick electricity repairs: If there is a power outage in your area, power company technicians are likely to respond as soon as possible to fix your lines because they are critical infrastructure to the entire system.

bulletAffordable properties: Most people don’t love the idea of living near substations either because of aesthetics or unfounded medical/safety concerns.

Because of this, properties nearby often have low demand and are priced reasonably.

bulletBeautiful properties: To market these properties, developers work extra hard to make them beautiful and appealing.

bulletZero reported health issues: While there are rumors of health issues associated with living near power lines, no scientific evidence exists of these problems.

bulletStrict restriction laws: There are government restrictions about how close homes can be to the nearest towers (normally at least 150 meters away).

There are also regulations about other activities, including farming, flying kites/model planes, shooting, etc.

bulletNo danger: Your property may be near a power line, but they’re at a safe distance.

If there’s an accidental power cut, the space in-between minimizes the risk of electrocution.

bulletNo exposure to EMF: If you’re worried about EMF exposure, you can require information about the frequency strength of the power lines or get substation reports to find this information.

bulletEasy to find the EMF strength: Request information about the frequency strength of the powerlines from the relevant power authority.

bulletFree yard maintenance: Because you live near the power lines, you’ll often benefit by having the power company take care of the trees for you in case they interfere with the grid.

bulletPerfect hunting grounds: Any land under power lines is usually open with vegetation, which makes it the perfect place to hunt.

bulletSafe homes: As there’s more space between homes, any accidents impacting your neighborhood are unlikely to affect you.

bulletGreener spaces: Vegetation often fills up the extra spaces and areas under the power lines, which means you’ll have more green space near your home.

9. What are the disadvantages?

bulletDifficulty selling the property: If you have doubts before buying a property, you’ll likely encounter buyers with the same uncertainty when selling the property.

bulletLow property resale value: Due to the doubt surrounding the substation and its appeal, you may need to take a lower price when selling the home.

bulletMortgage issues: Banks know the risks associated with properties near power lines and may deny you a loan if you need one.

bulletProperty restrictions: After buying your house, you may wish to make an addition or install amenities like a swimming pool.

Unfortunately, the powerlines can affect your ability to do this.

bulletNoise: While the noise associated with a substation is normally not much louder than an air conditioning unit, it can still present a humming you might find annoying.

bulletUgly view: Power lines and towers are ugly, and you may not love the view from your backyard.

bulletRisk of fire: Cut wires can create sparks that ignite vegetation and develop into wildfires.

bulletRegular construction/maintenance work: Power lines need regular maintenance, and you may not love the presence of technicians from the power company in your neighborhood.

bulletRisk of underground line destruction by floods: Part of the grid may include underground wires, and these wires can experience damage from extreme weather.

If they are damaged, these repairs can take quite a while and will likely disrupt your daily activities.

bulletNegative perception: The perception of living near power lines is generally poor.

You may make the decision to live there after weighing the pros and cons, but that doesn’t mean that your friends or family will enjoy visiting or staying the night.

bulletConcerns about childhood leukemia: Some research in the 90s indicated a link between EMF and childhood leukemia.

While more recent studies have found a weak relationship between these two, the earlier research has created fear regarding living near power lines and substations.

bulletFears of multiple health issues: In general, people fear EMFs can cause cancer, birth, heart and liver defects, down syndrome, and more.

While science has not indicated there is a connection, there has also not been conclusive research against it.

10. How does a public utility district (PUD) decide when and where to locate a substation site?

As noted above, determining the location of a substation is complex.

Similarly, when a PUD decides when and where to locate a new substation, numerous factors are involved.

Here are the selection criteria:

bulletForecasted load

1. The PUD must ensure that the existing stations don’t exceed 100 percent of rated capacity.

2. The substation must meet expected growth based on country construction estimates.

bulletSystem requirements

1. Must be located close to existing transmission lines.

2. Must be located near existing load and load growth.

3. The substation must be reasonably central to the distribution area to be served.

bulletNational Electric Safety Code

 The code standards for supply stations must apply.

bulletLand purchase price

bulletLand availability

bulletLand parcel size

Must be adequate for substation equipment.

bulletSlope requirements

bulletGroundwater issues

bulletConditional use permit

In some circumstances, a conditional use permit must be issued by the city or county depending on the location of the site.

bulletEnvironmental permitting considerations (historical significance, shorelines, flood zone, wetlands)

bulletSite must have access for a mobile substation in an outage and allow for regular maintenance

bulletSecurity of location

bulletAesthetics and public perception

bulletRequired easements

11. Why would a PUD consider putting a substation in a residential area?

Because it is necessary to place substations at or near electrical demands, they can sometimes end up in residential areas.

Here, they’ll convert the power system voltage from transmission levels to distribution levels so that it can both safely and efficiently be delivered down our streets.

12. What type and size of substations will PUD build?

New substations are often 28 MVA (or 28 million watts).

The PUD typically requires a minimum of one acre of flat land for a substation.

The substation has a smaller footprint than this, but the rest of the land is used for both the setback and the fencing that surrounds the substation.

13. What type of aesthetics improve the look of a substation?

One of your main hesitations of living in a community may be that a substation is not attractive.

However, when a substation is constructed, PUD staff often works with the community to ensure that the design and landscaping are as favorable as they can be.

Here are some ways the PUD may improve the aesthetics around your substation.

bulletThey may reduce the sound design to national standards

bulletThey may improve the landscaping to make it more aesthetically pleasing

bulletThey may make fencing enhancements

bulletThey may manage the profile of the substation

bulletThey may install LED lights to reduce light pollution