Electrical substations are energy distribution posts found throughout cities and countrysides. A substation receives high-voltage electrical energy from a power plant, transforms it into low-voltage streams, and distributes it to nearby homes and businesses via power lines. A substation electrician performs routine maintenance and emergency repairs on circuit breakers, transformers, power cables, and other elements at a substation. The work of a substation electrician can be very dangerous, and professionals receive several years of formal training and supervision before they are allowed to work independently.
Most substation electricians are employees of utility companies or municipal government organizations. A professional may be responsible for working at a single, large substation or servicing many smaller substations within a certain geographic area. In rural settings, a substation electrician may need to travel hundreds of miles between substations to conduct preventive maintenance and perform repairs. Some substations are housed within buildings, but most are outdoor structures enclosed by fences. A substation electrician, therefore, must be prepared to work during inclement weather conditions to prevent or correct power outages.
The main responsibility of a substation electrician is to ensure transformers and voltage regulars are kept in proper working order. Daily duties include inspecting power lines, testing voltage and current levels, and replacing old circuit breaker fuses. When a particular element is not working correctly, an electrician temporarily disables incoming electricity to diagnose and fix the problem. He or she must have extensive knowledge of the schematics of a substation to avoid personal injury and widespread power outages while performing repairs.
A person who wants to become a substation electrician usually needs to hold a high school diploma and participate in a four- to five-year apprenticeship program. As an apprentice, a new worker splits his or her time between classroom studies and on-the-job training. He or she takes courses to learn about the physical properties of electricity, blueprint reading, safety measures, and emergency procedures. At job sites, an apprentice works as an assistant to experienced electricians gain firsthand knowledge of the trade.
Upon completion of an apprenticeship, an individual can take a regional licensing exam to receive substation electrician credentials. A professional who gains several years of experience in an entry-level position might have the opportunity to become a supervisor within a private power company or a quality control inspector for a city agency. Some substation workers eventually decide to pursue continuing education and additional training to become independent commercial or residential electricians.