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PME Earthing

PME Earthing

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Published by: vijaypshinde on Jan 14, 2010
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Leaflet EMC 07, Edition 2, December 2000 Page 1 (of 4)
Protective Multiple Earthing (PME)- Advice for radio amateurs
1. A Summary
Q.What difference does PME make to an amateurstation?
A.If an RF earth is used it must be connected to the(PME) earth bonding point at the consumer unit,using a conductor of at least 10mm
2
.Radio amateurs should also be aware that externalparts of the station, such as antennas and theirassociated metalwork, could under certain rarefault conditions, rise above earth potential (See 4cbelow).
Q. What is bonding?
A.Bonding, more correctly called 'equipotentialbonding', is the connection of metalwork withinthe building, to the earth bonding point (usually atthe consumer unit). This includes services such asgas and water pipes, central heating and structuralmetalwork.
Q.Is bonding special to PME systems?
A.No, bonding is required in modern "conventional"installations but it is considered more important inPME installations, and more stringent conditionsapply.
Q.Where can I get information about bonding?
A.The IEE Regulations [1] are a formal statement of the requirements. The IEE also publish the "IEEOn-site Guide" which explains the applications of the regulations to practical situations [2].
Q.Should I disconnect the mains earth from myradio equipment, and rely on the RF earth?
A.No. Definitely not! This can only be done in veryspecial circumstances. (See 6.b below).
2. What is protective multiple earthing?
Protective multiple earthing (PME) systems started tobe installed on a wide scale in the mid ’seventies. If your house is more modern than this, it is likely that itis wired on this system. Older houses may have beenchanged to PME if the supply system in the area hasbeen renovated.In a PME system, the main earthing terminal of aninstallation is connected to the neutral of theelectricity service at the consumers premises (Fig 1).All metallic surfaces within the building, including gaspipes, water pipes, central heating systems andaccessible structural steelwork are bonded together atthe consumer unit. This gives the consumer an earth of very high reliability and of low impedance.Under normal circumstances a small voltage mayappear between a PME earth and the true earthpotential measured outside the building as a result of voltage drop in the neutral of the electricity supplycompany's system. Under very rare fault conditions,such as a rupture of the neutral conductor on thesupply company’s system, a higher potentialdifference may appear which could, in theory, rise tophase-to-neutral voltage (240V). Because all themetalwork in the building is bonded together, theshock hazard is minimised because everything is at thesame potential - even though this may be differentfrom the outside earth potential.Fig 1. Protective Multiple Earthing
Purpose of this leaflet
When a potentially dangerous situation could arise, but in practice is very unlikely to do so, misunderstandingsand false ideas can lead to suggestions being made which are much more dangerous than the small risk whichthey are intended to avoid. These notes have been compiled to clear away some of the mystery surroundingProctective Multiple Earthing (PME), and to put it into its proper perspective. As with any aspect of electricitysupply, anyone who does not have the necessary knowledge should take advice from a qualified electrician orconsult their Regional Electricity Company (REC).
 
Leaflet EMC 07, Edition 2, December 2000 Page 2 (of 4)It is permissible to connect other means of earthing tothe main earthing terminal of the installation providedcertain precautions are taken. Where a low-impedanceearth, such as might be used in an amateur radioinstallation is connected to the earth system, a verylarge current could flow down the earth wire in theunlikely event of rupture of the neutral (Fig 2). Thiscurrent could be as high as several tens of amps andcould be a fire risk.Fig. 2 A ruptured supply neutral could cause a largecurrent to flow in a low-resistance RF earth
3. How to Identify a PME Installation
In theory a PME installation should have a noticeclose to the meter and distribution panel, indicatingthat it is PME. Of course one cannot rely on this,because it may have been detached or for some reasonor other may not have been fitted. If there is no noticeand you have any doubts, get a qualified electrician tohave a look at the supply arrangements, or contactyour Regional Electricity Company (REC) for advice.
4. The practical risks of PME
(a)In PME systems the supply authorities take greatcare to ensure that supply faults, such as rupturedneutrals, do not occur, and that if they do, the risk of serious accident is minimal. In practice, seriousaccidents due to supply faults on PME systems arevery rare – so rare that there are no real cases todiscuss, and the following notes are based onpurely hypothetical considerations. The fact thatthe risk is insignificant is, however, dependent onsensible precautions being taken where aninstallation is non-standard – for instance, if an RFearth is being used for a radio station.(b)The risks from a PME installation stem from thepossibility of a ruptured neutral in the supply tothe consumer’s premises. The break in the neutralcould occur anywhere in the supply, and couldaffect just one house or several houses, dependingon the supply arrangements. This could cause theneutral, and the mains earth which is bonded to it,to rise above the ‘true’ earth potential. To avoidthe possibility of metalwork inside the house beingat a different potential from the mains earth(which in this case is at neutral potential), the IEEregulations state that all metalwork such as centralheating systems, water pipes, gas pipes etc shouldbe securely bonded to the neutral at the PMEbonding point near the consumer unit, as in Fig 1.In the unlikely event of a ruptured supply neutral,the current which would normally return via theneutral will attempt to return by way of all theother earthed conductors – including the RF earthto amateur radio equipment (Fig 2).(c)Any conductor which is connected to bondedmetalwork inside the house, and which passes outthough the walls to the outside of the house, couldrise to a significant potential with respect to thetrue earth, should a ruptured neutral occur. In aproperly installed PME system, the risk of a severeshock from such metalwork is very small.However a relatively mild shock could have asecondary effect such as causing someone to jumpback, and fall from a ladder.(d)If a ruptured neutral were to cause a significantvoltage to exist between the neutral/mains earthand the true earth, the existence of a fault will berevealed by the drop in the supply voltage betweenlive and neutral. In other words, the mains voltagewill have dropped, the loss being roughly the sameas the voltage between the neutral/mains earth andthe true earth. This is doubtless another reasonwhy accidents are very rare – any faults on thesupply are likely to be reported and corrected veryquickly.
5. How PME affects the radio amateur
(a)If an RF earth connection is brought into the houseand connected to the metalwork of equipmentwhich is otherwise earth-free, a hazard is createdbecause under the supposed supply faultconditions a voltage could exist between metalconnected to the RF earth and the other metalwork inside the house which is bonded to the supplyneutral.
 
Leaflet EMC 07, Edition 2, December 2000 Page 3 (of 4)(b)If an RF earth is connected to apparatus which isitself earthed to the mains earth system, then in thecase of the supposed fault, very large currents (e.g.several tens of amps) could flow through themains earth system and down the RF earth lead,giving rise to a fire risk.(c)There is a general requirement, arising out of (a)and (b) above, that any external earth (in our casethe RF earth) should be bonded to the PMEbonding point using a conductor of not less than10mm
2
. This prevents a significant difference inpotential existing, and also provides an adequatepath for prospective fault currents. Furtherinformation on bonding can be found in the IEEWiring Regulations[1], and the IEE On-site Guide[2].(d)Antennas which are effectively connected to theequipment metalwork, and therefore to the mainsneutral/earth, are conductors passing through thewalls of the house as mentioned in 4c above.While the risk of severe shock is small, it is a wiseprecaution to ensure that such metalwork is out of normal reach, or suitably insulated.
 Avoid touching antennas, earths or any externalmetalwork bonded to the PME bonding point if thereis an obvious fault on the electricity supply, for instance if the voltage is much lower than normal.This could indicate a neutral to earth potential problem on the supply.
6. What you can do if you have a PMEinstallation?
There are four options:(a)The proper procedure is to bond the RF earth tothe PME bonding point at the consumer unit. Theearth bonding conductor must be at least 10mm
2
(7/1.35mm) and all parts of the RF earth must beof suitably heavy conductors, in order to ensurethat mechanical damage to the earth system willnot lead to excessive current density in the eventof a fault.If the station is installed with EMC in mind,following the recommendations of Chapter 3 of [3], then RF currents entering the mains earthsystem through the bonding conductor should notbe a problem. If it is, the station "radiohousekeeping" should be reviewed. In someinstances interference may be brought into thestation through the mains earth.If it is necessary to prevent radio frequencycurrents from entering or leaving the main PMEearth system, the RF earth can be isolated from thePME earth (so far as radio frequencies areconcerned) by winding the bonding cable round astack of ferrite rings to make a ferrite choke asdescribed in chapter 5 of [3]. The high currentcapacity makes the bonding cable inflexible sothat it may be necessary to use fewer turns andmore cores to achieve the required inductance.Needless to say the arrangement must bemechanically and electrically sound and itsfunction as a low resistance, high current capacity,bonding conductor must not be impaired.(b)It is possible to operate a station with an earthingsystem independent of the PME installation, butthis is not a safe option, unless you have a roomwhere all the electricity wiring can be on anindependent earthing system. The reason for this isthat metalwork connected to the PME earth andthe non-PME earth system could be at differentpotentials and to avoid the danger of shock mustbe separated by at least two metres. (A littlethought will show that it is not really practical tohave the two earth systems in the same roombecause it would be necessary to ensure thatearthed portable items on the different systemscould not come within 2m of each other). If anindependent earthing system is used, a residualcurrent circuit breaker (RCD) is essential. Thenew earth arrangements would have to be to IEERegulations standard, and suitably marked as asafety earth. Take advice from a qualifiedelectrician before considering this solution.(c)Likewise it is possible to have the PME removedfrom the whole house installation, but this is mostdefinitely a job for the professional.(d)It is possible to operate a station without an RFearth. This is common with VHF installations andis possible, under the right circumstances, on HF.
7. Earth-free antenna systems
It is possible to make an HF antenna system that hasno connection to any outside earths. The metalwork of the station
 must
be connected to the mains earth in thenormal way, including the case of the ATU and thebraid of any coaxial feeders. Wires coming into thehouse from outside must have a DC connection to themetal work of the station and hence to mains earth, orwhere this is not practical, the antenna arrangementmust be such that there is no chance of any partcoming into contact with the earth outside. Any partsof the antenna which is within reach from the groundshould be insulated.

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