The Maintenance Managers’ Guide to circuit protection
2. How are protective devices selected?
At every point where the current carrying capacity of the conductorchanges (e.g. points a to d), there is a circuit breaker, for which there arethree specific requirements:
it must be capable of breaking the maximum prospective fault currentat that point
it must respond to over-current in such a way as to disconnect thecircuit before the excess heat generated in the load circuit cable issufficient to damage the cable or materials in contact with it
it must limit potential damage to the load circuit by limiting themagnitude, duration or energy of a fault current to a safe level whiledisconnecting the circuit from the supply.In
an ideal situation, only the breaker for the faulted circuit will open,disconnecting the fault and leaving the rest of the installation unaffected.This is essential for critical loads, but it is often difficult to achievecompletely at an affordable cost, so alternative strategies are also used.
3. Prospective fault current
The prospective fault current is the maximum current that could flow at aparticular point of the installation if a solid short circuit were to be appliedthere. The prospective fault current depends on the supply impedance atthat point, including the source impedance and all cables and accessoriesin the circuit, so, assuming that there are no transformers, it decreases aselectrical distance from the source increases.The prospective fault current is very important in the selection of theprotection strategy and of the individual protection devices. Everyprotective device must be either capable of breaking this current (at itsposition in the installation) without excessive arcing and without beingdamaged in the process or must be assisted to do so by an upstreamcircuit breaker. This is discussed further under ‘Selectivity ordiscrimination’.