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1.0 Overview The 230 volt ring circuit has been with us now in excess of 60 years. It was developed after the Second World War to minimise the use of copper in the massive reconstruction that followed the conflict. It was one of those simple ideas that now seems obvious, yet at the time was innovative. This installation methodology was introduced in 1947 following many years of debate which began in June 1942 with the first meeting of “The Electrical Installations Committee” of the IEE. The committee was formed by the Minister of Works and Planning, Lord Reith, “with the object of securing a comprehensive and co-ordinated review of building techniques for the guidance of those who would be responsible for the direction and organisation of building after the war”. The committee held 22 meetings between 1942 and 1944 which resulted in the publication of “Post War Building Study No. 11 – Electrical Installations” in January 1944 and the Supplementary Report in July 1944. The study led to the development of the Ring Circuit as we know it and also the BS 1363 fused plug and socket system. The study was remarkable in terms of its foresight. It refers to topics such as Energy Efficiency and Environmental Protection, topics which are much more relevant now than they were in 1944. The advantages are clear. To feed a given number of socket outlets using a ring main requires less copper and fewer protective devices. The benefits, however, do not stop there. The concept of the BS 1363 fused plug allows the devices connected to the ring to be appropriately protected on an individual basis. The standard fuses available are 13A, 5A & 3A, which covers the requirements of domestic devices from washing machines to reading lamps and commercial devices from copiers to calculators. Prior to the development of the BS 1363 fused plug and socket system we were using differently sized 2A, 5A and 15A outlets, which led to different circuits for the different outlets and a multiplicity of plugs and sockets. Oddly enough, that remains the current situation in Europe, but many countries that have historic links with the UK have adopted the BS 1363 Fused Plug.
2 Commercial Premises: The use of electrical equipment within commercial premises has also changed considerably over the last 60 years. Increasing prosperity led to the purchase of labour saving devices such as fridges. tumble dryers and electric irons all display their energy saving credentials. These devices tend to be grouped in the kitchen area whereas the rest of the house uses low current devices such as television sets. outlets are increasingly powered from under floor bus.1 Domestic Premises: In the years since 1945 the types of appliances in use in our houses have changed dramatically. It is now the trend that the devices are supplied with a moulded plug fitted with the appropriate fuse. toasters.point outlets to power computers. Washing machines. From the early 60’s onwards we saw quite a dramatic change in domestic usage. Designers are continuing to use ring circuits to support small power requirements in offices where the power requirements are moderate and a benefit can be gained from the use of rings. Ring mains continue to be used to provide circuits for cleaning equipment. music centres. The 32A ring main has stood the test of time and is well placed to serve the needs of our homes for the foreseeable future. which removed the need for supplementary electric heating. Present domestic demand is tending to reduce even more with the move to the use of energy saving devices. Carbon copies have been replaced by the photocopier. The diversity on such circuits is high and the use of a ring guards against voltage drop problems on distant outlets. computers. record players and alarm clocks. washing machines. From 1945 up to the early 60’s. printers. initially by electric typewriters then by computers. 20A or 32A radial circuits are seldom used in the UK. Mechanical typewriters have been replaced. . All employees are now provided with computers. 3KW heaters would be used to supplement open fires. fridges. desks and work stations occurs. Light current devices would be restricted to reading lamps and radios.2. All these devices are economically catered for and protected by the 32 amp ring main and BS 1363 fused plug. Generally the effect was to reduce demand during the winter months and lead to a more level demand profile through the year. freezers. and wireless telephones.0 Application of Ring Circuits 2.bar trunking systems with multiple and regular tap off facilities. reading and standard lamps. monitors and local printers. radio alarms. Desks have become work stations requiring multi. The one having most impact was the gradual introduction of central heating. 2. Where demand is high and frequent ‘churn’ of personnel.
to a large extent. white goods retailers. Designers have found ring circuits beneficial for other applications where they can be used to reduce cable sizes and switchgear provision. warehouses.5 Additional uses for Ring Circuits: The 230 Volt 32Amp ring circuit has proved beneficial in reducing the cost and increasing the flexibility of small power provisions within buildings in the UK.4 Industrial Premises: Office areas will be treated as Commercial premises. The outlets will be widely spaced and a high level of diversity in operation can be anticipated.1 External Lighting: External lighting to a building may cover an extremely large area. Providing radial circuits to strings of luminaires may be relatively expensive because of the need to reduce voltage drop to acceptable levels. . Out of town retail parks provide outlets for DIY stores. including walk ways and landscaped area. The use of ring circuits can alleviate the problem in the same manner as that described for external lighting. Hi-Fi specialists and computer retailers. 2. 2. American style shopping malls are present in most of our towns and cities. of individually owned corner shops and the emergence of supermarkets. Connecting the luminaires in a ring gives a useful option for reducing voltage drop to required levels at relatively low cost.2. both to reduce voltage drop and to reduce the number of protective devices needed at the distribution boards.2 Hi – Bay Lighting: Hi – bay lighting in industrial buildings. Examples of additional uses for ring circuits are: 2. Ring circuits are again beneficial over radial circuits. 2. Freezers in a supermarket are fed individually from the distribution board to minimise losses on circuit failure. and even some supermarkets or retail park outlets may cause problems in terms of voltage drop.5.5. Designers will generally use ring mains for non – critical circuits.3 Retail Premises: In the retail area we have seen the demise. A mixture of ring and radial circuits are used dependent on the consequences arising from circuit failure. The use of rings need not be restricted to this particular function and designers are using them for other purposes. Outside office areas the provision of 230 volt outlets will generally be restricted to those needed for hand tools and cleaning systems.
but the circuit is now two parallel feeders connected to a 32A protective device. the ring will still function at all outlets. however.1. leading to lack of circuit continuity. such as area to be served and number of sockets allowed.0 Operational Experience: The UK has been using the 230 volt 32A ring system to meet the small power requirements of a wide range of buildings for over 60 years.1. Experience of the last 60 years has not revealed this to be a common problem. the break is towards one end of the ring. To this extent the ring is safer than the radial circuit. 4. On a radial circuit such a problem would be apparent to users since outlets down stream of the fault would not function. which is down to the skills of our electricians and the vigour of the testing regime. If the break is at the centre of the ring and the load is distributed evenly around the ring there would be little problem. An unlimited number of sockets are allowed in any 100 sq m area. the cost efficiency of the installation is diminished and current is shared between two parallel paths. one cable will be taking the majority of the load current and risks over load.1 Live or neutral cable. there will still be earth continuity at each socket. Experience indicates few problems.3. which are caught by the test procedures. The test procedures ensure that all circuit conductors are properly connected and that no bridges exist across the ring. 4. Testing in accordance with recommended procedures will find any break in the ring and allow remedial action to be taken.2 Earth Continuity Cable If the earth continuity cable is disconnected at a point around the ring. It is sensible to look at the experience we have gained to see if the system can be improved to advantage. 4. 4. If either the live or neutral cable is discontinuous at any one point.1 Disconnected cable.2 Bridging If a bridge is introduced across a ring circuit. If. . Loss of an earth continuity conductor on a radial circuit may not be noticed until a shock is received. The Wiring Regulations “Onsite Guide” describes the how the tests should be carried out and also defines the parameters governing the use of the circuit.0 Potential Faults There are potential installation faults. 4.
.5 1.0 IEE Wiring Regulations Guidance on Final Circuits The IEE guidance on Standard Circuit Arrangements for Final Circuits used to be in the body of the Wiring Regulations. The testing regime has been proven to work effectively and problems seldom arise on either ring or radial circuits.5 5 1.5 4 2. Again testing will identify any such error.5 2. The Standard Circuits covered are: • • • Final circuits using socket outlets complying with BS 1363-2 and fused connection units complying with BS 1363-4 Cooker final circuits Final radial circuits using socket outlets complying with BS 4343 (BS EN 60309-2) Final circuits using socket outlets complying with BS 1363-2 and fused connection units complying with BS 1363-4. The options on offer are tabulated in Table 8A Final circuits using BS 1363 socket-outlets and connection units Minimum conductor cross-sectional area Overcurrent protective device Type of circuit Copper Conductor thermoplastic or thermosetting insulated cables mm2 1 A1 A2 A3 2 Ring Radial Radial 3 30 or 32 30 or 32 20 4 2. but is now located in Appendix 8 of the “On Site Guide”.This is not dangerous in normal use but could cause problems to an unsuspecting electrician working on the circuit in the future. 5.5 6 100 75 50 Copper Conductor mineral insulated cables mm2 Maximum floor area served m2 Rating A It is clear from the table that the specification of Ring final circuits will result in the use of less copper and less circuit protective devices than will the use of either type of Radial circuit.
It has proved its value over the last 60 years 5.” This allows the designer to develop final circuits covering different floor areas and using different ratings of protective devices if he determines that the current drawn by devices connected to the circuit and the diversity in use between the devices would allow different circuit arrangements to be used with benefit. It reduces the amount of copper used in an installation 2. Conclusions It is my firm belief that the present guidance provided by the IEE Wiring Regulations is sound in concept and in practice. the environment and the economy. It reduces the number of circuit protective devices 3. It is also important to note that the “On Site Guide” does not express any preference between ring or radial circuits. It helps to reduce voltage drop 4. It is good for the Environment I know many of my colleagues agree with the above principles and will continue to include Ring Final Circuits in their designs. I invite you to join with me and use the Ring Final Circuit to the benefit of the consumer. Both circuits are available to designers for use on their systems as they see fit. Designers are free to choose any of the three standard circuits or develop other circuits to suit any particular need. Advice is given on the use of Radial and Ring Final Circuits and no preference is assigned to any circuit. . in accordance with the general requirements of Regulation 314-01-03.It is important to note that the guide also states “Circuit arrangements other than those detailed in this appendix are not precluded when specified by a suitably qualified electrical engineer. For my part I will continue to favour the Ring Final Circuit for the following good reasons 1. It promotes sustainability in design 6.
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