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School of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering

Electrical earthing and Circuit Protective Devices (CPD)


Further information

There are four basic reasons for earthing an electrical system. 1. 2. 3. 4. Reduction of shock hazard Safe disconnection of supply Minimise the danger of fire hazard Voltage stability

Reduction of shock hazard A person might receive an electric shock if an active conductor were to make contact with the exposed metalwork of an appliance. To help reduce this risk, all exposed metal parts of any appliance the user may come into contact with must provide a low-impedance path to ground for any active voltage that appears on the case or metalwork. This will help to ensure that any circuit protective devices, such as fuses or circuit breakers, are activated, which will remove the supply, making the faulty device safe. This earth is called a Protective Earth. Safe disconnection of supply If the exposed metalwork of an appliance were connected by a fault condition to an active conductor, the active current path needs to be able to flow to ground via a lowimpedance path so an excessive current will flow that will cause a protective device such as a fuse or circuit breaker to open the circuit, thus preventing an electric shock situation.

Circuit protection devices are also required to protect building wiring from overload currents, while allowing the maximum demand of the protected circuit. Fuses

These can be fast blow, slow blow and semiconductor. An excess current causes the fuse to rupture or burn out, creating an open circuit. They have to be replaced every time they operate, but are low cost for most applications. Circuit breakers

These magnetic devices are current-sensitive or thermal, in which case they rely on a heating effect to activate a mechanical switch. Circuit breakers can have different trip characteristics to suit applications such as motor start, where an initial high inrush current can be withstood, but a high fault current will cause the circuit breaker to trip, thus disconnecting the overload. Residual Current Devices (RCDs)

An RCD monitors the current flowing into a circuit through the active conductor and out of a circuit through the neutral conductor, so that if an imbalance occurs, it will disconnect the supply as a fault condition has occurred and some current if flowing through to earth. The sensitivity or trip current of the RCD varies depending on where it is used, but for general applications it is set for 30 mA. It is important to remember that it does not provide protection for when a person makes contact between Active and Neutral as no imbalance will occur. It is primarily designed for an active to earth fault detection. It will not protect you from Active to Neutral or Active to Active polyphase contact.Example of how RCD's work. Thermistors

A thermistor is a type of resistor whose resistance increases with an increase in temperature, as in the case of a Positive Temperature Coefficient (PTC) thermistor or decrease in temperature, as in the case of a Negative Temperature Coefficient thermistor. They are used as inrush current limiters or self-resetting overcurrent protectors and temperature sensors. Polyswitch can be considered as a subset of a PTC thermistor and is a thermal cutout device that goes high resistance when over current reaches its threshold, then resumes low resistance when conditions normalise. They can be used as a resettable fuse, but each time they "trip". their on resistance increases slightly to the point where they will be unusable, so they need replacing regularly to ensure reliable operation. Surge diverters

A surge diverter diverts excess energy such as excess voltages to earth. They can be installed in switchboards, including specialised lightning surge diverters as well as portable one in power boards. Surge suppressors (SPD)

Surge suppressors ensure that excess voltage and current is diverted to ground, protecting equipment downstream of the SPD. Thermal Switch is a thermal cutout device that opens circuit when a specific temperature has been reached, to prevent an overload. Some are resettable, but

most are not as the manufacturer usually wants the cause of the overheating to be investigated. Protection Circuit Module

Protection Circuit Modules protect lithium ion/polymer batteries from overcharge, over discharge, over current. Metal Oxide Varistor

Metal Oxide Varistors (MOVs) are semiconductors that protect electronic components and systems from transient voltages. Back to top Minimise the danger of fire hazard Should the equipment become faulty by the active wire touching the case, then current will rush to earth, smoke will rise from the equipment, and, if the current is very high, the fuse in the active line will blow, disconnecting mains power from the faulty appliance. Standards limiting current in any circuit are vital to prevent excessive heating of the power supply wires leading to fires. Back to top Voltage stability Neutral earthing: Star point of Wye connected transformers and alternator windings are earthed primarily to provide voltage stability to system on account of imbalance in loading resulting in neutral current flow. Neutral point allows vector sum of three phase currents displaced at 120 degrees nullifying it to zero. Secondary purpose served is detection of earth faults or earth leakages and allowing the protective gear to operate in desired time.

In the view of high harmonic contents found in modern facilities, the zero sequence or triplen harmonic currents overload the neutrals if not adequately sized. This is because these are in phase and hence they do not cancel out at neutral point. So neutrals are required to be sized equal to or sometimes double the size of line conductors to carry "algebraic sum" of triplen components in the lines. Neutral earthing for applicable to low-voltage distribution systems up to 1000 V AC comprise solid earthing with no intentional resistance connected in the path.
The MEN system of earthing

The MEN (Multiple Earthed Neutral) system was developed to ensure that in a fault situation where the neutral conductor was disconnected for any reason and the active conductor was connected to the exposed metalwork, the fault current could flow through the earth conductor as a return path to the switchboard, allowing the protective device to open circuit, thus making the circuit safe. The MEN system of earthing is an arrangement that uses the network neutral conductor as the conductive path for installation earth fault currents. These fault currents need to be large enough to cause the protective devices (such as circuit breakers or fuses) to operate. For example, when an Active to Earth fault occurs, the fault path is the low impedance circuit via the MEN link, to the source of supply (for example a distribution transformer or generator see diagram below). In the diagram, the neutral conductor of the electrical distribution system provides the low impedance return path for the fault current (we call it the earth fault current because it goes to the earthed frame of a faulty appliance or piece of equipment). If the MEN link were not in place, the return fault current path would be from E2 to E1 via the ground. The impedance of the ground is generally much higher than the MEN/neutral conductor path. This would limit the magnitude of the fault current to a value which may be insufficient to cause the protective device to operate. If the protective device does not operate, a life-threatening voltage may remain on the metallic enclosure of the appliance or equipment. The installation of the MEN link is therefore crucial to the safety of an electrical installation.
How to make the MEN connection

The MEN connection is a link between the main earth bar (or earth terminal/connection) and the main neutral bar and should be made at the main switchboard. The MEN link needs to comply with Clause 5.6 of the Wiring Rules.
Where to make the MEN connection

Generally, the MEN connection needs to be made at the main switchboard. Where a switchboard is installed at a separate installation (such as outbuildings and detached portions of an installation), particular attention must be given to the method of earthing and the MEN connection (refer to Clause 5.6.6 of the Wiring Rules). Once the installation has been tested, the MEN connection needs to be rechecked as a 'last task' item. There have been several electrocutions and many serious electrical accidents where the MEN link was missing, and subsequent faults occurred in the installation.
Protective earthing

The resistance to earth from protective earthed parts in Class 1 equipment must be low enough to permit adequate fault current to flow to earth, thereby ensuring that the over-current protection device in the final subcircuit (fixed wiring) opens quickly in the event of insulation failure. The protective earthing conductor also ensures that any leakage current from the live parts within Class 1 equipment flows harmlessly, via a low resistance path, to earth. All Class 1 equipment shall have the integrity and resistance value of its earthing conductor checked at regular intervals during its service life to ensure that connections have not been loosened, transposed or corroded.

Protective bonding or equipotential bonding

Earth bonding helps to protect people and equipment from electric faults, power surges, and other surges and transients. Earth grounding also helps reduce noise and other forms of interference. Proper bonding helps to ensure that people are not exposed to voltage potentails between two metal surfaces, such as bathroom taps or electrical control cabinets. Accessible conductive parts shall be bonded to theprotective conductor terminal, if they could become hazardous live in case of a single fault of the primary protective means specified in 6.4. Alternatively, such accessible parts shall be separated from parts which are hazardous live by a conductive protective screen or barrier bonded to the protective conductor terminal. Accessible conductive parts need not be bonded to the protective conductor terminal if they are separated from all hazardous live parts by double or reinforced insulation. This protective bonding is known as equipotential bonding.
Example of system bonding

Bathroom metal fittings have to be bonded to the reinforcing mesh of the floor which has to be connected to the protective earth by the electrician. Public swimming pools have to have metal reinforcing rods and all metal pipes bonded together, then connected to the protective ground. Telephone and telecommunication protection earthing systems may be connected to the building earthing system by means of a equipotential bonding conductor. These connections need to done in accordance with the cabling regulations. Lightning protection systems may be connected to the building earthing system by means of a equipotential bonding conductor. These allow for the discharge of the high surges associated with lightning surges. Static electricity protection systems may be connected to the building earthing system by means of a equipotential bonding conductor in accordance with AS1020. Explosion protection systems may be connected to the building earthing system by means of a equipotential bonding conductor in accordance with AS1076.
Functional earth terminal

A functional earth is provided for a purpose other than safety, usually for surge supression, lightning protection or as a "quiet" communications earth for telecommunications systems such as computers and telephone systems [AS/NZS 60950.1:2003]. There will be a separate earth stake for the functional earth. There are other types of technical earths that have different names that perform the same function as a functional earth. There will always be a protective earth supplied in addition to the functional earth. A functional earth terminal may be provided on equipment such as laboratory power supplies, by which electrical connection is made direct to a point of a measuring or control circuit or to a screening part and which is intended to be earthed for any functional purpose other than safety. Audio equipment manufacturers may provide a functional earth, even on Class 2 double-insulated equipment, as a means of controlling hum and noise. Industrial equipment manufacturers may provide a functional earth terminal for reduction in EMC with high-frequency heating equipment. The functional earth conductor for this type of equipment is typically flat copper bar or hollow copper pipe. For measuring equipment, this terminal is often termed measuring earth terminal. A functional earth connection may carry a current during the normal operation of a device such as a surge supressor or emc filter.

Double Insulated Symbol IEC 60417 5172 Equipment protected throughout by double or reinforced insulation is identified by a square within a square. AS/NZS 3000:2000

1.4.25 Class 1 equipment This is equipment in which protection against electric shock does not rely on basic insulation only, but which includes an additional safety precaution in that accessible conductive parts are connected to the protective earthing conductor in the fixed wiring of the electrical installation in such a way that accessible parts cannot become live in the event of a failure of the basic insulation.

NOTES: 1 Class 1 equipment may have parts with double insulation or parts operating at SELV. 2 For equipment intended for use with a flexible cord or cable, this provision includes a protective earthing conductor as part of the flexible cord or cable. These laboratory power supplies have floating voltage supplies that are not connected to ground. The earth terminal has a symbol for earth (ground) and allows the user to reference the power supply to ground if required. Another type of grounding terminal is an equipotentail terminal ( a circle within a triangle).

Laboratory power supplies

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