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Section 7: System Protection

Bill Brown, P.E., Square D Engineering Services
An important consideration in power system design is system protection. Without system protection, the power
system itself, which is intended to be of benefit to the facility in question, would itself become a hazard.
The major concern for system protection is protection against the effects of destructive, abnormally high currents.
These abnormal currents, if left unchecked, could cause fires or explosions resulting in risk to personnel and
damage to equipment. Other concerns, such as transient overvoltages, are also considered when designing
power system protection although they are generally considered only after protection against abnormal currents
has been designed.
Characterization of power system faults
Any current in excess of the rated current of equipment or the ampacity of a conductor may be considered an
overcurrent. Overcurrents can generally be categorized as overloads or faults. An overload is a condition where
load equipment draws more current that the system can safely supply. The main hazard with overload conditions
is the thermal heating effects of overloaded equipment and conductors. Faults are unintentional connections of the
power system which result in overcurrents much larger in magnitude than overloads.
Faults can be categorized in several different ways. A fault with very little impedance in the unintended connection
is referred to as a short circuit or bolted fault (the latter term is used due to the fact that a short circuit can be
thought of as a bus bar inadvertently bolted across two phase conductors or from phase to ground). A fault to
ground is referred to as a ground fault. A fault between all three phases is referred to as a 3 phase fault. A fault
between two phases is referred to as a phase-to-phase fault. A fault which contains enough impedance in the
unintentional connection to significantly affect the fault current vs. a true short circuit is known as an impedance
fault. An arcing fault has the unintentional connection made via an electrical arc through an ionized gas such as
air. All of these terms are used in practice to characterize the nature of a fault.
In order to quantitatively characterize a fault, it is necessary to calculate how much fault current could be
produced at a given location in the system. In most cases this will be the three-phase short-circuit current, which
is the current produced if all three phases were shorted to each other and/or to ground. The simplest method for
illustrating this is to reduce the power system at the point in question to its Thevenin equivalent. The Thevenin
equivalent is the equivalent single voltage source and impedance that produce the same short-circuit results as
the power system itself. The Thevenin equivalent voltage V
is the open-circuit voltage at the point in question,
and the Thevenin equivalent impedance Z
is the impedance of the power system at the point in question with
the source voltage equal to zero. If a further simplification is made such that the system can be reduced to its
single-phase equivalent, then a simple 3-phase fault current calculation for the three-phase fault current I
can be performed as shown in figure 7-1:
Figure 7-1: Simplified 3-phase fault calculation
th Z
ln V V th =