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The simplest form of overcurrent protection is the fuse. The fuse is capable of operating
in less than 10ms for very large values of current, thus considerably limiting fault energy.
However, it does have a number of disadvantages, namely;
• Can be difficult to co-ordinate
• Its characteristic is fixed
• Needs replacing following fault clearance
• Has limited sensitivity to earthfaults since it is rated above the full load current of the
• Operation of single fuse results in a condition refereed to as single phasing. Single
phasing can be disastrous for rotating plant such as motors.
The fuse characteristic is split into two sections, the `Pre-arcing Time’ and the ‘Arcing
Time’. The addition of these times is referred to as the ‘Total Operating Time’.

Arcing Time
Pre Arc

Prospective Fault



The purpose of overcurrent protection, as with other forms of protection, is to detect
faults on a power system and as a result, initiate the opening of switchgear in order to
isolate the faulty part of the system. The protection must thus be discriminative, that is to
say it shall, as far as possible, select and isolate only the faulty part of the system
leaving all other parts in normal operation.
Discrimination can be achieved by overcurrent, or by time, or by a combination of
overcurrent and time.

Discrimination by current relies upon the fact that the fault current varies with the position
of the fault. This variation is due to the impedance of various items of plant, such as
cables and transformers, between the source and the fault. Relays throughout the
system are set to operate at suitable values such that only the relay nearest to the fault
Relays which adopt this principle of operation are generally termed Instantaneous
overcurrent relays.
(Where the fault level does not vary greatly between two relay location then the use of
instantaneous overcurrent relays is not possible).
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NOTE : When applying definite time overcurrent relays care must be taken to ensure that the thermal rating of the current measuring element is not exceeded.If the fault level over a system is reasonably constant then discrimination by current will not be possible. i. Operating time is thus substantially independent of fault level but the main disadvantage is that the relay nearest the source will have the longest time delay and this is the point with the highest fault level. Thus. the faster the relay operates. the actual characteristic is a function of both time and current settings. basically the higher the current applied.. the inverse time overcurrent characteristic has been developed. An alternative is to use time discrimination in which each overcurrent relay is given a fixed time delay with the relay farthest away from the source having the shortest time delay. TIME IS Applied Current (Relay Current Setting) Page 2 .e. Relays which adopt this principle of operation are generally termed definite (independent) time overcurrent relays. With this characteristic the time of operation is inversely proportional to the current applied. TIME TOP Applied Current IS (Relay Current Setting) DISCRIMINATION BY BOTH TIME AND CURRENT Due to the limitations imposed by the independent use of either time or current. thereby gaining the advantages of the previous mentioned methods and eliminating some the disadvantages.

motors etc.02 where I Is I/Is ⎫⎪ .14 ⎧⎪ Ι ⎨ ⎪⎩ Ι s 0.PRINCIPLES OF CO-ORDINATION The principle of co-ordination refers to the procedure of setting overcurrent relays to ensure that the relay nearest the fault operates first and all other relays have adequate additional time to prevent them from operating. thus isolating the minimum amount of plant. When performing any co-ordination exercise the following need to be considered: • Relay Characteristics • Relay Current Setting • Grading Margin • Time Multiplier Setting Relay Characteristics There are numerous characteristics.e. The characteristic curve can be defined by the mathematical expression : t = 0. thermal characteristics of transformers. at ten times setting current and TMS of 1 the relay will operate in 3 secs. The fault levels at the near and far ends of the system do not vary significantly.g.This characteristic is commonly known as the 3/10 characteristic. Fuses.1⎬ ⎪⎭ = = = applied current setting current multiple of setting current The standard inverse time characteristic is widely applied at all system voltages – as back up protection on EHV systems and as the main protection on HV and MV distribution systems. e. The BS142/IEC standard incorporates the following characteristics: • Standard Inverse • Very Inverse • Extremely Inverse • Long Time Inverse The ANSI/IEEE standard incorporates the following characteristics: • Moderately Inverse • Very Inverse • Extremely Inverse • Short Time Inverse • Inverse The BS142/IEC standard curves are mainly adopted in the UK and the most commonly used ones are explained in more detail below: Standard Inverse . Page 3 . however they all confirm to either BS142/IEC or ANSI/IEEE standards. i. and the co-ordination is correct. then the next up-stream relay should operate and so on towards the source. The principle of co-ordination is often referred to as ‘grading’. In general. the standard inverse characteristics are used when : There are no co-ordination requirements with other types of protective equipment further out on the system. If the relay nearest to the fault fails to clear the fault.

Very Inverse Time . The characteristic curve can be defined by the mathematical expression : t = 13. For cases where the generation is practically constant and discrimination with low tripping times is difficult to obtain.With this characteristic the operating time is approximately inversely proportional to the square of the current. In general the relay cannot be set above this value but the current should decrease below the relay setting before the relay operates. the relay is set to operate before the normal operating time of the fuse.There is minimal inrush on cold load pick up. which remain connected even after a prolonged interruption of supply. and the fault current at any point does not vary too widely with system conditions. if there is a substantial reduction of fault current as the distance from the power source increases. Its operating time is approximately doubled for a reduction in setting from figures 7 to 4 times the relay current setting. Page 4 . if the fault persists. This permits the same time multiplier setting for several relays in series. an extremely inverse relay can be very useful since only a small difference of current is necessary to obtain an adequate time difference. This characteristic is also widely used for protecting plant against overheating since overheating is usually an I2t function. because of the low impedance per line section. thus preventing perhaps unnecessary blowing of the fuse. Cold load inrush is that current which occurs when a feeder is energised after a prolonged outage. As the majority of faults are of a transient nature.1⎬ ⎩ Ιs ⎭ Extremely Inverse Time . such as feeders supplying refrigerators. The long operating time of the relay at peak values of load current make the relay particularly suitable for grading with fuses and also for protection of feeders which are subject to peak currents on switching in. Another application for this relay is with auto reclosers in low voltage distribution circuits. Upon reclosure. The steeper inverse curve gives longer time grading intervals. the recloser locks itself in the closed position and allows the fuse to blow to clear the fault..This type of characteristic is normally used to obtain greater time selectivity when the limiting overall time factor is very low. pumps.5 ⎧Ι ⎫ ⎨ . It is particularly suitable. water heaters etc.

assuming of course the circuit is capable of carrying the maximum foreseeable load. to obtain correct discrimination it is necessary to have a time interval between the operation of two adjacent relays.This characteristic curve can be defined by the mathematical expression : t = 80 2 ⎧Ι⎫ ⎨ ⎬ .1 Current Setting The current setting of a relay is typically described as either a percentage or multiple of the current transformer primary or secondary rating. It is also important to consider the resetting of the relay. It is now normal practice to use a value of 50 Page 5 .1 ⎩ Ιs ⎭ Long Time Inverse – This type of characteristic has a long time characteristic and may be used for protection of neutral earthing resistors (which normally have a 30 sec rating). This can be defined by : t = 120 Ι / Ιs .1 x IFL/0. The setting for a typical overcurrent relay with a reset ratio of 95% can be determined using the following: Is = 1. This time interval or grading margin depends upon a number of factors : a) The circuit breaker fault interrupting time b) The overshoot time of the relay c) Errors d) Final margin on completion of operation (safety margin) The discriminating relay can only be de-energised when the circuit breaker has completely interrupted the fault current. for example. The choice of current setting thus depends on the load current and the CT ratio and is normally close to but above the maximum load current (typically 10%) . The relay will reset when the current is reduced to 90%-95% of the setting (Depending on relay design) and if the normal load current is above this value the relay will not reset after starting to operate under through fault conditions which are cleared by other switchgear. the actual setting would in fact be 125% of full load current. The relay operating time at 5 times current setting is 30 secs at TMS of 1. 400 amp but the CT ratio was 500/5 then a relay with setting range 50-200% of 5 amp set at 100% would not represent a "full load" setting. It should be stressed at this point. say. This is an important point as if.95 Where: Is = Setting IFL = Full Load Current Grading Margin As previously mentioned. that the relay is neither designed nor intended to be used as an overload relay but as a protective relay to protect the system under fault conditions. If the CT primary rating is equal to the normal full load current of the circuit then the percentage setting will refer directly to the primary system. the normal primary full load current was.

It is common to use a figure of 50 ms. it is assumed that each IDMT relay complies with basic assigned error class 7⋅5 according to British practice in BS 142. For example. It should be noted the CT errors do not affect definite time overcurrent relays. Current transformer errors are mainly due to the magnetising characteristic. A fixed value 0⋅25 secs is chosen which is made up of 0⋅1 secs for circuit breaker operating time.t1 = actual overshoot time t2 .e. This is particularly so when grading at low values multiples of setting current where the relay operating time is longer and a fixed total margin may be of the same order as the relay timing error. A more practical approximation is to assume a total effective error of 2 x 7⋅5 i. To this total effective relay error a further 10% is added to allow for overall CT error.100 ms for circuit breaker overall interrupting time but obviously if it is known that the switchgear is slower than this time. However. 15% and this is to apply to the relay nearest the fault which is considered slow. This additional time ensures a satisfactory contact gap (or equivalent) is maintained. NOTE : The overshoot time is not the actual time during which some forward operation takes plan but is the time that the relay would have taken to travel the same distance had the relay remained energised. 0⋅05 secs for relay overshoot time and 0⋅1 sec for safety margin. this must be taken into account. frequency and departure from the reference conditions as laid down in the BS. The time characteristic of either or both of the relays involved may have positive or negative errors. Page 6 . Operating of the relay may continue for a short time after the relay is de-energised until any stored energy is dissipated. rather than using a fixed margin it is better to adopt a fixed time for circuit breaker operation and relay overshoot and add to this a variable time value which takes into account relay and CT errors and the safety margin. but allowance should be made for the effects of temperature. A safety margin of 100 ms is normally added to the final calculated margin to ensure correct discrimination.35 secs is quite reasonable and under the best possible conditions 0⋅3 secs may be feasible. In the past. a fixed margin of 0⋅4 secs was considered adequate for correct discrimination. The error for a class 7⋅5 relay is ± 7⋅5%. an induction disc element will have stored kinetic energy (or inertia) and a numerical relay may have stored energy in capacitors. Travel 100% Overshoot Travel t1 = relay de-energised t3 .t1 = overshoot time used in the calculation of margin t1 t2 t3 Time All measuring devices such as relays and current transformers are subject to some degree of error. With faster modern switchgear and lower overshoot times a figure of 0. In considering the variable time value. Although these factors are minimised by design. some allowance is usually necessary.

15s over the whole characteristic. Grading Overcurrent Relays With Downstream Fuse For some applications it will be necessary to grade overcurrent relays with fuses.01 seconds Generally for this type of application a Extremely Inverse characteristic should be chosen to grade with the fuse and the current setting of the relay should be 3 – 4 x rating of fuse to ensure co-ordination. the fixed value will remain the same but the relays are assumed to comply with error class 10 i. Time Multiplier Setting The time multiplier setting is a means of adjusting the operating time of an inverse type characteristic. CT errors will have little effect of the operating time. a practical approximation is to assume a total effective error of 20% with the relay nearest the fault considered slow. The above formula assumes a minimum fuse operating time of 0. thus it is proposed to adopt the equation : t' = 0⋅25 + 0⋅25 secs For the majority of systems an overcurrent grading exercise can be performed quite adequately using a fixed margin of 0⋅4 secs. In order to calculate the required TMS (Treq). calculate the operating time of the nearest downstream protection device at the maximum fault level seen by both devices.Thus it is proposed to adopt the following equation to determine the grading margin between IDMT relays : t' = 0⋅25 + 0⋅25 secs where t = normal operating time of relay nearest the fault As far as definite time overcurrent relays are concerned.4Tf + 0. For the reasons stated previously. As previously stated. It is not a time setting but a multiplier.e. it is not possible to lay down rigid rules regarding grading margins and every grading exercise will ultimately be a compromise of some form. To summarise. add to this the grading margin. By doing this the characteristic can be applied to any relay. calculate the operating time of the upstream device at this fault level with a TMS equal to one (T1) and then use the following for formula: TMS = Treq / T1 Plotting Of Characteristic It is convenient to show the standard inverse time characteristic on log/log graph paper with the 'y' axis scaled in seconds and the 'x' axis in terms of "multiples of current setting". It is only when a number of stages are involved and difficulties are being encountered that it may become necessary to investigate margin times in more detail. Page 7 . irrespective of setting range and nominal rating. each system is different and should be treated as so. ± 10%. When the fuse is downstream of the relay the following formula can be used to calculate the grading margin: Grading Margin = 0.

Although a relay may have a setting above the rms value of current. The 1⋅2 . which are by far the most frequent type of fault. The low transient overreach allows settings to be just above the maximum fault current at which discrimination is required. the initial peak value of current due to the dc offset may be sufficient to operate the relay. CT errors and slight errors in transformer impedance and line length. By using this parallel connection the earth fault relay is completely unaffected by load currents whether balanced or unbalanced. This particularly applies when using instantaneous units on the HV side of a transformer when the instantaneous unit should not operate for faults on the LV side. This allows the instantaneous elements to be used as high set units for application to transformers and long feeders.I2 I2 x 100 Where : I1 I2 = = relay pick-up current in steady state rms amps rms value of current which when fully offset will just pick up the relay Modern Relays have integral instantaneous elements which have low transient overreach. The residual current can be detected either by connecting a CT in an available neutral to earth connection or by connecting line CT's in parallel.1⋅3 factor allows for transient overreach. a typical transient overreach of a numerical overcurrent relay is less than 5% for time constants up to 30 ms and less than 10% for time constant up to 100 ms. The parallel connection can be extended to include either two or three Page 8 . Transient overreach occurs when the current wave contains a dc component. For example. if it has high transient overreach. Percentage transient overreach is defined as I1 . The degree of transient overreach is normally affected by the time constant of the measured fault current. The relays are normally set at 1⋅2 . Residual (or zero sequence) current only exists when a current flows to earth. the use of high set instantaneous overcurrent units can be advantageous (for example on long transmission lines or transformer feeders). The application of an instantaneous unit makes possible a reduction in the tripping time at high fault levels and also allows the discriminating curves behind the high set unit to be lowered thereby improving overall system grading.1⋅3 times the maximum fault level at the remote end of the protected section. will be detected by phase overcurrent units as previously described but it is possible to obtain more sensitive protection by utilising a relay which responds only to the residual current in a system. the grading interval should be established at the current setting of the high set unit and not at the maximum fault level that would normally be used for grading IDMT relays. It is important to note that when grading with the relay immediately behind the high set units.HIGH SET OVERCURRENT Where the source impedance is small in comparison with the protected circuit impedance. The instantaneous elements are also suitable for use as low set elements in conjunction with auto-reclose on distribution systems EARTH FAULT PROTECTION Earth faults. When using high set units it is important to ensure that the relay does not operate for faults outside the protected section.

This time delay will prevent unwanted operation due to transient unbalance under phase fault conditions. Care must be taken to ensure that the relay setting is above any residual current that may be present under normal load conditions. For example. Sensitive Earth Fault Relays Where the earth path resistivity is high which may be the case on systems that do not utilise earth conductors. As the fault level is constant there is no particular advantage is using IDMT earth fault relays over definite time earth fault relays. but the relay must have a very low burden in order that the effective setting is not increased. To overcome these problems a very sensitive relay is required. INTERCONNECTED SYSTEMS The foregoing has basically looked at grading procedure as applied to radial feeders. i. This may be due to slight differences in CT characteristics or unbalanced leakage (capacitive) currents in the primary system. the operation of a particular circuit breaker may not itself result in the isolation of the faulty plant. Page 9 . but may affect the fault current distribution in the other circuits. It should be noted that on an LV 4 wire distribution system. the grading can become increasingly more complex. Time Grading The procedure for grading is similar to that for phase fault relays. When the system contains some neutral earthing impedance. consideration must be given to the possibility of 2-1-1 current distribution in the system (refer delta/star transformer protection). the do/pu ratio should be high.. In order to ensure that the relay will reset after the transient operation of the current measuring unit. This very sensitive protection cannot be graded with other conventional systems and it is normal to apply this protection with a definite time delay of up to 10 or 15 secs. approximately 99%.e. but as the degree of unbalance is not normally known (accurately) the inclusion of the 4th CT is recommended. The affect of this may be to start other relays operating or to change the operating parameters of relays that have already started. On such interconnected systems the fault level does not tend to vary very much and it may be found impossible to obtain correct discrimination for all faults. The system must be looked at in detail under maximum and minimum fault conditions and the best compromise reached. It is important to appreciate that fuses cannot discriminate between phase faults and earth faults and therefore grading of earth fault relays (which have relatively sensitive settings) with fuses is not possible. 4 CT's will be required to ensure stability under all load conditions. the 4th CT being placed in the neutral connection. the earth fault level is practically constant over the whole system and grading is carried out at this fault level. Two elements are often considered sufficient as any interphase fault must affect at least one of the relays. the earth fault current may be limited to such an extent that normal earth fault protection may not be sensitive enough. This fourth CT can be omitted if the earth fault relay setting is above the maximum spill current caused by unbalanced loads.overcurrent units without any effect on the earth fault relay. If the system is interconnected and involves parallel paths and rings. however. Very often directional overcurrent relaying can help to overcome the problems slightly.