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S1: Definition, Regulations and Principles for earthing in Electricity Systems

Section 1

Definitions, Regulations and Principles for Earthing in Electricity



Electricity supply systems developed to meet the increasing demand for power transmission
and distribution and quality of the supplies provided. System fault levels increased to
improve supply security and quality as a result of this and the need of modern equipment.
These factors as well as the characteristics of modern cables have increased the importance of
network and plant earthing to ensure safe supply and operating conditions.


At the end of this section you will be able to:

 define the terms earthing and protective bonding

 define equipotential bonding

 understand key requirements and design criteria for earthing LV electrical systems
such as earth loop impedance.

 define components of earth loop impedance

 understand differences between supply earth terminals for installations provided by

Utilities from TN-C or TN-S low voltage systems.

 list and understand the intention and scope of the three main Regulations that relate to
earthing systems.


You will need about 2 hours for this section.

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1.1 Definitions

The Table in Addendum A at the end of this section contains relevant definitions extracted
from Section 3 of Standard BS EN 50522 which will be mentioned later.

Exercise 1.1

Browse through the contents of Addendum A at end of this Section and appreciate the range
of definitions and explanations available while reading these notes. Pay attention to the range
of definitions of “Earthing” and in particular to conductors used for earthing and protective
bonding which are referred to in these notes.

No answer is provided for this exercise.

1.1.1 Earthing
The term ‘earthing’ may be used in many ways. In respect of these notes it is used to

 An electrical connection of a point in an electrical system to a common, conductive

reference plain to predetermine voltages and voltage stress on live conductors and to
provide a point of return of fault current.

The reference plain may be the general mass of earth or it may be an internal system
of visible, hidden or buried metallic earthing and bonding conductors.

 A connection of exposed conductive parts of electrical equipment or an installation,

which are not live parts but may become live under fault conditions, to earth, a
common earth terminal or conductive reference plain.

It is obvious that the dimensions of the general mass of earth are very large in comparison to
the area occupied by substation electrodes. Therefore ‘earth’ will form a good equipotential
reference for a large electricity supply system. Under normal operating conditions, all parts
within the general mass of ‘earth’ may be reasonably assumed to be at the same potential.

 Current flowing through electrodes into ground introduces localised voltage gradients
and voltage rise in the ground immediately surrounding electrodes.

In a small self-contained electrical system or a single building the reference plain is normally
an internal earth system of conductors or even the conducting parts of a metal structure with
relatively low impedance which takes the place of ground as the ‘equipotential reference’.

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Non buried conductors that are intended to return the bulk of earth fault current towards the
source are often referred to as a protective earth conductor.

1.1.2 Bonding

Bonding is the term applied to using earthing conductors intended to ensure that potential
differences between exposed conductive parts of structures and equipment in an installation,
which are not live parts but may become live under fault conditions, are sufficiently low to
avoid danger. While in standards these conductors may be referred to as protective bonding
often they are simply referred to as a bonding conductor.

Bonding conductors often provide parallel paths to main earthing conductors which may
cause them to carry a significant proportion of earth fault current and they each will normally
be fully rated for the available fault current.

Above ground conductors or metal surfaces may be used to provide both earthing and
bonding facilities.

1.2 Requirements in Legislation and Regulations

In most countries, requirements for earthing public networks will be stipulated in legislation
and regulations. In the UK, the main regulations are the:

 Electricity Safety, Quality and Continuity Regulations, 2002, which came into force
on 31 January 2003

 Electricity at Work Regulations, 1989

 Construction (Design and Management) Regulations, 1994

Breaches of these Regulations constitute a criminal offence and would leave an

individual or company liable to prosecution.

The Electricity Safety, Quality and Continuity Regulations (Part II) include requirements for
Protection and Earthing in public electrical systems. The Regulations specify the general
requirements for electrical protection, continuity of the supply neutral conductor and earthing
connections, connection with earth, protective multiple earthing, and earthing of metalwork.

The Electricity at Work Regulations stem from the Health and Safety at Work Act, which
places duties on employers and employees regarding health, safety and welfare in the
workplace. This is particularly relevant to work in electrical substations and around electrical

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Legislation like the above establishes a legal framework to do what must be done and it is
accepted with regard to general Health and Safety that compliance with standards generally
fulfils safety obligations.

In the UK, the Electricity Utilities (referred to as Transmission or Distribution Companies)

hold an appropriate licence for transmission or distribution of electricity to customers
(consumers) within their geographical area. Requirements in this licence ensure for their own
“works” compliance with Regulations in force for Electricity Supply.

It is a statutory requirement to advise customers on the method the Utility uses to earth the
neutral point of the public supply networks (whether it is earthed solidly or through
impedance) and also the characteristics of any earth terminal may be made available for
customer use.

This with other information will ensure designers have sufficient information for design of
consumer or customer installations for safety.

Utilities must ensure that consumer installations are safe before providing a supply. This is
normally achieved by an appropriate designer/tester declaration of compliance with
appropriate Standards.

1.2.1 Electricity Safety Quality and Continuity Regulations

The Electricity Safety, Quality and Continuity Regulations (ESQC) require a point, normally
a neutral point, of all electrical systems (i.e. generation, transmission and distribution) to be
earthed. Multiple earthing points are also permitted in low voltage networks in which the
neutral and protective functions are combined.

The statutory requirement to earth an electricity system does not extend into electrical
installations of private premises. Standards such as BS 7671: allows unearthed private
arrangements. However earthing of all systems including private systems remains the most
common arrangement to protect against electrical shock.

Some important extracts from the Electricity Safety, Quality and Continuity Regulations
(relevant to MV and HV system earthing) in Part II are given below. Some format changes
have been made for clarity.

Electrical protection
6. A generator or distributor shall be responsible for the application of
such protective devices to his network as will, so far as is reasonably
practicable, prevent any current, including any leakage to earth, from
flowing in any part of his network for such a period that that part of his
network can no longer carry that current without danger.

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General requirements for connection with earth

8. - (1) A generator or distributor shall ensure that, so far as is
reasonably practicable, his network does not become disconnected from
earth in the event of any foreseeable current due to a fault.

(2) A generator or distributor shall, in respect of any high voltage

network which he owns or operates, ensure that -

(a) the network is connected with earth at, or as near as is reasonably

practicable to, the source of voltage but where there is more than
one source of voltage in that network, the connection with earth
need only be made at one such point;

(b) the earth electrodes are designed, installed and used in such a
manner so as to prevent danger occurring in any low voltage
network as a result of any fault in the high voltage network; and

(c) where the network is connected with earth through a

continuously rated arc suppression coil, an automatic warning is
given to the generator or distributor (as the case may be) of any fault
which causes the arc suppression coil to operate.

Other parts in the ESQC regulations refer to neutral point earthing in public low voltage
networks without impedance and use of conductors with a combined neutral and protective
earth function (CNE) to make available earth terminals for LV customers. This includes
measures to make this important conductor as reliable as possible, including protective
multiple earthing of a CNE conductor.

It should be noted that the ESQC regulations discourages public supplies to premises with
CNE conductors.

1.2.2 Electricity at Work Regulations

The UK Electricity at Work Regulations imposes a duty, principally on employers in respect

of systems, electrical equipment and conductors and in respect of work activities on or near
electrical equipment. The regulations state the principles for safety in the use of electricity in
the workplace and complement the UK Electricity Supply Regulations. Wherever there is
danger, action is required by those who have a duty to ensure safety. Danger is the risk of
injury and the duty holders include all who are involved in design, construction, operation
and maintenance of electrical systems and equipment.

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The purpose of the regulations is to prevent death or personal injury to any person from
electrical causes in connection with work activities. This includes:

 electric shock and/or burns

 fires, arcing or explosions.
Under the regulations the Health and Safety Executive have issued a number of documents
covering requirements for electricity supplies and earthing. These include guidance on
compliance with Regulation 8 which requests precautions to be taken, either by earthing or
other suitable means to prevent danger if non circuit conductors become charged for
whatever reason.

Quoting from the Electricity at Work Regulations parts relevant to earthing:

Regulation 8. Earthing or other suitable precautions

“Precautions shall be taken, either by earthing or by other suitable means, to

prevent danger arising when any conductor (other than a circuit conductor)
which may reasonably foreseeable become charged as a result of either the use
of a system, or a fault in a system, becomes so charged; and, for the purposes of
ensuring compliance with this regulation, a conductor shall be regarded as
earthed when it is connected to the general mass of earth by conductors of
sufficient strength and current-carrying capability to discharge electrical energy
to earth.”

Published “Notes of Guidance on the Electricity at Work Regulations” list acceptable

techniques that may be employed for achieving compliance with Section 8. These include:

(a) Double insulation.

(b) Earthing.
(c) Connection to a common voltage reference point on the system.
(d) Equipotential bonding.
(e) Use of safe voltages
(f) Earth free non-conducting environments.
All these techniques may be employed singly or in combination. In most electrical
distribution networks, common referencing to earth, connection of plant to earth and
equipotential bonding are the main techniques used to achieve safety.

Of particular importance is the expectation that the most appropriate standards and
recommendations are followed. The Regulations apply immediately to new designs and
installations. It does not follow that systems and equipment to standards that have been

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superseded are non compliant. Like the Electricity Supply Regulations, these Regulations
apply when such systems or equipments become unsafe or are replaced or substantially

Regulation 9 Integrity of Referenced Conductors

“If a referenced conductor is connected to earth or to any other reference point,
nothing which might reasonably be expected to give rise to danger by breaking
the electrical continuity or introducing high impedance shall be placed in that
conductor unless suitable precautions are taken to prevent that danger.”
An earthed reference conductor may be a supply neutral conductor or a protective conductor
providing a full or partial return path for earth fault current to the point where the supply
neutral point is connected to earth. These two functions may be provided by separated
conductors or may be combined in a single conductor. Descriptive notes in the memorandum
describe risks and requirements to maximise the reliability of referencing within an
installation to a supply earth terminal or to an installation earth system.

1.2.3 The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations

These Regulations apply to all construction and project work and require a safe working
environment. This applies during construction phases and also during subsequent
maintenance. As maintenance is an on-going task the regulations extend over the lifetime of
the installation.

Earthing is a fundamental technique to ensure safe conditions when working with electricity
and so it is within the scope of these Regulations to ensure earth systems ensure safety and
can be regularly and safely inspected and maintained.

Hazards and risks during installation, maintenance, repair or renovation must be identified,
recorded in a Health and Safety file and also mitigated or managed by safe procedures. This
applies to site activities such as installation, testing, maintenance and repair work.

Also records are required and must be kept in the form of installation drawings and
recommendations for testing and maintenance.

1.3 LV System Earthing and Provision of Earth Terminals

The ESQC Regulations stipulate that LV supplies should be provided with an earth terminal
unless strong technical arguments will prevent this.

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1.3.1 TN-C Systems

The diagram below shows a Utility electricity distribution substation containing a MV/LV
transformer connected to LV busbars with LV feeder cable/s.


MV/LV Distribution Transformer/Substation

LV Neutral point solid connected to an earth electrode
For TN-C and TN-S Systems

LV Busbars

LV Feeder Cable with PEN (CNE) Conductor R


Single Phase Three Phase Load,
11kV - E LV - E Load, 2 Wire 4 wire

The transformer LV star winding neutral point is shown directly and solidly connected to the
substation LV electrodes which are normally connected to or combined with electrodes for
the MV transformer and other equipment.

Each LV feeder circuit uses a conductor for the combined function of protective earth and
neutral (a PEN conductor) to provide customer earth terminals. This is sometimes referred to
as a combined neutral earth conductor (CNE)

This type of system is designated TN-C because ground (Terra) is the reference point for the
neutral point and the function of neutral and protective earth conductors are combined.

The ESQ&C Regulations require UK Utilities to adopt TN-C systems to provide consumer
earth terminals with new networks and LV supplies.

The integrity of the single conductor in each LV feeder circuit providing the combined
function of protective earth and neutral (PEN or CNE conductor) and customer earth
terminals is important for safe conditions. The regulations require this conductor to be
mechanically sound and also to be protective multiple earthed (PME) in the public network
for reliability and safe conditions. Acting as the neutral conductor it carries unbalance load

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current and maintains satisfactory supply voltages. This also ensures the safety (protective)
function is monitored by correct operation of electrical equipment.

TN-C systems are not recommended in private systems and private LV networks connected
to public MV and LV supplies are normally TN-S type described below.

1.3.2 TN-S Systems

The following diagram shows a similar electricity distribution substation with a LV feeder
cable having separate neutral and earth conductors.


MV/LV Distribution Transformer/Substation

LV Neutral point solid connected to an earth electrode

For TN-C and TN-S Systems

LV Busbars

LV Feeder Cable with SNE R


Single Phase Three Phase Load,

11kV - E LV - E Load, 2 Wire 4 wire

The above LV network arrangement is designated as a TN-S system because the LV supply
circuits have separate neutral and earth conductors (SNE). The neutral conductor is part of a
4 wire supply system arrangement and is connected to the earth system of the supply
substation. Elsewhere within the distribution system the neutral point is not connected to
earth. The cable sheath acts as both a guarding and protective earth conductor and is used to
provide supply earth terminals.

While TN-C systems are preferred for Utility LV systems, LV supplies in private systems are
normally TN-S type.

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1.3.3 Neutral Earthing Point

The ESQC Regulations require safe conditions in the event of high voltage system earth
faults which may result in earth fault current flowing to ground through the impedance of
electrodes. With a single or a combined substation earth system this might cause excessive
fault voltage that could be transferred to supply LV earth terminals. This may require
provision of separate 11kV (MV) and LV earth electrodes. Two independent earth systems
may be installed in substations to allow separation if this is required. In most city and town
distribution systems the low MV earth fault voltages allow these to be connected together as
shown in the above Diagrams.

The above TN-C and TN-S diagrams also show the supply neutral conductor being connected
to earth at the main LV distribution board of the Substation and not at the transformer. This
is the recommended location to ensure:

 The important neutral earth connection is in a protected environment with access for
periodic inspection and testing.

 To minimise impedance and maximise earth fault current in the supplied LV systems
by ensuring MOST earth fault current is returned to the neutral point by the
substantial neutral conductor between transformer and LV switch board.

Exercise 1.2
In the two diagrams in 1.3.1 and 1.3.2 assume a 1MVA 11kV/LV transformer (TF) and
consider an earth fault on the TF LV terminals producing a large value earth fault current
typically about 20kA. Assume for safe conditions the fault voltage between the TF and the
LV switchboard is restricted to a value not exceeding 50V for a period not exceeding 1
second. Briefly describe two reasons to maintain a low impedance earth connection between
the TF and the LV switchboard.

Your answer to Exercise 1.2

Turn to the end of the book for the answer to the exercise

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1.4 LV Supply Earth Loop Impedance

Earth loop impedance (ELI) is a term used for the design of an LV installation in BS7671.

 DNO have obligation in previous and the ESQ&C Regulations to provide typical
maximum values of impedance in their network for advance design purposes.

 This includes short circuit impedance and earth fault impedance.

When applied to the supply point of an installation, ELI is a measure of the total impedance
in the path of earth fault current, i.e. through in the network source systems (of all supply
voltages), the supply phase conductor and the return path via network supply cable sheaths,
protective conductors and earth systems to the point where the supply transformer neutral
point is connected to earth via the protective earth conductor provided with cables.

Consider the LV fault condition in the industrial TN-S system with SNE conductors shown

Fault voltages in SNE LV Systems and Supplies V


Supply Point Supply Source



VT2 General Bonding

In the above diagram PE is a protective earth conductor connecting equipment to a common

earth terminal (ET) which is also used for general equipotential bonding within supplied
premises. VT,1,2,3 are possible touching voltages caused by flow of current through the
impedance of return path conductors that may appear between adjacent equipment and also
voltages to local ground.

When applied to circuit designs within an installation, ELI is the external impedance to be
added to the internal impedances controllable by design. The total impedance in the path of

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an internal earth fault current is thus the external earth loop impedance added to internal
impedances of phase conductors and the return path provided via circuit protective
conductors to the main earth terminal or point the circuit is protected.

Preliminary earth loop calculations may be rigorous and use polar or vector format
impedance for greatest accuracy or may be simplified to resistance only for simplicity, clarity
and acceptable accuracy.

Fault current calculations involving large cables are normally based on polar or vector
impedances for greatest accuracy.

Small size cables and conductors within installations are mostly resistive and fault current
calculations may be simplified to resistance only with little error.

Worked Example 1.1

Assume the external earth loop impedance is maximum recommended for single phase
supplies from a TN-S system (0.8 Ω) and the earth loop impedance inside a building is 0.5 Ω.

The fault current IF will be 230V/(0.8Ω + 0.5Ω) = 177A.

Given that the earth return part of the external earth loop impedance is 0.5Ω and the internal
PE conductor is 0.3Ω.

VT1 = 177A * (0.5Ω + 0.3Ω) = 141.6V

VT2 = 177A * (0.5Ω ) = 88.5V

VT3 = 177A * (0.3Ω) = 53.1V

Exercise 1.3
Repeat the simplified calculation above for the preferred TN-C system assuming the earth
loop impedance is the maximum recommended for single phase supplies (0.35 Ω) and the
external earth return part of this impedance is 0.2 Ω. Assume internal impedances remain
unchanged to calculate IF, VT1, VT2 and VT3.

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Your answer to Exercise 1.3

Turn to the end of the book for the answer to the exercise

1.5 Protective Bonding

Should an earth fault not be isolated by circuit protection sufficiently fast to ensure safe
conditions BS7671 requires protective bonding conductors to be applied between extraneous
parts of electrical equipment and structures where a voltage exceeding 50V may appear. In
uncontrolled or damp areas this limit voltage is 25V. The maximum duration without such
bonding is 500msecs for circuits rated 32A or greater or for lower rated circuits, 400msecs
for normal conditions or 200 msecs for uncontrolled or damp areas, normally external to

Equipotential Bonding
Supply Network
>0.4s (0.2s)

<50V IF

General Bonding

50V (25V )  .L
R  
Instantaneous RCD protection may be used in special and risk areas

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Size and material of bonding conductors must be selected to ensure that the bond is sufficient
in size to withstand the maximum fault current that may flow and its length will not cause it
to exceed resistance (R) which when multiplied by the maximum fault current available may
produce a voltage drop exceeding the 50V or 25V voltage limit.

More detailed information is given in BS7671.

In the latest version of BS7671 instantaneous residual current devices (RCD) may be used as
instantaneous earth fault protection and avoid the need for supplementary protective bonding.

1.6 Main Equipotential Bonding

In electrical installations, main equipotential bonding conductors are required to connect

extraneous conductive parts of all incoming services and structural metalwork to an earth
terminal or terminations of the main earth system. This is the first stage of equipotential
bonding needed to maintain potential differences within acceptable limits. Main equipotential
bonding will include:

 mains water and gas pipes

 private internal and external service pipes and ducting

 risers of ventilation, steam, heating and air conditioning systems

 hidden and exposed metal parts of the building structure in ground contact

 any earth electrodes

The connections to a main earth system and general requirements for equipment protective
conductors and bonding create a protected zone encompassing all parts of an internal
electrical installation in which any voltages appearing between exposed conductive parts and
extraneous conductive parts are minimised and are safe.

It is fundamental to the design of the installation to ensure that voltages appearing on and
between metalwork are limited in duration and magnitude to prevent danger.

Main bonding is equipotential bonding of internal metallic structures and services and the
conductors must be sized to carry fault and load current that may flow from internal and
external faults and events.

Main bonding will prevent this current flowing in internal, smaller, circuit protective
conductors connecting exposed extraneous conductive parts of equipment (in possible ground
contact) to the main earth terminal or to the installation’s earth system.

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Main bonding also diverts current from smaller conductors forming supplementary bonding
between equipments and structural parts for functional and safety purposes.

The size of main bonding conductor given in BS 7671 based on previous Electricity Supply
Regulations and size of the supply neutral conductor. Special conditions may be imposed by
Utilities when providing supplies from TN-C systems to a building with significant structural
parts or lightning protection that may provide substantial electrodes that present a low
resistance to earth value.

Exercise 1.4
Consider the risks present in the use of an earth terminals provided from a Utility LV TN-C
systems in a building with substantial electrodes that present a very low resistance to earth
value. Briefly outline two reasons why such an earth terminal may not be provided or large
protective earth and bonding conductors may be required.

Hint: Look at the drawing for TN-C systems in Section 1.3.1 and consider the effects of
network earth faults and a possible broken PEN (CNE) conductor.

Your answer to Exercise 1.4

Turn to the end of the book for the answer to the exercise

1.7 Functional Earthing

Electro-Magnetic Compatibility (EMC) is a mandatory requirement under the EU EMC

Directive. Compliance generally requires appropriate screening and functional earthing of

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A functional earth is one which may be required to ensure correct operation of equipment or
prevent build up of dangerous or damaging potentials, for example, sensitive electronic
equipment in a hostile electro magnetic environment. Functional earthing conductors may
not have to handle fault currents and will be smaller in size serving as a common reference
potential between equipments.

Equipment earth systems often have to be designed for the dual function of functionality and
safety and hence a composite earth system for a building may use practices such as:

 Single point ‘star’ earth connections made to an earth electrode or an electricity

company earth terminal.

 An integrated system using mesh interconnection principles to establish a common

low impedance internal earth reference plain.

Supplementary bonding conductors will be sized for the value of expected fault current in an
installation and the fault duration.

Exercise 1.5
Test yourself. Can you write down definitions for:

a) earthing

b) protective equipotential bonding including a clear explanation why main bonding is

different from supplementary bonding arrangements

c) a Utility LV TN-C system including a clear explanation of how these differ from TN-
S systems

Your answer to Exercise 1.5

No answer is given for this exercise

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This section has introduced some of the components and terms used for different aspects of
earthing electrical systems and associated equipment. The regulatory background has been
briefly outlined and the reasons for earthing, the need for protective bonding, the use of
earthing to ensure safe conditions and proper functioning of equipment.

References and Further Reading

Electricity Safety, Quality and Continuity Regulations 2002 and amendments.

Electricity at Work Regulations, 1989

Construction (Design and Management) Regulations, 1994

BS EN 50522:2010, Earthing of Power Installations Exceeding 1 kV AC

incorporating corrigendum September 2012.

BS EN 61936-1:2010, Power installations exceeding 1kV.

BS 7430:2011, Code of Practice for Protective Earthing of Electrical Installations

incorporating corrigendum Number 1.

BS 7671 (2008) Requirements for Electrical Installations; IEE Wiring Regulations,

Seventeenth Edition

Note: Standards are constantly updated and most recent version should be used.

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