Definition of standardised earthing schemes

From Electrical Installation Guide
HomeLV DistributionEarthing schemesDefinition of standardised earthing schemes

The different earthing schemes (often referred to as the type of power system or system earthing arrangements) described characterise the method of earthing the installation downstream of the secondary winding of a MV/LV transformer and the means used for earthing the exposed conductive-parts of the LV installation supplied from it

The choice of these methods governs the measures necessary for protection against indirect-contact hazards.

The earthing system qualifies three originally independent choices made by the designer of an electrical distribution system or installation:

  • The type of connection of the electrical system (that is generally of the neutral conductor) and of the exposed parts to earth electrod (s)
  • A separate protective conductor or protective conductor and neutral conductor being a single conductor
  • The use of earth fault protection of overcurrent protective switchgear which clear only relatively high fault currents or the use of additional relays able to detect and clear small insulation fault currents to earth

In practice, these choices have been grouped and standardised as explained below.

Each of these choices provides standardised earthing systems with three advantages and drawbacks:

  • Connection of the exposed conductive parts of the equipment and of the neutral conductor to the PE conductor results in equipotentiality and lower overvoltages but increases earth fault currents
  • A separate protective conductor is costly even if it has a small cross-sectional area but it is much more unlikely to be polluted by voltage drops and harmonics, etc. than a neutral conductor is. Leakage currents are also avoided in extraneous conductive parts
  • Installation of residual current protective relays or insulation monitoring devices are much more sensitive and permits in many circumstances to clear faults before heavy damage occurs (motors, fires, electrocution). The protection offered is in addition independent with respect to changes in an existing installation

TT system (earthed neutral)

(see Fig. E3)

One point at the supply source is connected directly to earth. All exposed- and extraneous-conductive-parts are connected to a separate earth electrode at the installation. This electrode may or may not be electrically independent of the source electrode. The two zones of influence may overlap without affecting the operation of protective devices.

Fig. E3 – TT System

TN systems (exposed conductive parts connected to the neutral)

The source is earthed as for the TT system (above). In the installation, all exposed- and extraneous-conductive-parts are connected to the neutral conductor. The several versions of TN systems are shown below.

TN-C system

(see Fig. E4)

The neutral conductor is also used as a protective conductor and is referred to as a PEN (Protective Earth and Neutral) conductor. This system is not permitted for conductors of less than 10 mm2 or for portable equipment.

The TN-C system requires an effective equipotential environment within the installation with dispersed earth electrodes spaced as regularly as possible since the PEN conductor is both the neutral conductor and at the same time carries phase unbalance currents as well as 3rd order harmonic currents (and their multiples).

The PEN conductor must therefore be connected to a number of earth electrodes in the installation.

Caution: In the TN-C system, the “protective conductor” function has priority over the “neutral function”. In particular, a PEN conductor must always be connected to the earthing terminal of a load and a jumper is used to connect this terminal to the neutral terminal.

Fig. E4 – TN-C system

TN-S system

(see Fig. E5)

The TN-S system (5 wires) is obligatory for circuits with cross-sectional areas less than 10 mm2 for portable equipment.

The protective conductor and the neutral conductor are separate. On underground cable systems where lead-sheathed cables exist, the protective conductor is generally the lead sheath. The use of separate PE and N conductors (5 wires) is obligatory for circuits with cross-sectional areas less than 10 mm2 for portable equipment.

Fig. E5 – TN-S system

TN-C-S system

(see Fig. E6 and Fig. E7)

The TN-C and TN-S systems can be used in the same installation. In the TN-C-S system, the TN-C (4 wires) system must never be used downstream of the TN-S (5 wires) system, since any accidental interruption in the neutral on the upstream part would lead to an interruption in the protective conductor in the downstream part and therefore a danger.

Fig. E6 – TN-C-S system
Fig. E7 – Connection of the PEN conductor in the TN-C system

IT system (isolated or impedance-earthed neutral)

IT system (isolated neutral)

No intentional connection is made between the neutral point of the supply source and earth (see Fig. E8).

Fig. E8 – IT system (isolated neutral)

Exposed- and extraneous-conductive-parts of the installation are connected to an earth electrode.

In practice all circuits have a leakage impedance to earth, since no insulation is perfect. In parallel with this (distributed) resistive leakage path, there is the distributed capacitive current path, the two paths together constituting the normal leakage impedance to earth (see Fig. E9).

Fig. E9 – Leakage impedance to earth in IT system

Example (see Fig. E10)

In a LV 3-phase 3-wire system, 1 km of cable will have a leakage impedance due to C1, C2, C3 and R1, R2 and R3 equivalent to a neutral earth impedance Zct of 3,000 to 4,000 Ω, without counting the filtering capacitances of electronic devices.

Fig. E10 – Impedance equivalent to leakage impedances in an IT system

IT system (impedance-earthed neutral)

An impedance Zs (in the order of 1,000 to 2,000 Ω) is connected permanently between the neutral point of the transformer LV winding and earth (see Fig. E11). All exposed- and extraneous-conductive-parts are connected to an earth electrode. The reasons for this form of power-source earthing are to fix the potential of a small network with respect to earth (Zs is small compared to the leakage impedance) and to reduce the level of overvoltages, such as transmitted surges from the MV windings, static charges, etc. with respect to earth. It has, however, the effect of slightly increasing the first-fault current level.

Fig. E11 – IT system (impedance-earthed neutral)