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Home / Technical Articles / How electricians choose the most suitable protection devices

Choosing the most suitable protection devices

There are at least four main issues electricians must take care off very carefully when choosing the most suitable protection devices. Of course, there are dozen of other issues, but let’s try to define the most important ones from the aspect of protection: short circuits, overloads, earth faults and surges.

How electricians choose the most suitable protection devices
How electricians choose the most suitable protection devices (on photo: Schneider Electric's ACTI 9 protection devices)

Table of content:

  1. Short circuits
  2. Overloads
  3. Earth faults
  4. Surges

1. Shorts circuits

This is certainly one of the most tricky issues for electricians designing electrical installations. For this purpose, he must ensure good co-ordination of protection devices.

Total discrimination of protection devices
Figure 1 – Total discrimination of protection devices

The short circuit current is seen by all circuit-breakers upstream of the fault, but only good discrimination (total) of the protection devices can guarantee only the opening of the lower rating circuit breaker.

To increase availability of a feeder, we recommend that you supply it as far upstream as possible (near the source) to prevent tripping a protection device for another item of equipment.

Partial discrimination of protection devices
Figure 2 – Partial discrimination of protection devices

On networks with high availability, use of an automatic resetting device may be justified if discrimination is partial or if a short circuit can be eliminated naturally (this is rare). This technique is used in high voltage but seldom in low voltage: a rodent or crawling animal causing a fault leads in most cases to a permanent short circuit fault.

In all cases resetting must be considered to be exceptional, and the number of reset attempts limited.

Go back to 4 main issues ↑

2. Overloads

The overload current is seen by the circuit breakers upstream of the faulty load. To prevent tripping of these protection devices, it is necessary:

  1. either to size them without taking a lamination factor (solution 1 – left)
  2. or to individually protect each sensitive feeder by a circuit breaker (solution 2 – right).
Discrimination in overload without and with bulk
Figure 3 – Discrimination in overload without and with bulk

It is always preferable to supply a feeder as far upstream as possible to prevent tripping of a protection device for another item of equipment. Use of an automatic resetting device on a sensitive feeder of a network with high availability allows automatic re-supplying, normally temporary, during the time required for maintenance services to take action.

Go back to 4 main issues ↑

3. Earth faults

When the earth leakage protection device is extremely sensitive, less than or equal to 30 mA and has a personal protection role, automatic resetting, except in specific cases (urban equipment, public lighting) is not recommended and in some cases even forbidden for safety reasons.

Leakage currents resulting from an insulation fault (excepting phase-to-earth short circuit faults).

To deal with the numerous cases of transient nuisance tripping such as those linked to the presence of water, the resetting device, when sufficiently time delayed, makes it possible to wait for the fault to disappear before resetting the protection device.

This solution is commonly used for outdoor public lighting, urban equipment, light signs, traffic lights as well as in many other cases.

Leakage currents due to the capacitances of cables and electronic equipment filters in the presence of disturbances (interference).

Standard earth leakage protection devices can be disturbed by leakage currents generated by the capacitances of very long cables or filters contained in electronic equipment. These capacitors have an impedance that is reversely proportional to frequency.

Since the interference currents are high frequency, they can flow off to earth via these capacitors and can be interpreted as an earth leakage current by the earth leakage protection devices upstream.

Leakage current due to the HF filter on closing of D1
Figure 4 – Leakage current due to the HF filter on closing of D1

This phenomenon is responsible for nuisance tripping of standard earth leakage protection devices. To limit the risk of nuisance tripping of such devices, it is essential to use protection that is immunised against this type of wave.

In the case of high amplitude disturbances, the resetting device helps increase the reliability of electrical distribution. Combined with an immunised earth leakage protection device, it ensures maximum availability of electrical power.

Go back to 4 main issues ↑

4. Surges

4.1. Lightning – the facts

Lightning impact occurring far from both the electrical installation and the supply lines has no effect for installations that are properly designed and produced, i.e. with surge arresters and immunised earth leakage devices.

Lightning impact close by can lead in some cases to tripping of the earth leakage protection devices as well as of the thermal magnetic protection devices.

Surge arrester diagram
Figure 5 – Surge arrester diagram

FACTS: Surge arrester limits surges. Immunised earth leakage protection devices guard against nuisance tripping.

A resetting device on feeders with high continuity of supply put the feeder back into operation after a lightning stroke close by.

Thus even if opening of the protection devices remains exceptional, for sites where continuity of supply is important, common usage recommends installing a surge arrester to limit surges, immunised earth leakage protection devices to guard against nuisance tripping and a resetting device on feeders requiring high continuity of supply to put the feeder back into operation after a lightning stroke close by.

Note that an electrical installation containing no electronic components (no filters) and no very long cables (no capacitance) could be produced with a surges arrester and standard earth leakage devices combined with resetting devices.

However, common usage nevertheless recommends use of immunised earth leakage devices for sensitive sites.This is because resetting devices calculate the number of trippings and resettings and de-energies the feeder after a certain number. If standard earth leakage protection devices are used, the risk is that of several trippings due to far-off lightning impacts in a short period of time.

This situation may lead to blocking of the automatic resetting device which interprets this as a permanent fault.

4.2. Operating overvoltages

Properly designed and produced installations use a surge arrester and immunised earth leakage devices. These measures are sufficient to guard against nuisance tripping caused by operating overvoltages.

4.3. Harmonic currents

In installations and buildings where electronic components are omnipresent, it is highly recommended to properly evaluate the load in the neutral conductor to assess its cross-section.

Use of a half cross-section for the neutral is normally forbidden. The only solution is to respect cable cross-section calculation rules.

Go back to 4 main issues ↑

Reference // Increasing availability of LV electrical networks by Schneider Electric

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Edvard Csanyi

Electrical engineer, programmer and founder of EEP. Highly specialized for design of LV/MV switchgears and LV high power busbar trunking (<6300A) in power substations, commercial buildings and industry facilities. Professional in AutoCAD programming.


  1. San Bernardino Electrician
    Apr 21, 2022

    You have done great work here. The post contains a lot of valuable information.

  2. Cliff Maunde
    Dec 23, 2016

    Thank you for well interpreted information , your articles are straight forward to the point. God blessings be upon you and your team.?

  3. ElectroExpert
    Oct 30, 2016

    Article helps to expand the understanding of this issue. Thank you

    Oct 26, 2016

    Thanks edward and team ….you make it so simple to understand

  5. M.Dharmalingam
    Oct 25, 2016

    Thanks Edvard Csanyi you have given such a grate Article

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