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Home / Technical Articles / Determining the soil resistivity to design a good substation grounding system

Design a safe substation grounding system

It is essential to determine the soil resistivity and maximum grid currents to design a substation grounding system. The touch and step voltages are directly proportional to these values. Overly conservative values of soil resistivity and grid current will increase the cost dramatically.

Underestimating them may cause the design to be unsafe.

Determining the soil resistivity to design a good substation grounding system
Determining the soil resistivity to design a good substation grounding system (photo credit:

Soil Resistivity

Soil resistivity investigations are necessary to determine the soil structure. There are a number of tables in the literature showing the ranges of resistivity based on soil types (clay, loam, sand, shale, etc.) .

These tables give only very rough estimates.

The soil resistivity can change dramatically with changes in moisture, temperature, and chemical content. To determine the soil resistivity of a particular site, soil resistivity measurements need to be taken.

Soil resistivity can vary both horizontally and vertically, making it necessary to take more than one set of measurements.

The most widely used test for determining soil resistivity data was developed by Wenner and is called either the Wenner or four-pin method. Using four pins or electrodes driven into the earth along a straight line at equal distances of a, to a depth of b, current is passed through the outer pins while a voltage reading is taken with the two inside pins.

Based on the resistance R, as determined by the voltage and current, the apparent resistivity can be calculated using the following equation, assuming bis small compared with a:

ρa = 2πaR

where it is assumed the apparent resistivity ρ, at depth a is given by the equation.

Wenner 4-pin Soil Resistivity Test
Wenner 4-pin Soil Resistivity Test (photo by

Interpretation of the apparent soil resistivity based on field measurements is difficult. Uniform and two-layer soil models are the most commonly used soil resistivity models. The objective of the soil model is to provide a good approximation of the actual soil conditions.

Interpretation can be done either manually or by the use of computer analysis. There are commercially available computer programs that take the soil data and mathematically calculate the soil resistivity and give a confidence level based on the test.

Sunde developed a graphical method to interpret the test results.

The equations in IEEE Std. 80 require a uniform soil resistivity. Engineering judgment is required to interpret the soil resistivity measurements to determine the value of the soil resistivity ρ, to use in the equations. IEEE Std. 80 presents equations to calculate the apparent soil resistivity based on field measurements as well as examples of Sunde’s graphical method.

Although the graphical method and equations are estimates, they provide the engineer with guidelines of the uniform soil resistivity to use in the ground grid design.

Conducting a Wenner 4-point soil resistivity test

When conducting a Wenner 4-point soil resistivity test, we need to consider the effects that the “Sphere-of-Influence” will have on our test, in two (2) ways:

1. The distance our test is being conducted from any buried metallic objects, railroad tracks, fence lines, etc. This distance should be equal or greater than the maximum (“a”) spacing of our test. In other words, if you are conducting a Wenner 4-point test with a maximum probe spacing of 60-meters (a 180-meter traverse), there should be no interfering objects (fence, buried metal pipes, etc.) within 60-meters of any part of our test.

2. The probes we use to conduct the test, will have their own sphere-of-influence that they will generate based on the depth they are driven in to the earth. For hand calculations, the probe depth may not exceed 1/20 of the spacing of the Wenner test. Advanced computer algorithms can adjust for these differences, but the 1/20th rule is a good one.

Information taken from:

Reference: Electric Power Engineering Handbook by Leonard L. Grigsby (Get it from Amazon)

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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. nidhi
    Dec 08, 2016

    earth resistance of 17 ohm, 23 ohm, 40 ohm, 35 ohm etc. at different location under the scope of work of 132 KV substation site(soil is black cotton). Is these readings are appropriate? please tell.please guide how to construct a safe n economical 132/33 KV substation. thanks in advance.

    • Sadeesh John
      Oct 18, 2018

      As per IEEE 80/2013, the grounding system (grid + rods) resistance shall be less than 1 ohm for EHV substation. Further, the black soil may be removed for at least for a meter depth and filled with red soil and compacted prior to spreading the ballast.

  2. Amir
    Jan 29, 2015

    Here is my question: How to determine maximum “a” spacing? How far we have to go?

      Apr 29, 2015

      Maximum ‘a’ should be taken as it covering the maximum area. For measuring larger area you need larger wire length its better to divide the area into sub sections. Suppose you are measuring an larger area 200 Mtr x 100 Mtr. Firstly divide that area into sub section then select some corner or center of the sub sections and take the value of ‘a’ in all direction(E,W,N,S,NE,NW,SE,SW) as its covering maximum length of that sub area. By this you can cover the whole area.

  3. mustafaelkarshini
    Dec 22, 2014

    thank you for your efforts

  4. Dodgie Arevalo
    Jun 13, 2014

    Considering the use of solid state protective relays, what is the maximum acceptable ground resistance for 230kV, 138kV, 69kV & 34.5kV Susbtations?

  5. Ohm
    Mar 22, 2014

    So good. Big thank.

  6. sarath chandrajith
    Dec 13, 2013

    very use full matter for electrical installation

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