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Substation potential rise

During the passage of earth-fault current a substation earth electrode is subjected to an earth potential rise (EPR). Potential gradients develop in the surrounding ground area and these are highest adjacent to the substation earth electrode. The EPR reduces to approximately zero (or true earth potential) at some distance from the substation earth electrode.

Design, installation, testing and maintenance of main earthing systems in substations
Design, installation, testing and maintenance of main earthing systems in substations

A person could be at risk if they can simultaneously contact parts at different potential. Thus in a well-designed system, the potential differences between metallic items will be kept to safe levels regardless of the EPR.

Ground potential gradients around the electrode system, if great enough, can present a hazard to persons and so effective measures to limit them should be incorporated in the design.

The three main design parameters relate to touch, step and transfer potentials as defined below. These terms are shown as UvT, UvS and A respectively in Figure 1.


Touch potential

This term describes the voltage appearing between a person’s hands and feet (see Figure 1 below), or between a person’s hands. Hand to foot touch potential arises from the fact that the EPR at a person’s feet can be somewhat lower in value than that present on the buried earth electrode (and any connected metalwork).

If an earthed metallic structure is accessible, a person standing on the ground 1 m away and touching the structure will be subject to the touch potential. In addition, the permissible limits for step potential are usually much higher than for touch potential. As a consequence, if a substation is safe against touch potentials, it will normally be safe against step potentials.

In some situations, the hand-to-hand touch potential should be considered, for example if unbonded parts are within 2 m. The permissible limits for this scenario can be calculated as described in DD IEC/TS 60479-1, using the body impedance not exceeded by 5 % of the population.

In general, such situations should be designed out, e.g. by increasing separation or introducing barriers if the systems should be electrically separate, or by bonding items together. The siting of fences needs consideration in this regard.

Touch, step and transfer potentials resulting from an earth fault
Figure 1 – Touch, step and transfer potentials resulting from an earth fault

Step potential

The potential gradient in the ground is greatest immediately adjacent to the substation earth electrode area. Accordingly, the maximum step potential at a time of substation potential rise will be experienced by a person who has one foot on the ground of maximum potential rise
and the other foot one step towards true earth.

For purposes of assessment the step distance is taken as one metre. (See Figure 1).


Transfer potential

A metallic object having length – a fence, a pipe, a cable sheath or a cable core, for example, may be located so as to bring in (import) or carry out (export) a potential to or from the site.

By such means a remote, or true earth (zero) potential can be transferred into an area of high earth potential rise (HPR) or vice-versa.

For example, a long wire fence tied to a (bonded) substation fence could export the site EPR to the end of the wire fence, where it may pose an electric shock hazard to somebody standing on soil at true earth potential. Similarly, a metallic water pipe (or telephone cable, or pilot cable, etc.) could import a zero-volt reference into a substation, where local potential differences could be dangerous.

Bonding the cable or pipe to the substation system might reduce local risk but could create a problem elsewhere; isolation units or insulated inserts (for pipework) are typical solutions that may need to be considered.

The limits for permissible transfer potential relate to shock risk (touch and step potential), and equipment damage / insulation breakdown (withstand voltage).

Title: Design, installation, testing and maintenance of main earthing systems in substations – ENERGY NETWORKS ASSOCIATION
Format: PDF
Size: 2.5 MB
Pages: 110
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Design, installation, testing and maintenance of main earthing systems in substations
Design, installation, testing and maintenance of main earthing systems in substations

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One Comment


  1. Peer Bakhsh
    Feb 11, 2020

    Good to understand

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