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Home / Technical Articles / Concerns over electromagnetic fields below three-phase high voltage overhead lines

Electric and magnetic fields

In relation with the increased use of mobile phones during the last decades more concerns about possible harmful effects of electro-magnetic fields to human beings have been expressed. Overhead lines cause both electric and magnetic fields.

Concerns over electromagnetic fields near 3-phase high voltage overhead lines
Concerns over electromagnetic fields near 3-phase high voltage overhead lines

An important difference between the fields generated by antennas used for mobile communication and high voltage lines is the operating frequency. The fields of high voltage lines have a low frequency of 50 Hz, or 60 Hz, whereas the fields from antennas lie in the GHz domain.

Moreover, the very aim of antennas is the generation and radiation of fields whereas this is only an undesirable side effect in the case of high voltage lines.

To gain a feeling how strong the electromagnetic fields of a high voltage line close to the ground are, a high voltage line with the dimensions given in Figure 1 is considered in this article.

Since we consider a symmetric three-phase system, the voltage in the single conductors are in each case phase-shifted by 120°, and the voltages and currents in the conductors vary with the power frequency of 50 Hz. These voltage and current variations influence the electromagnetic fields.

The field strength is dependent on the considered time instant, i.e. the fields are also alternating.

Dimensions of the considered high voltage line
Figure 1 – Dimensions of the considered high voltage line

Let’s see now both electric and magnetic field of a high voltage line:

  1. Electric Field
  2. Magnetic Field

1. Electric Field

The electric field of a high voltage line depends on the voltage, the form of the tower and the configuration of the conductor lines. The analytic calculation of the electric field is very difficult because the earth impedance needs to be incorporated.

Hence, we abandon the derivation and present only the results of a simulation for the configuration given in Figure 1. In Figure 2 the behavior of the voltages of all three phases is shown. Regarding figure 1:

  • uR(t) corresponds to the voltage in the left conductor,
  • uS(t) to the one of the middle conductor and
  • uT(t) to the one in the right conductor.

In the following simulations three time instants t1, t2 and t3 are considered, as indicated in Figure 2.

Phase voltages in all three phases
Figure 2 – Phase voltages in all three phases

The resulting values of the electric fields are strongly dependent on the voltage. The electric field for phase to phase voltages of 110 kV, 220 kV and 400 kV (root mean square values) are considered. The electric field disappears exactly on the ground because the potential is zero there.

Related to the coordinate system in Figure 1, the values of the fields are shown in Figure 3 at a distance of 2 m above the ground, i.e. y = 2 m, up to 80 m in positive and negative x direction.

Only at time instants where the voltage of the middle conductor receives its maximal value or passes through zero, i.e when the voltage values of the left and right conductors are equal, a symmetric pattern is obtained.

At the same time, the field assumes on average the maximal value (t1) or the minimal value (t2) at these time instants. The time instant t3 is an example where the field is not symmetric.

Electric field at time instant t1 (top), t2 (middle) and t3 (bottom) 2 m above earth (conductor 20 m above earth)
Figure 3 – Electric field at time instant t1 (top), t2 (middle) and t3 (bottom) 2 m above earth (conductor 20 m above earth)

As a comparison, the natural static air field obtains a field strength of around 0.1 kV/m. In connection with a thunderstorm, values up to 20 kV/m are possible.

Also in a house we are constantly exposed to electric fields from different appliances. Within a distance of 30 cm field strengths up to 0.5 kV/m can be measured around electric devices.

The human skin serves as a safety shield and is sufficient for not enabling electric fields of transmission lines to enter. In buildings, the electric field coming from outside and varying with 50 Hz is reduced to at least one tenth.

The values of electric fields which are generated by high voltage lines at 2 m above ground (Figure 3) are thus not much stronger than those we are exposed to from other sources.

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2. Magnetic Field

In contrast with the electric field the magnetic field can be computed analytically quite easily as the earth influences the magnetic field only insignificantly.

Using the law of Biot-Savart, a straight current-carrying conductor creates a magnetic field with the value (formula 1):

Magnetic field by Biot-Savart Law

Thereby R denotes the distance between the point at which the field is computed and the conductor, and the direction of the field is always tangential to the circles around the conductor.

This can now be applied for the calculation of the magnetic field for a three-phase line. For each conductor the value and the direction of the magnetic field is determined. Then, the three field vectors resulting of the three phases are summed up and the overall value of the field is computed.

As the field of a straight conductor only depends on the distance between the conductor and the point at which the field is computed (Formula 1), we can use a two-dimensional model to derive the formulas.

For a single conductor the relations are given in Figure 4.

Magnetic field of a straight line
Figure 4 – Magnetic field of a straight line

The value of the magnetic field at location (xB|h) results with (Formula 1) in:

The value of the magnetic field at location (xB|h)

Thereby we assume that I flows in the positive z direction, i.e. out from the paper. In opposite direction I becomes negative. In order to sum up the magnetic fields of all three phases, B is split into x and y coordinates:

Magnetic-field B isplit into x and y coordinates


sin b and cos b formulas

this results in:

Magnetic fields Bx and By formulas

The calculation of the overall field is carried out by summing up the single fields in the x and y directions. This field varies in time just as the electric field does.

In Figure 5 the root mean square (rms) values of the overall field for the configuration in Figure 1 and for the phase to phase rms currents of 1000 A, 700 A and 500 A at a distance of 2 m above the ground are given. (This means that the phase currents are these values divided by √3.)

RMS values of the magnetic field at different locations at a height 2 m above ground (conductor 20 m above earth)
Figure 5 – RMS values of the magnetic field at different locations at a height 2 m above ground (conductor 20 m above earth)

It is assumed that the conductor height is constantly 20 m. Considering a line sag would result in higher values for the magnetic field.

The rms is calculated by the instantaneous values as follows:

The rms is calculated by the instantaneous values

The calculation of the magnetic field at large distances of the conductor can be simplified by some approximations.

As the direction of the magnetic field is always tangential to the circle around the conductor, we can conclude that the overall field is more or less perpendicular (normal) to earth at large distances (Figure 6).

Magnetic field at large distances
Figure 6 – Magnetic field at large distances

We assume that the distance between P and the conductor corresponds to the distance in x direction, for example the distance for the conductor on the left hand side amounts to x + a.

In phasor notation the magnetic field at P results in:

Magnetic field at P

With the approximation


for small ε this results in:

approximation for small ε

From the condition that the sum of the currents is equal to zero at each time instant:

Sum of the currents

the simple formula:

Absolute value of magnetic field at large distances

is derived, and therewith also the absolute value of the magnetic field at large distances (Formula 2):

absolute value of the magnetic field at large distances

Thereby Iph denotes the phase current in A; with x and a in meter a flux density B in T results. For the calculation of the field directly below an overhead line, (formula 2) cannot be employed, because the assumption that the distance between the conductors is much smaller that the distance to the point of computation does not hold anymore.

Regarding (Formula 2), the field would be infinite at x = 0, which obviously is not correct. However, the formula for the calculation of the magnetic field at large distances is useful and shows the quadratic decrease of the field with increasing distance.

Although magnetic fields are hardly damped by the human skin, they induce only small currents within the body.

Electric household devices, such as mixers or electric irons generate magnetic fields with amounts up to 10 µT at a distance of 30 cm. For causing heart problems for humans alternating field strengths at a frequency of 50 Hz and 1 Tesla are needed. This is ten thousand times more than the field strength below a high voltage line.

Although hundreds of research studies by scientists all over the world have concluded that no harm or damage to the human being due to high voltage lines can be proved, intense research is undertaken.

In many European countries anyhow maximum limit values concerning magnetic field strengths have been set by authorities which are not allowed to be exceeded by high voltage power lines.

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Reference // Electric Power Transmission and Distribution by Goran Andersson; EEH – Power Systems Laboratory at ETH Zurich

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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. Eric Billitier
    Feb 02, 2021

    For good study on Health Effects I tried putting the link but does not let me, just google Evidence that Electromagnetic fields from high
    voltage powerlines and in buildings, are
    hazardous to human health, especially to young
    children, Dr Neil Cherry Department of Human Sciences
    Lincoln University
    New Zealand

  2. Ashish
    Jul 04, 2019

    Can you please elaborate, why does HV/EHV/HVDC lines decolor (Black deposits) the adjacent concrete wall of building. along the path of the transmission lines, and also substation buildings.

  3. Andy
    Jul 04, 2019

    I think your comparisons and conclusions for E-field are not correct.

    “As a comparison, the natural static air field obtains a field strength of around 0.1 kV/m. In connection with a thunderstorm, values up to 20 kV/m are possible.”

    – Static vs. time varying electric fields have very different biological effects. It doesn’t make sense to compare the two. Ask a microwave oven designer to use static e-fields. Doesn’t work.

    “Also in a house we are constantly exposed to electric fields from different appliances. Within a distance of 30 cm field strengths up to 0.5 kV/m can be measured around electric devices.”

    – That is false. The FCC’s limits for Class B devices (residential) are 0.00089 V/m at 30cm. In the electromagnetic surveys I’ve undertaken, you typically only see >300V/m fields next to industrial machinery and large electrical motors. At AC powerline frequencies, the FCC’s limits are defined as a conducted disturbance level, but when connected to large wires (electrical cabling in the walls), this limit is essentially a radiated limit in disguise.

    The FCC’s guidelines on human exposure to electromagnetic fields (OET Bulletin 65) defines a limit of 614 V/m for 6 minutes in the frequency range 300 kHz to 1.4 MHz.

    Have a read of “Overpowered” by Martin Blank for a history of peer reviewed literature on the biological effects of non-ionizing EM radiation. As an engineer and electro-magnetics instructor, it changed my mind on the subject.

  4. alfredo campozano
    Jul 03, 2019

    Nice article, but it only cover the problem in state stable, not in a fault conditions.

  5. Bhanu Pratap Singh
    Jul 03, 2019

    nice contents in the article. lots to learn from it in quick glance.

  6. Miguel Angel Rendon
    Jul 19, 2018

    I think that even though by itself, and having all this year being operating, the overhead line magnetic field has not resulted in an major issue.

    But there is no doubt that in a mix of factors that non-dangerous magnetic field can be amplified.

    The use of cellular phones and other electronic devices could potentially, along with certain atmospheric conditions could result in a more serious situation.

  7. John Varas
    Jul 17, 2018

    Nice calculations but what is the affect on the human body?

  8. Tyler McGinn
    Jul 17, 2018

    The problem with this article is that it doesn’t take human biology into account. Anyone who has designed a PCB knows about mutual induction between traces and components. The brain produces signals between 10-100 millivolts, the real question is how much noise is being induced onto those signals.

  9. Orlando Henriquez
    Jul 17, 2018

    While I agree that the peak value of the electric field is less than the one we already are subjected by natural causes, I didn’t see anything in the analysis indicating the effect of this field if it’s permanent, like you’d be receiving if you live below a HV line, against the one by a natural cause, which we receive only momentarily.
    Same for the magnetic field.
    There is no medical analysis of a permanent electrical/magnetic field.

    Please, be clear in your conclusions.

  10. Dr M Dowling
    Jul 16, 2018

    These calculations have been done lots of times over the years to show there are no dangers. Even lab rats have been exposed to higher E and B fields with no obvious dilemmas. It is similar to those a few years ago who would not enter cafes because they complained about WiFi signals. I am sure it is a placebo effect?

    • Eric Billitier
      Feb 02, 2021

      Link above Electromagnetic Field from HV Health effects

    • Joe Blanckard
      Mar 30, 2021

      Dr M Dowling, I wouldn’t compare a human brain and mind with a rat. Only psych do this and that’s the reason they can’t and haven’t ever cured a single person. It’s like comparing a super computer with a light bulb. One can think and create and change the world. The other has not intelligence but react to a stimuli. Man is not a rat.

  11. Alfredo Campozano A
    Jul 16, 2018

    I have a question, Did you do the analysis in a fault conditions? Because in fault conditions the current is most dangerous.

  12. Matlab,Proteus,multisim,pcschamatics
    Jul 16, 2018

    You could use all these softwares I have suggested to you.

  13. Luis Pablo Murillo R.
    Jul 16, 2018

    Great article, summarizes all relevant issues.

    Jul 16, 2018

    I need a good software for electrical circuit design

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