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Copper or Aluminium?

Thousands of cable types are used throughout the world. They are found in applications ranging from fibre-optic links for data and telecommunication purposes through to EHV underground power transmission at 275 kV or higher.

Certain design principles are common to power cables, whether they are used in the industrial sector or by the electricity supply industry.

General considerations when choosing power cable
General considerations when choosing power cable (photo credit:

For many cable types the conductors may be of copper or aluminium.

The initial decision made by a purchaser will be based on price, weight, cable diameter, availability, the expertise of the jointers available, cable flexibility and the risk of theft.

What to choose?

Once a decision has been made, however, that type of conductor will generally then be retained by that user, without being influenced by the regular changes in relative price which arise from the volatile metals market.

For most power cables the form of conductor will be solid aluminium, stranded aluminium, solid copper (for small wiring sizes) or stranded copper, although the choice may be limited in certain cable standards.

Solid conductors provide for easier fitting of connectors and setting of the cores at joints and terminations. Cables with stranded conductors are easier to install because of their greater flexibility, and for some industrial applications a highly flexible conductor is necessary.

Where cable route lengths are relatively short, a multi-core cable is generally cheaper and more convenient to install than single-core cable.

Single-core cables are sometimes used in circuits where high load currents require the use of large conductor sizes, between 500 mm2 and 1200 mm2.

In these circumstances, the parallel connection of two or more multi-core cables would be necessary in order to achieve the required rating and this presents installation difficulties, especially at termination boxes.

Single-core cable

Single-core cable might also be preferred where duct sizes are small, where longer cable runs are needed between joint bays or where jointing and termination requirements dictate their use.

It is sometimes preferable to use 3-core cable in the main part of the route length, and to use single-core cable to enter the restricted space of a termination box.

In this case, a transition from one cable type to the other is achieved using trifurcating joints which are positioned several metres from the termination box.

Armoured cables

Armoured cables are available for applications where the rigours of installation are severe and where a high degree of external protection against impact during service is required.

Steel Wire Armour (SWA) cables are commonly available although Steel Tape Armour (STA) cables are also available. Generally, SWA is preferred because it enables the cable to be drawn into an installation using a pulling stocking which grips the outside of the oversheath and transfers all the pulling tension to the SWA. This cannot normally be done with STA cables because of the risk of dislocating the armour tapes during the pull.

Glanding arrangements for SWA are simpler and they allow full usage of its excellent earth fault capability. In STA, the earth fault capability is much reduced and the retention of this capability at glands is more difficult. The protection offered against a range of real-life impacts is similar for the two types.

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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. Hayder Khairi
    Jan 24, 2018

    Regarding using of single core cables, would you please refer to the standard that I can negotiate with it as an evidence, I have a project and the designer needs to use a single cores cable for all “in wall” wiring system with PVC pipe. Using L-N-CPC individually, each PVC pipe may be used for 12 single core (4 circuits).

  2. Ramesh
    Jan 12, 2018

    One core of 33kv cable is faulty can I utilise remaining 2cores of 3core cable for normal loading capacity

  3. Himanshu Behera
    Mar 29, 2014

    cable fault indication in a underground cable-500mtrs

  4. ronaldallan
    Feb 23, 2013

    I have question regarding parallel cable my senior engineer said that when sizing cable using parallel cable it has always to be even number of parallel cable, for example a load supplies by a 230V should have 4x2C-50 because of balancing reason. Is this correct? is there any data supporting this principle? is this also true for 3 phase system? Thank you so much in advance.

    • ronaldallan
      Feb 23, 2013

      I also want to know how about in 1 core cable for example when a 5x1C parallel cable is this allowed in 3 phase system? My understanding is that it should be per phase in order to balance it should must be 6x1C

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