Premium Membership ♕

CYBER WEEK OFFER 💥 Save 20% on PRO Membership Plan and Video Courses with the coupon CYM23 (Expires in 2 days).

Home / Technical Articles / Types and Applications Of Overcurrent Relay (1)
Types and Applications Of Overcurrent Relay
Types and Applications Of Overcurrent Relay


Types of protection

Protection schemes can be divided into two major groupings:

  1. Unit schemes
  2. Non-unit schemes

1. Unit Type Protection

Unit type schemes protect a specific area of the system, i.e., a transformer, transmission line, generator or bus bar.

The unit protection schemes is based on Kirchhoff’s Current Law – the sum of the currents entering an area of the system must be zero.

Any deviation from this must indicate an abnormal current path. In these schemes, the effects of any disturbance or operating condition outside the area of interest are totally ignored and the protection must be designed to be stable above the maximum possible fault current that could flow through the protected area.

Go back to Index ↑

2. Non unit type protection

The non-unit schemes, while also intended to protect specific areas, have no fixed boundaries. As well as protecting their own designated areas, the protective zones can overlap into other areas. While this can be very beneficial for backup purposes, there can be a tendency for too great an area to be isolated if a fault is detected by different non unit schemes.

The most simple of these schemes measures current and incorporates an inverse time characteristic into the protection operation to allow protection nearer to the fault to operate first.

The non unit type protection system includes following schemes:

  1. Time graded overcurrent protection
  2. Current graded overcurrent protection
  3. Distance or Impedance Protection

Go back to Index ↑

2.1 Overcurrent protection

This is the simplest of the ways to protect a line and therefore widely used.

It owes its application from the fact that in the event of fault the current would increase to a value several times greater than maximum load current. It has a limitation that it can be applied only to simple and non costly equipments.

Go back to Index ↑

2.2 Earth fault protection

The general practice is to employ a set of two or three overcurrent relays and a separate overcurrent relay for single line to ground fault. Separate earth fault relay provided makes earth fault protection faster and more sensitive.

Earth fault current is always less than phase fault current in magnitude.

Therefore, relay connected for earth fault protection is different from those for phase to phase fault protection.

Go back to Index ↑

Various types of Line Faults

NoType of FaultOperation of  Relay
1Phase to Ground fault (Earth Fault)Earth Fault Relay
2Phase to Phase fault Not with GroundRelated Phase Overcurrent relays
3Double phase to Ground faultRelated Phase Overcurrent relays and Earth Fault relays

Go back to Index ↑

Overcurrent Relay Purpose and Ratings

A relay that operates or picks up when it’s current exceeds a predetermined value (setting value) is called Overcurrent Relay.

Overcurrent protection protects electrical power systems against excessive currents which are caused by short circuits, ground faults, etc. Overcurrent relays can be used to protect practically any power system elements, i.e. transmission lines, transformers, generators, or motors.

For feeder protection, there would be more than one overcurrent relay to protect different sections of the feeder. These overcurrent relays need to coordinate with each other such that the relay nearest fault operates first.

Use time, current and a combination of both time and current are three ways to discriminate adjacent overcurrent relays.

OverCurrent Relay gives protection against:

Overcurrent includes short-circuit protection, and short circuits can be:

  1. Phase faults
  2. Earth faults
  3. Winding faults

Short-circuit currents are generally several times (5 to 20) full load current. Hence fast fault clearance is always desirable on short circuits.

Go back to Index ↑

Primary requirement of Overcurrent protection

The protection should not operate for starting currents, permissible overcurrent, current surges. To achieve this, the time delay is provided (in case of inverse relays).

The protection should be co-ordinate with neighboring overcurrent protection.

Overcurrent relay is a basic element of overcurrent protection.

Go back to Index ↑

Purpose of overcurrent Protection

These are the most important purposes of overcurrent relay:

  • Detect abnormal conditions
  • Isolate faulty part of the system
  • Speed Fast operation to minimize damage and danger
  • Discrimination Isolate only the faulty section
  • Dependability / reliability
  • Security / stability
  • Cost of protection / against cost of potential hazards

Go back to Index ↑

Overcurrent Relay Ratings

In order for an overcurrent protective device to operate properly, overcurrent protective device ratings must be properly selected. These ratings include voltage, ampere and interrupting rating.

If the interrupting rating is not properly selected, a serious hazard for equipment and personnel will exist.

Current limiting can be considered as another overcurrent protective device rating, although not all overcurrent protective devices are required to have this characteristic

Voltage Rating: The voltage rating of the overcurrent protective device must be at least equal to or greater than the circuit voltage. The overcurrent protective device rating can be higher than the system voltage but never lower.

Ampere Rating: The ampere rating of a overcurrent protecting device normally should not exceed the current carrying capacity of the conductors As a general rule, the ampere rating of a overcurrent protecting device is  selected at 125% of the continuous load current.

Go back to Index ↑

Difference between Overcurrent and Overload protection

Overcurrent protection protects against excessive currents or currents beyond the acceptable current ratings, which are resulting from short circuits, ground faults and overload conditions.

While, the overload protection protects against the situation where overload current causes overheating of the protected equipment.

The overcurrent protection is a bigger concept So that the overload protection can be considered as a subset of overcurrent protection.

The overcurrent relay can be used as overload (thermal) protection when protects the resistive loads, etc., however, for motor loads, the overcurrent relay cannot serve as overload protection Overload relays usually have a longer time setting than the overcurrent relays.

Go back to Index ↑

Types of Overcurrent Relay

These are the types of overcurrent relay:

  1. Instantaneous Overcurrent (Define Current) Relay
  2. Define Time Overcurrent Relay
  3. Inverse Time Overcurrent Relay (IDMT Relay)
    • Moderately Inverse
    • Very Inverse Time
    • Extremely Inverse
  4. Directional overcurrent Relay

Go back to Index ↑

1. Instantaneous Overcurrent relay (Define Current)

Definite current relay operate instantaneously when the current reaches a predetermined value.

Instantaneous Overcurrent Relay - Definite Current
Instantaneous Overcurrent Relay – Definite Current

  • Operates in a definite time when current exceeds its Pick-up value.
  • Its operation criterion is only current magnitude (without time delay).
  • Operating time is constant.
  • There is no intentional time delay.
  • Coordination of definite-current relays is based on the fact that the fault current varies with the position of the fault because of the difference in the impedance between the fault and the source
  • The relay located furthest from the source operate for a low current value
  • The operating currents are progressively increased for the other relays when moving towards the source.
  • It operates in 0.1s or less

Application: This type is applied to the outgoing feeders.

Go back to Index ↑

2. Definite Time Overcurrent Relays

In this type, two conditions must be satisfied for operation (tripping), current must exceed the setting value and the fault must be continuous at least a time equal to time setting of the relay.

Definite time of overcurrent relay
Definite time of overcurrent relay

Modern relays may contain more than one stage of protection each stage includes each own current and time setting.

  1. For Operation of Definite Time Overcurrent Relay operating time is constant
  2. Its operation is independent of the magnitude of current above the pick-up value.
  3. It has pick-up and time dial settings, desired time delay can be set with the help of an intentional time delay mechanism.
  4. Easy to coordinate.
  5. Constant tripping time independent of in feed variation and fault location.

Drawback of Relay:

  1. The continuity in the supply cannot be maintained at the load end in the event of fault.
  2. Time lag is provided which is not desirable in on short circuits.
  3. It is difficult to co-ordinate and requires changes with the addition of load.
  4. It is not suitable for long distance transmission lines where rapid fault clearance is necessary for stability.
  5. Relay have difficulties in distinguishing between Fault currents at one point or another when fault impedances between these points are small, thus poor discrimination.


Definite time overcurrent relay is used as:

  1. Back up protection of distance relay of transmission line with time delay.
  2. Back up protection to differential relay of power transformer with time delay.
  3. Main protection to outgoing feeders and bus couplers with adjustable time delay setting.

Go back to Index ↑

3. Inverse Time Overcurrent Relays (IDMT Relay)

In this type of relays, operating time is inversely changed with current. So, high current will operate overcurrent relay faster than lower ones. There are standard inverse, very inverse and extremely inverse types.

Discrimination by both ‘Time’ and ‘Current’. The relay operation time is inversely proportional to the fault current.

Inverse Time relays are also referred to as Inverse Definite Minimum Time (IDMT) relay.
Inverse Definite Minimum Time (IDMT)
Inverse Definite Minimum Time (IDMT)

The operating time of an overcurrent relay can be moved up (made slower) by adjusting the ‘time dial setting’. The lowest time dial setting (fastest operating time) is generally 0.5 and the slowest is 10.

  • Operates when current exceeds its pick-up value.
  • Operating time depends on the magnitude of current.
  • It gives inverse time current characteristics at lower values of fault current and definite time characteristics at higher values
  • An inverse characteristic is obtained if the value of plug setting multiplier is below 10, for values between 10 and 20 characteristics tend towards definite time characteristics.
  • Widely used for the protection of distribution lines.

Based on the inverseness it has three different types:

Inverse types
Inverse types

Go back to Index ↑

3.1. Normal Inverse Time Overcurrent Relay

The accuracy of the operating time may range from 5 to 7.5% of the nominal operating time as specified in the relevant norms. The uncertainty of the operating time and the necessary operating time may require a grading margin of 0.4 to 0.5 seconds.

It’s used when Fault Current is dependent on generation of fault not fault location.

Normal inverse time Overcurrent Relay is relatively small change in time per unit of change of current.


Most frequently used in utility and industrial circuits. especially applicable where the fault magnitude is mainly dependent on the system generating capacity at the time of fault.

Go back to Index ↑

3.2. Very Inverse Time Overcurrent Relay

  • Gives more inverse characteristics than that of IDMT.
  • Used where there is a reduction in fault current, as the distance from source increases.
  • Particularly effective with ground faults because of their steep characteristics.
  • Suitable if there is a substantial reduction of fault current as the fault distance from the power source increases.
  • Very inverse overcurrent relays are particularly suitable if the short-circuit current drops rapidly with the distance from the substation.
  • The grading margin may be reduced to a value in the range from 0.3 to 0.4 seconds when overcurrent relays with very inverse characteristics are used.
  • Used when Fault Current is dependent on fault location.
  • Used when Fault Current independent of normal changes in generating capacity.

Go back to Index ↑

3.3. Extremely Inverse Time Overcurrent Relay

  • It has more inverse characteristics than that of IDMT and very inverse overcurrent relay.
  • Suitable for the protection of machines against overheating.
  • The operating time of a time overcurrent relay with an extremely inverse time-current characteristic is approximately inversely proportional to the square of the current
  • The use of extremely inverse overcurrent relays makes it possible to use a short time delay in spite of high switching-in currents.
  • Used when Fault current is dependent on fault location
  • Used when Fault current independent of normal changes in generating capacity.


  • Suitable for protection of distribution feeders with peak currents on switching in (refrigerators, pumps, water heaters and so on).
  • Particular suitable for grading and coordinates with fuses and re closes
  • For the protection of alternators, transformers. Expensive cables, etc.

Go back to Index ↑

3.4. Long Time Inverse Overcurrent Relay

The main application of long time overcurrent relays is as backup earth fault protection.

4. Directional Overcurrent Relays

When the power system is not radial (source on one side of the line), an overcurrent relay may not be able to provide adequate protection. This type of relay operates in on direction of current flow and blocks in the opposite direction.

Three conditions must be satisfied for its operation: current magnitude, time delay and directionality. The directionality of current flow can be identified using voltage as a reference of direction.

Go back to Index ↑

Application of Overcurrent Relay

Motor Protection:

  • Used against overloads and short-circuits in stator windings of motor.
  • Inverse time and instantaneous overcurrent phase and ground
  • Overcurrent relays used for motors above 1000 kW.

Transformer Protection:

  • Used only when the cost of overcurrent relays are not justified.
  • Extensively also at power-transformer locations for external-fault back-up protection.

Line Protection:

  • On some sub transmission lines where the cost of distance relaying cannot be justified.
  • primary ground-fault protection on most transmission lines where distance relays are used for phase faults.
  • For ground back-up protection on most lines having pilot relaying for primary protection.

Distribution Protection:

Overcurrent relaying is very well suited to distribution system protection for the following reasons:

  • It is basically simple and inexpensive.
  • Very often the relays do not need to be directional and hence no PT supply is required.
  • It is possible to use a set of two O/C relays for protection against inter-phase faults and a separate Overcurrent relay for ground faults.

Go back to Index ↑

Premium Membership

Get access to premium HV/MV/LV technical articles, electrical engineering guides, research studies and much more! It helps you to shape up your technical skills in your everyday life as an electrical engineer.
More Information

Jignesh Parmar

Jignesh Parmar has completed M.Tech (Power System Control), B.E (Electrical). He is member of Institution of Engineers (MIE), India. He has more than 20 years experience in transmission & distribution-energy theft detection and maintenance electrical projects.


  1. Andualem
    Feb 23, 2023

    How to calculate the three stages of Overcurrent ,Thnks

  2. TTRAO
    Jun 28, 2020

    Sir, please advise the Over current protection settings and Thermal overload protection for 2MW 3.3KV Gen set. The relai will be used as Micom P-127 relay, I have set the In (Over current) 6In with 30 milli secs (Curve IDMT) and Thermal over load is 100% IN =1In with time of 60 minutes. Is it correct oor any changings are required. Pl.advise sir,

  3. SHAMS
    Nov 06, 2019

    Please let me know that this 7SJ614 can be used in the Switchgear Panels (33kV and 13.8kV) for ARC FLASH Protection by sensing light, Pressure and heat .

    Your early reply will be highly appreciated.

  4. Josefina
    Oct 28, 2019

    Dear Sirs,
    I hope you can make an article as well comparing IEC and ANSI curves thank you!

  5. Mark Anthony Amante
    Aug 06, 2018

    Hi to all engineers in here may I ask for a LINE PROTECTION CALCULATION and Over Current protection calculations?

    Thank you.

    Best regards,


  6. Mathieu Lachane
    Jun 24, 2018

    Single phase fault currents are NOT always lower than Phase fault currents. It depends on the zero sequence impedance of the system.

  7. anwar ul haq
    Oct 29, 2017

    dear sir please inform me about the when 132kv line frequancy higt what we do and what is excitation have a book plz send me in my email

  8. hossein
    Apr 04, 2017

    Thank you

    Jan 19, 2017

    its very helpful thank you.

  10. Le Xuan Binh
    Jan 08, 2017

    Hi Bro.

    Hi all Engineer

    First of all i would like to thanks you very very much, your lesseon are so valuable
    To introduce myself, my name Binh, i am Vietnamese, i work for shipyard that many electrical issue i met everyday make me many questions about it

    Could you please agree to put myself in your group that can help me to follow all comments from all engineers and also i can send my question on it

    Many thanks/ Binh

  11. farhan
    Dec 11, 2016

    why psm calculation is important if we are using plug setting ?iam so much confussed about this topic?

  12. Neil Govender
    Nov 03, 2016

    Good Day, the ANSI codes for the instantaneous / definite time and IDMT relays are 50 / 51. The other terminology used for overcurrent is hi-set and low-set. what are the differences between definite time and IDMT compared to hi-set and low-set overcurrent. Is it correct to say that IDMT is low-set and Instantaneous is hi-set?

    • Shashidhara TM
      May 21, 2017

      IDMT is low set. Instantaneous, in old days used to be high set (i.e., trips without delay for respective plug setting). Now a days we have options to set many stages of fault current for tripping.
      Eg., upto 1.0 In, you may select a curev like NI-3.0, for secoond stage-I>> you can again select curve or give defenite tme tripping. Then you will have another stage-I>>> for which you will usually have only defenite time.

      • Taha
        Jul 24, 2023

        I’ve seen in some protection schemes for transmission lines bays they have pickup valur for I>>
        I>>> and I> both are selcted oo

  13. Div
    Aug 19, 2016

    Why is the last point in distribution protection an advantage? Why have seperate relays when a single relay can be used to implement multiple elements such as protection against ground faults, as well as ac instantaneous overcurrent?

  14. ankit
    Jul 02, 2016

    what is short inverse characteristics

    Mar 01, 2016

    In our co-gen Plant , we are facing the problem of frequent tripping of grid breaker on stand by earth fault protection due to 110 KV line earth fault or even due to small disturbance at 110 KV line or at 110 KV substation where we are exporting the power.

    We are having one earth fault relay and one stand by earth fault relay. Please suggest us to reduce these frequent tripping of relay, what will be the characteristics of relay to be set ( definite time, normal inverse or very long inverse etc.

  16. Karthikeyan
    Jan 27, 2016

    How we can select power transformer Rating? consider it is feeding for 4 Motor which is rated 100KW each and it has 6 times of starting current.

  17. Pankaj kushwaha
    Oct 19, 2015

    Very very thanks to the In SGP subject. It become so helpful for me.

  18. Muhammad Usman
    Jan 17, 2015

    It’s really help full site for me

    Nov 24, 2014

    Hello sir.. My name is Aidil and i am undergraduate in Bachelor degree in Electrical Engineering at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia.. I’m not understand clearly on earth fault relay.. hot its work actually?

  20. praveen chinni
    Nov 01, 2014

    Please develop the app at most and website too…. if it is much impressive… Any one may wud like to donate for site and app development …..make app ease for quick reference

    i luv the app…..thanks a lot….

  21. praveen chinni
    Nov 01, 2014

    Superb andriod app thanks a lot one of the best apps in the world …knowledge treasure

  22. indrapal singh baghel
    Sep 30, 2014

    sir ,
    what do u mean by 1.3 secs at Ni at tms =1

  23. vipin
    Feb 20, 2014

    sir , thank you for your information .
    if you don’t mine please send me power system protection book on my mail id [email protected]

  24. Ibrahim Kurdi
    Feb 19, 2014

    Thanks alot for the helpful information you provide

  25. Uzair
    Dec 10, 2013

    Great article. Very helpful.

    Mar 06, 2013

    its very helpful thanks

  27. naveene.eta
    Feb 04, 2013

    EEP Portal is Beautiful gift for all Electrical Engineers……Nothing but Knowledge treasure…Thanks a lot for educating for us.

  28. Delcev
    Feb 01, 2013

    this is awesome!!! Thank you.

Leave a Reply to vipin

Tell us what you're thinking. We care about your opinion! Please keep in mind that comments are moderated and rel="nofollow" is in use. So, please do not use a spammy keyword or a domain as your name, or it will be deleted. Let's have a professional and meaningful conversation instead. Thanks for dropping by!

twenty four  ⁄    =  4

Learn How to Design Power Systems

Learn to design LV/MV/HV power systems through professional video courses. Lifetime access. Enjoy learning!

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter

Subscribe to our Weekly Digest newsletter and receive free updates on new technical articles, video courses and guides (PDF).
EEP Academy Courses - A hand crafted cutting-edge electrical engineering knowledge