Premium Membership ♕

Save 50% on all EEP Academy courses with Enterprise Membership Plan and study specialized LV/MV/HV technical articles & guides.

Home / Technical Articles / Using AC switchgear in DC applications
Using AC switchgear in DC applications
Using AC switchgear in DC applications

Skin effect

Switchgear designed for alternating current can carry at least the same rated continuous operational DC current. With direct current the skin effect in the circuits disappears and none of the specific effects associated with alternating currents such as hysteresis or eddy current losses occur.

DC devices that are operated at low voltage can be switched by AC switchgear without difficulty, as their direct current switching capacity at low voltages is practically the same as for alternating current.

With voltages in excess of around 60 V, the direct current switching capacity of AC switchgear with double-breaking contacts (for example contactors) decreases strongly.

By connecting two or three circuits in series (Figure 1) this limit can be raised to twice or three times the voltage.

Examples of diagrams for poles connected in series
Figure 1 – Examples of diagrams for poles connected in series

Where grounded power supplies are used (top graph) with loads switched on both sides, it should be noted that ground faults can lead to bridging of contacts and hence to a reduction in the breakable voltage.

The reason for the reduced switching capacity with DC compared with AC is the absence of the current zero crossover that with AC supports the quenching of the electric arc.

The electric arc in the contact system can continue to burn under larger direct voltages and thus destroy the switchgear. With direct voltages, the contact erosion and hence also the contact life span differ from those at alternating voltage. The attainable values for direct current are specifically tested and documented.

With direct current, the load affects the switching capacity more strongly than with alternating current.

The energy stored in the inductance of the load must largely be dissipated in the form of an electric arc.

Hence with a strongly inductive load (large time constant L/R) the permissible switching capacity for the same electrical life span is smaller than with an ohmic load due to the much longer breaking times.

Overload release units

Thermal-magnetic circuit breakers employ a bi-metalic strip to sense overload conditions.
Thermal-magnetic circuit breakers employ a bi-metalic strip to sense overload conditions.

The reaction of bimetal strips heated by the operating current depends on the heat generated in the bimetal strips and intheir heating coil, if any.

This applies equally for alternating current and direct current.

The trip characteristic can be somewhat slower with direct current as there are no hysteresis and eddy current losses.

With overload releases that are sensitive to phase failure, all three circuits should always be connected in series to prevent premature tripping.

Overload releases heated via current transformers are not suitable for direct current. Also electronic overload relays in most cases cannot be used in direct current applications as the current is measured via current transformers and their functionality is tailored to alternating current.

Short-circuit releases

Short Circuit Trip
Short Circuit Trip

Electromagnetic overcurrent releases can be used with direct current. However the tripping threshold current is somewhat higher than with alternating current.

Undervoltage and shunt-trip releases

Undervoltage and shunt-trip releases operate with magnet circuits. Special designs are required for direct voltage.

Resource: Allen Bradley – Low Voltage Switchgear and Controlgear

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

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. hanumanth
    Jun 21, 2015

    hi ,

    thanks for your information in eep

    • Vanna ORN
      Jan 12, 2018

      hi, i want to ask you for one question: Why AC contactors cannot be used for DC applications?

Leave a Comment

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!

76  −  seventy four  =  

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