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Understanding standby power system grounding

Knowing how to apply proper grounding and bonding to electrical systems and transfer switches for common standby power system configurations can minimize power outages, equipment damage, and injuries. Consulting-Specifying nginner !CS "
David Chesley, PE, LEED AP, RCDD, Interface Engineering, Portland, Ore.

12/1 /2!11

Electrical syste" gro#nding is an often "is#nderstood area of electrical syste" design and constr#ction that can ca#se havoc $hen "isa%%lied. &his %ro'le" is even "ore %rono#nced $ith stand'y %o$er syste"s. Circ#it 'rea(ers tri%, generators are dro%%ed offline, and cr#cial stand'y and life safety loads are lost 'eca#se of a hidden gro#nding %ro'le" "ade "anifest d#ring a %o$er o#tage, )#st $hen 'ac(#% %o$er is needed "ost. Des%ite this harro$ing %ict#re, "ost gro#nding iss#es can 'e resolved $ith attentive design, and then chec(ed and avoided d#ring the installation and testing stages of constr#ction, eli"inating "ost iss#es 'efore a facility is occ#%ied. Know grounding and bonding terminology *efore disc#ssing the challenges of gro#nding stand'y %o$er syste"s, (ey ter"s are e+%lained,as defined in the 2!11 -ational Electric Code .-EC/ .-0PA 1!/,to offer a 'etter #nderstanding of $hy $e gro#nd electrical syste"s. 2nless other$ise noted, the follo$ing definitions are cited fro" -EC, Article 1!!, 3Definitions.4 Ground: &he earth itself is ta(en as 3gro#nd4. *#ilding gro#nding electrode syste"s are s#n(en into the earth. &he connecting of c#rrent5carrying e6#i%"ent to the earth is the definition of gro#nding. -EC Article 27!. .A/.2/ states8 Grounding of Electrical Equipment. Normally, non-current-carrying conductive materials enclosing electrical conductors or equipment, or forming part of such equipment, shall be connected to earth so as to limit the voltage to ground on these materials. &his is different fro" 'onding, $here ad)acent cond#ctive s#rfaces that do not nor"ally carry electricity .s#ch as chassis on a toaster, an +5ray, or a "illing "achine/ are connected to another cond#ctive o')ect .s#ch as the "etallic race$ay containing %o$er $iring, near'y '#ilding steel, or an ad)acent "etallic $ater %i%e/ to create an electrically contin#o#s, lo$5 i"%edance %ath. -EC Article 27!. .A/.9/ states8 Bonding of Electrical Equipment. Normally non-current carrying conductive materials enclosing electrical conductors or equipment, or forming part of such equipment, shall be connected together and to the electrical supply source in a manner that establishes an effective ground fault-current path. Grounding electrode: A cond#cting o')ect thro#gh $hich a direct connection to the earth is esta'lished.

:ro#nding electrodes in %ractice incl#des gro#nd rods and .cond#ctive/ "etallic $ater %i%ing, and concrete5encased '#ilding steel .e.g., steel re'ar e"'edded in concrete fo#ndation in direct contact $ith the earth/. Grounding electrode conductor: A cond#ctor #sed to connect the syste"5gro#nded cond#ctor or the e6#i%"ent to a gro#nding electrode or to a %oint on the gro#nding electrode syste". &his cond#ctor connects the '#ilding gro#nding syste" to the earth 'y "eans of the gro#nding electrode. Grounded (grounding): Connected to gro#nd $itho#t inserting resistors or i"%edance devices. :ro#nded e6#i%"ent or %anels can trace a contin#o#s cond#ctive %ath fro" their chassis to an e6#i%"ent gro#nding cond#ctor, to the gro#nding electrode cond#ctor, to the gro#nding electrode to the earth .gro#nd/ itself .see 0ig#re 1/. Equipment grounding conductor (EGC): &he cond#ctive %ath.s/ installed to connect nor"ally non5c#rrent5carrying "etal %arts of e6#i%"ent together and to the syste" gro#nding cond#ctor or to the gro#nding electrode cond#ctor, or 'oth. &he E:C connects o')ects 'ac( to the gro#nding electrode syste" and to the earth. Ground fault current path: 0ro" -EC, Article 27!.2, an electrically cond#ctive %ath fro" the %oint of a gro#nd fa#lt on a $iring syste" thro#gh nor"ally non5c#rrent5carrying cond#ctors, e6#i%"ent, or the earth to the electrical s#%%ly so#rce. Effective ground fault current path: 0ro" -EC, Article 27!.2, an intentionally constr#cted, lo$5i"%edance electrically cond#ctive %ath designed and intended to carry c#rrent #nder gro#nd fa#lt conditions fro" the %oint of a gro#nd fa#lt on a $iring syste" to the electrical s#%%ly so#rce and that facilitates the o%eration of the overc#rrent %rotective device or gro#nd fa#lt detectors on high i"%edance gro#nded syste"s. All c#rrent tries to ret#rn 'ac( to its so#rce to co"%lete the circ#it. A live cond#ctor stri(ing an #ngro#nded cond#ctive "etal s#rface $ill go thro#gh $hatever, or $hoever, connects the "etal o')ect to earth, and 'ac( to the %o$er so#rce. *eca#se having large a"o#nts of electrical c#rrent #nintentionally going thro#gh %eo%le is generally a 'ad thing, $e $ant the overc#rrent %rotection device to tri% as 6#ic(ly as %ossi'le, re"oving the fa#lt c#rrent 'efore da"age, in)#ry, or death can occ#r. &he 'est "eans of doing this for gro#nd fa#lt c#rrent is to %rovide a lo$ eno#gh i"%edance %ath s#ch that gro#nd fa#lt c#rrent is high eno#gh in "agnit#de to 6#ic(ly tri% the overc#rrent %rotective device.

0ig#re 1 sho$s this in %ractice. A gro#nd fa#lt in an a%%liance, rather than ro#ting to the earth thro#gh o#r #ns#s%ecting victi", ro#tes thro#gh the E:C 'ac( thro#gh the %anel'oard, and #lti"ately to the "ain service .#tility transfor"er/, co"%leting the circ#it. ;ore i"%ortantly, 'eca#se this is an effective gro#nd fa#lt c#rrent %ath, the fa#lt c#rrent is high eno#gh to allo$ the circ#it 'rea(er in the %anel'oard to o%en, c#tting the fa#lt c#rrent. Separately derived system: A %re"ises $iring syste" $hose %o$er is derived fro" a so#rce of electrical energy or e6#i%"ent other than a service. <#ch syste"s have no direct connection fro" circ#it cond#ctors of one syste" to circ#it cond#ctors of another syste", other than connections thro#gh the earth, "etal enclos#res, "etallic race$ays, or e6#i%"ent gro#nding cond#ctors. =hen #sing a 'ac(#% so#rce s#ch as a generator, note that if a generator has a ne#tral cond#ctor that is directly 'onded to the #tility service ne#tral .for e+a"%le, a 95%ole transfer s$itch/, the generator is not se%arately derived. On the other hand, if its ne#tral never co"es in direct contact $ith the #tility ne#tral .either 'eca#se the ne#tral is s$itched at the transfer s$itch, or the generator is a 95$ire syste" $itho#t a ne#tral/, it is a se%arately derived syste". System bonding jumper: &he connection 'et$een the gro#nded circ#it cond#ctor .often called the ne#tral/ and the s#%%ly5side 'onding )#"%er, or the E:C, or 'oth, at a se%arately derived syste". <i"%ly %#t, the )#"%er ties the gro#nd and ne#tral together at the generator. =hen this occ#rs at a #tility service, $e no$ #se a different ter" to "ean the sa"e thing8 s#%%ly5side 'onding )#"%er. Supply-side bonding jumper: 0ro" -EC, Article 27!.2, a cond#ctor installed on the s#%%ly side of a service or $ithin a service e6#i%"ent enclos#re.s/, or for a se%arately derived syste", that ens#res the re6#ired electrical cond#ctivity 'et$een "etal %arts re6#ired to 'e electrically connected.

&his ter", introd#ced in the 2!11 -EC, a%%lies to 'oth #tility services and alternate so#rces of %o$er s#ch as a generator. &his cond#ctor is ho$ ret#rn gro#nd5fa#lt c#rrent goes fro" the E:C to the ne#tral and 'ac( to the %o$er so#rce, co"%leting the circ#it, and ho%ef#lly tri%%ing the overc#rrent %rotection in "ini"al ti"e. #rounding standby power systems :ro#nding syste"s are created to allo$ overc#rrent devices to 6#ic(ly o%en $hen a line5to5 gro#nd fa#lt occ#rs. 0or this reason, 'onding 'et$een the ne#tral and gro#nd '#s .or chassis/ in the generator sho#ld not occ#r $hen a 95%ole transfer s$itch is #sed that directly 'onds the "ain service %anel ne#tral to the ne#tral '#s of the generator.

0ig#re 2 sho$s the %ro'le" $ith this a%%roach. Ret#rn c#rrent fro" the electrical load travels do$n to the transfer s$itch and then s%lits $ith %art heading 'ac( to the #tility service and %art heading do$n to the generator. At the generator, this c#rrent then ret#rns thro#gh the ne#tral5gro#nd 'ond 'ac( over the gro#nding syste" to the #tility service, leading to stray c#rrent %otentially traveling over "etallic race$ay, %i%ing, and even '#ilding str#ct#ral steel to ret#rn to its so#rce.

An added %ro'le" of connecting the ne#tral to gro#nd at 'oth the "ain service and the generator $itho#t transferring the ne#tral occ#rs $ith gro#nd fa#lt %rotection .:0P/, $hich is re6#ired 'y -EC Article 2 !.19 on overc#rrent %rotection at >! ? and "ore than 1,!!! A. :0P devices o%erate 'y "eas#ring the o#tgoing and inco"ing c#rrent and loo(ing at differences 'et$een the t$o, $ith the ass#"%tion that any c#rrent difference is stray ret#rn c#rrent that is traveling over the '#ilding gro#nding syste". If the "eas#red c#rrent difference is high eno#gh, the :0P device is then set to tri% o%en, c#tting %o$er to do$nstrea" loads and the gro#nd fa#lt ca#sing the stray ret#rn c#rrent. @o$ever, if stray ret#rn c#rrent is ca#sed for other reasons, s#ch as a condition $here ret#rn ne#tral c#rrent fro" the load can travel over the ne#tral5to5gro#nd 'ond at the generator, the :0P device can also tri%, 'eca#se the c#rrent difference can 'e the sa"e as in an act#al gro#nd fa#lt, es%ecially if the generator is relatively close to the service. If the :0P is then dialed to a higher c#rrent setting to "ini"iAe interr#%tions, one is left $ith c#rrent reg#larly r#nning over the gro#nd syste" fro" stand'y loads, and has red#ced the %rotection fro" the :0P in the event of a real line5to5gro#nd fa#lt. -ote that the c#rrent ro#ted fro" ne#tral to gro#nd at the generator can 'e si"ilar in "agnit#de to a line5to5gro#nd fa#lt at the stand'y load,es%ecially if the i"%edance of the %ath fro" the load to the generator is relatively lo$. &h#s, setting the :0P %rotection to a higher tri% setting can "ean that a real line5to5gro#nd fa#lt at the load "ay not ca#se the 'rea(er to o%en, leading to a s#stained gro#nd fa#lt in the electrical syste". &his leads #s to o#r first r#le of stand'y %o$er syste" gro#nding8 ule !o" #: 0or a 95%hase, 5$ire syste", do not 'ond the ne#tral and gro#nd '#s together at the generator #nless the ne#tral is s$itched at the transfer s$itch together $ith the %hase cond#ctors. &ransferring the ne#tral can 'e acco"%lished 'y one of t$o "eans8

A 5%ole transfer s$itch that s$itches the load ne#tral 'et$een the #tility so#rce to the stand'y so#rce A 95%ole transfer s$itch $ith overla%%ing contacts for the ne#tral that overla%s the #tility and stand'y ne#trals very 'riefly at the ti"e of s$itching.

-ote that the 'onding of a generatorBs ne#tral and gro#nd '#s sho#ld not 'e conf#sed $ith the 6#estion of $hether a generator sho#ld have a gro#nding electrode syste". If the generator is a se%arately derived syste", the -EC re6#ires a gro#nding electrode syste" at the generator %er -EC Articles 27!.9! and 27!.72.A/. If the syste" is not se%arately derived, the gro#nding electrode syste" "ay 'e installed as a s#%%le"ental gro#nding electrode syste", %roviding it is also 'onded to the e6#i%"ent gro#nd cond#ctor .-EC Article 27!.7 /. &his leads #s to the second r#le of stand'y %o$er syste" gro#nding8

ule !o" $: A stand'y %o$er so#rce sho#ld have its o$n gro#nding electrode syste" to facilitate gro#nd fa#lt c#rrent ret#rning to the generator if a line5to5gro#nd fa#lt occ#rs $hen a generator is %o$ering load. @o$ever, this gro#nding electrode syste" "#st al$ays 'e 'onded to the e6#i%"ent gro#nd cond#ctor that is also 'onded to gro#nding electrode cond#ctor at the #tility service disconnect. &his raises the 6#estion of $hether there are ti"es 'y code or design $here the engineer "#st design the generator as a se%arately derived syste" $ith a ne#tral5gro#nd 'ond at the generator. One of the "ost co""on instances occ#rs $hen "ore than one level of :0P is #sed. &his often ha%%ens in health care facilities $here "ore than one transfer s$itch is #sed to isolate life safety, critical, and e6#i%"ent 'ranches fro" one another, and a second level of :0P is #sed on the overc#rrent %rotection. Even $hen the generator does not have a ne#tral5gro#nd 'ond and "#lti%le 95%ole transfer s$itches are #sed, ret#rn c#rrent fro" the life safety 'ranch ret#rns on 'oth its o$n ne#tral and on the ne#tral #sed 'y the e6#i%"ent 'ranch .see 0ig#re 9/.

<ince o#tgoing %hase and inco"ing ne#tral c#rrent are not the sa"e, the :0P for 'oth 'ranches "ay %erceive a line5to5gro#nd fa#lt and tri% one or "ore 'ranches offline. Again, ad)#sting the tri% setting to a higher a"%erage level co"%ro"ises the effectiveness of the :0P $hen a real line5to5gro#nd fa#lt occ#rs. &his leads #s to the third r#le of stand'y %o$er syste" gro#nding8 ule !o" %: =hen #sing "ore than one transfer s$itch on a 95%hase, 5$ire syste" $here any one transfer s$itch "ay have t$o or "ore levels of :0P %rotection #%strea" of itself, the

generator sho#ld 'e gro#nded as a se%arately derived syste", and transfer s$itches that can s$itch the ne#tral sho#ld 'e #sed for all transfer s$itches. *eca#se it is "#ch less e+%ensive to s%ecify the generator $ith the %ro%er gro#nding and install the correct transfer s$itches initially than do so as a retrofit, consideration of this a%%roach sho#ld 'e #sed if there is a %ossi'ility that a f#t#re #%grade co#ld create this condition that doesnBt e+ist initially in the '#ilding. 0or e+a"%le, if an o$ner advises the engineer on a %ro)ect $ith a s"all life safety generator that it "ay 'e re%laced in the f#t#re $ith a large generator ca%a'le of 'ac(ing #% "ost of the '#ilding, and that #%grade $o#ld re6#ire t$o levels of :0P for the non5life safety 'ranch, the engineer $ill $ant to s%ecify a 5%ole transfer s$itch for the life safety 'ranch to avoid needing to re%lace that transfer s$itch d#ring the f#t#re #%grade. *eca#se the %ro'le" of ne#tral c#rrent,$hether #nder nor"al conditions or line5to5gro#nd fa#lt conditions,e"erges $here "#lti%le transfer s$itches are #sed in one facility, $e can generaliAe R#le -o. 9 as follo$s8 Generali&ed ule !o" %: =hen #sing "ore than one transfer s$itch on a 95%hase, 5$ire syste" $here any one transfer s$itch "ay have t$o or "ore levels of :0P %rotection #%strea" of itself, all generators sho#ld 'e gro#nded as se%arately derived syste"s, and transfer s$itches that can s$itch the ne#tral sho#ld 'e #sed for all transfer s$itches. In the disc#ssion to this %oint, all "ention of :0P has 'een ass#"ed to 'e on the #tility side of the transfer s$itches. =hile generators can 'e s%ecified $ith an o#t%#t circ#it 'rea(er $ith :0P, this is nor"ally avoided $ith good reason, 'eca#se a gro#nd fa#lt tri% $o#ld res#lt in the loss of the stand'y %o$er so#rce $hen it is critically needed. Instead, $here a :0P $o#ld other$ise 'e re6#ired, generators sho#ld 'e s%ecified $ith a gro#nd fa#lt ann#nciation feat#re on the o#t%#t circ#it 'rea(er, to notify via the generator control %anel and ann#nciator $hen a gro#nd fa#lt condition has occ#rred $hile the facility is r#nning on 'ac(#% %o$er. &his allo$s the facility "anager to h#nt do$n the so#rce of the gro#nd fa#lt $itho#t c#tting %o$er to critical loads. $he oddballs you must %now &here are n#"ero#s cases $here a 95%hase, 95$ire syste" .no ne#tral/ is #sed on the generator side. Case !o" #'solidly grounded( %-phase( %-)ire standby po)er system: In this case, a transfor"er "ay 'e #sed on the load side of the 95%ole transfer s$itch to derive a ne#tral for any line5to5gro#nd loads on the stand'y %o$er syste" .see 0ig#re /. @o$ever, the transfer s$itch sees only %hase and gro#nd connections fro" the #tility, generator, and load connections to itself. *eca#se there is no $ay for line5to5gro#nd c#rrent to ret#rn on any %ath e+ce%t the gro#nd %lane, $e do not see a s%litting of ret#rn gro#nd fa#lt c#rrent 'et$een a ne#tral and gro#nd. &h#s, a :0P can "onitor )#st the %hase cond#ctors and tri% %ro%erly if the c#rrent does not ret#rn thro#gh the sa"e %hase cond#ctors.

Case !o" $'solidly grounded( %-phase( %-)ire standby po)er system )ith interloc*ed circuit brea*ers used for load transfer: *y definition, 'eca#se the circ#it 'rea(ers .#nless they are 5%ole/ can only s$itch the %hase cond#ctors and not the ne#tral, $e $o#ld have the sa"e %ro'le" of ne#tral c#rrent fro" the stand'y load ret#rning on t$o %ath$ays. One $ay of avoiding this %ro'le" is to connect only 95%hase, 95$ire loads .no ne#tral/ to the co""on distri'#tion 'oard served fro" 'oth so#rces .see 0ig#re 7/.

Case !o" %'high-resistance grounded( %-phase( %-)ire standby po)er system: In this case, a high5resistance so#rce 'et$een ne#tral and gro#nd at the generator is #sed to li"it any ret#rn gro#nd fa#lt c#rrent that "ay occ#r. &his is often #sed in ind#strial settings $here the o$ner does not $ant to interr#%t %o$er in the event of the gro#nd fa#lt, '#t also $ants to red#ce the fa#lt c#rrent "agnit#de .and th#s its inherent danger/ $hile tro#'leshooting the location and so#rce of the fa#lt. Conditions of -EC Article 27!.9C "#st also 'e "et. ;#ch of the control the '#ilding o$ner, engineer, and electrician have over resolving gro#nding iss#es $ith the generator can 'e resolved $ith caref#l %lanning at the generator and transfer s$itch. Caref#l foretho#ght and %lanning can do "#ch to "a+i"iAe the gro#nd fa#lt %rotection of the %o$er syste", and "ini"iAe %o$er o#tages d#e to stray c#rrents. Chesley is an associate principal and senior electrical engineer at Interface Engineering. e has been !ith the company since "##$. is engineering e%pertise includes building integration, rene!able energy systems, telecommunications infrastructure, bac&up po!er systems, energy metering, and building dashboards.