Earthing in Three Phase Systems Part I

A proper grounding scheme is vital component of any power system. Improperly grounded systems can result in equipment failures, overvoltages, and flashovers.  Grounding uses the earth as a return conductor in the event of a fault.  This helps to identify the fault.  Resistances can be used to limit the fault current to desired levels.  Grounding ensures system stability and prompt identification and clearing of faults.

In three phase systems, the neutral of the Star Point is usually grounded. In the case of delta connected systems, a special grounding arrangement such as Earthing Transformers or Zig-zag transformers are used.

On the basis of the grounding used, Power Systems can be classified into
  • Ungrounded Systems
  • Solidly Grounded Systems
  • Low Resistance Grounded Systems
  • High Resistance Grounded Systems
Ungrounded Systems

Ungrounded Systems can function normally in the healthy condition.  In the fault condition, as one phase gets earthed, the voltage between the other two phases and the ground increases to the line voltage(phase to phase voltage).  This places the insulation of the equipment connected to the system under excessive electrostatic stress.  Ungrounded systems are the most expensive for this reason.

Electric Equipment connected to ungrounded systems need to have insulation rated for the line voltage.  In the event of a fault on one phase, the fault current is fed by the capacitance charging current flowing the other two un-faulted phases.

This current is usually less and power can continue to flow in the other two phases.  However, if the fault is intermittent and the contact with the ground is of the make-break type.  The capacitances which form in the other two phases may charge and discharge into the system causing high overvoltages, sometimes 5 to 7 times the normal voltage.  This can cause extensive damage to other devices connected elsewhere in the system. 

While the ungrounded system can run with the other two phases even when one phase is faulty, a fault in any of the other two phases can cause a phase-to-phase short circuit via the ground.