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Technical collection

Earthing system
How to choose the right system earthing

Application note
In both commercial and industrial
applications, needs change, and it is
becoming increasingly important to choose
the right system earthing arrangement,
according to rigorously defined working
practices, in order to ensure the
cohabitation of "high and low currents" and
satisfy the operator’s requirements.
Following a review of the risks related to
installation insulation faults affecting the
safety of persons and equipment, this
Technical Guide describes the three types
of system earthing defined by standards
All System Earthing Arrangements (SEA) IEC 60364 and NF C 15.100.
provide equivalent protection of life and Each system earthing arrangement is
property. However each has certain examined in terms of safety and availability,
advantages and inconveniences in other as well as for its protection against
terms that may be important for a given overvoltages and electromagnetic
installation. disturbances.

Changing needs
Today, the three system earthing arrangements, protection of persons against indirect contact.
defined by standards IEC 60364 The same is not necessarily true for the
and NF C 15.100, are: dependability of the LV electrical installation
p the TN system regarding:
p the TT system p availability of the electrical power supply
p the IT system. p maintenance of the installation.
All three systems have the same final purpose These calculable parameters are becoming
as regards protection of persons and equipment: increasingly important in industrial
control of insulation fault effects. They are and commercial premises.
considered as equivalent with respect to the

Causes of insulation faults

In order to ensure protection of persons and O mechanical deterioration of a cable insulator
continuity of operation, the conductive wires and p during operation:
live parts of an electrical installation are O dust with a varying degree of conductivity
"insulated" from the earthed exposed conductive O the thermal ageing of insulators due to
parts. excessive temperature caused by:
Insulation involves: - the climate
p separation by insulating materials - too many cables in a duct
p separation by linear clearances in gases - an insufficiently ventilated cubicle
(e.g. in air) or by creepage distances along - harmonics
insulators (e.g. to prevent flashover on electrical - overcurrents…
switchgear). O the electrodynamic forces developed during a
Insulation is characterised by specific voltages short-circuit which may damage a cable or reduce
which, in accordance with standards, apply to a clearance
new products and equipment: O switching and lightning surges
p insulation voltage (highest voltage on system) O 50 Hz voltage surges caused by MV earth
p lightning impulse withstand voltage faults and affecting LV equipment.
(1.2/50 µs impulse wave)
p power frequency withstand voltage Normally, it is a combination of these primary
(2U + 1000 V/1 min). causes which results in an insulation fault.
Example for an LV switchboard of the Prisma This fault can be either:
type: p a differential mode fault (between the live
p insulation voltage: 1000 V conductors) in which case it becomes a short-
p impulse voltage: 12 kV. circuit
When commissioning a new installation, produced p or a common mode fault (between live
in accordance with standard working practices conductors and the exposed conductive parts
with products manufactured as per standards, the or earth). A fault current, referred to as a common
risk of an insulation fault is extremely low. mode or zero-sequence fault (MV), then flows in
However, this risk increases with time. the protection conductor (PE) and/or in the earth.
This is because the installation is subjected
to a variety of aggressions which are responsible System earthing arrangements in LV are mainly
for insulation faults. Below are a few examples: concerned by common mode faults which occur
p during installation: most frequently in loads and cables.

Risks linked to the insulation fault
Whatever its cause, an insulation fault is a risk to The higher the fault current, the greater the risk.
life property and the availability of electrical power: This risk also depends on the degree of the fire or
all this comes under the heading of dependability. explosion risk on the premises.

Risk of electric shock Risk of unavailability of electrical

A person (or animal) subjected to an electrical power
voltage, is electrified. Control of this risk is becoming increasingly
The effects of alternating (50 to 60 Hz) important. This is because if the faulty part is
current on the human body automatically disconnected in order to eliminate
1A Cardiac arrest the fault, the results are:
p a risk for people, for example:
75 mA Irreversible cardiac O sudden loss of lighting
fibrillation threshold O shutdown of vital equipment
30 mA Respiratory paralysis p an economic risk due to production loss.
threshold This risk must particularly be controlled in process
10 mA Muscular contraction industries for which restarting can be long and
(tetanisation) costly.
Moreover, if the fault current is high:
0,5 mA Very slight sensation p the damage, in the installation or the loads, can
be serious and increase repair costs and time
Protection of persons against the dangerous p the circulation of high fault currents in the
effects of electrical current takes top priority; the common mode (between the system and earth)
risk of electric shock must therefore be taken into can also disturb sensitive devices, particularly if
account before the rest. they are part of a "low current" system which is
geographically spread out with galvanic links.
Risk of fire
Should this risk materialise, it can have serious Finally, on de-energisation, the appearance of
consequences for persons and equipment. overvoltages and/or electromagnetic radiation
Many fires are caused by an excessive phenomena can cause malfunctioning or even
temperature rise at a specific time or an electrical deterioration of sensitive equipment.
arc generated by an insulation fault.

A few reminders
In this chapter the electric shock and electrocution p the second letter for the type of connection of
risks are specified for the various system earthing the exposed conductive parts of the installation
arrangements, as defined by the International (2 possibilities):
Electrotechnical Committee in standard O T for "directly" earthed
IEC 60364. O N for "connected to earthed neutral" at the
The system earthing arrangement in LV origin of the installation.
characterises the earthing of the secondary of the The combination of these two letters gives three
HV/LV transformer and the earthing of the possible configurations:
exposed conductive parts of the installation.
Identification of the types of system earthing Transformer neutral Exposed
arrangements is thus defined by 2 letters: conductive parts
p the first letter for connection of the transformer if T T or N
neutral (2 possibilities): if I T
O T for "earthed" i.e. TT, TN and IT.
O I for "unearthed" (or "isolated")

Terminology (cont.)

(1) ECP: exposed conductive part. p TN-C-S: use of a TN-S downstream of a TN-C
(the opposite is forbidden).
Note 1 : Note that the TN-S is compulsory for systems with
The TN system, according to IEC 60364 conductors of a cross-section y 10 mm2 Cu.
and standard NF C 15-100, has several
sub-systems: Note 2 :
p TN-C: if the N neutral and PE conductors Each system earthing arrangement can be
are combined (PEN) applied to an entire LV electrical installation.
p TN-S: if the N neutral and PE conductors However, several arrangements can jointly exist
are separate in the same installation.

Example of a simplified earth leakage current (Id) calculation

TT In the presence of an insulation fault, the automatically de-energised by an RCD.

fault current Id is limited for the most part by the As the insulation fault is similar to a phase-to-
earthing resistances (if the earthing connections neutral short-circuit, breaking is performed by the
for the exposed conductive parts and for the overcurrent protection devices.
neutral are not combined).
This fault current induces a fault voltage in the IT Behaviour on the 1st fault
load earthing resistances. p Since the neutral is unearthed, there is no flow
Since the earthing resistances are normally low of a fault current Id. Voltage is not dangerous, and
and of the same order of magnitude (@ 10 W), this the installation can therefore be kept in operation
voltage of around Uo/2 is dangerous. p As the IMD (Insulation Monitoring Device) has
The part of the installation concerned by the fault detected this 1st fault, it must be located and
must therefore be automatically disconnected by eliminated before a 2nd fault occurs.
an RCD.
Behaviour on the 2nd fault
TN In the presence of an insulation fault, the p The fault concerns the same live conductor:
fault current Id is only limited by the impedance of nothing happens and operation can continue
the fault loop cables. p The fault concerns two different live conductors.
For 230/400 V systems, this voltage of the order The double fault is a short-circuit (as in TN).
of Uo/2 (if RPE = Rph) is dangerous as it is greater Breaking is performed by the overcurrent
than the limit safety voltage, even in dry protection devices.
environments (UL = 50 V). The installation or part
of the installation must then be immediately and

p Note that RCDs are:
TT This system sustains the "earth fault" ... but
limits the consequences by implementing residual v built into or added to the circuit breaker and
current devices which detect the earth fault before switch with the 0.5 to more than 100 A
it becomes a short-circuit. This is the principle of Multi 9 range
the TT "directly earthed neutral" systems which O built into the circuit breaker with the 100
allow the addition of extra outgoers by simply to 630 A Vigi module
combining them with an RCD. O built into the circuit breaker with the insulation
monitoring module
O with separate toroid with the 100 to 6300 A
It is the safety champion! Vigirex devices which indicate absence of
auxiliary supply source without causing tripping
p In this case, as for short-circuits, the only (avoids resets), and also warn the user of the
contribution that can be made to availability is to insulation drop without causing tripping, by
enhance discrimination by installing several means of an early warning contact which is
stages of earth leakage protection in order to activated at half of the displayed threshold.
reduce breaking to the smallest part of the For example: set at 300 mA, it warns the user
system. at 150 mA.

TN When a fault occurs, this system causes p An extensive choice of 1P/3P/4P circuit
tripping of the SCPD (short-circuit protective breakers provides a perfect solution from 1 to
device) to provide protection. more than 6300 A with the following ranges:
O Multi 9
This fault is similar to a short-circuit (very low fault
O Compact
loop impedance) and is thus violent and
O Masterpact.
The circuit breaker therefore trips on the 1st fault.
p This is the principle of the TN systems with IT This system renders the fault inoffensive.
exposed conductive parts connected to the It consists of attacking the cause rather than the
neutral earthing point and which do not require effect by limiting the fault current to a few mA.
additional protection devices such as RCDs In an IT unearthed neutral or impedant neutral
or IMDs. It is thus the installation economy system, as the fault is not dangerous, there is no
champion! This principle quickly becomes costly need to trip and operation can continue.
in the event of modifications or extensions, and is
hard on installations due to short-circuit effects on It is the electrical power availability
cables and loads, as well as voltage drops which champion!
can disturb computers, MN undervoltage
releases, motors, … p However, leaving an earth fault on such a
p In order to limit the consequences of the fault to system would mean leaving a direct link between
the part of the system concerned, current, time the system and the earth, as before.
and energy discrimination methods must be In this case, the appearance of a 2nd fault creates
implemented. a dangerous current which must cause tripping of
p When the fault loop impedance is poorly the same kind as in the TT and TN system
controlled, it may be necessary to add additional earthing arrangements.
protection of the residual current type. The NEC p For this reason, this type of unearthed neutral
(National Electrical Code) requires earth-fault system is only advantageous if real insulation
protection of TN-S systems by GFP (ground fault faults are detected as soon as they appear by the
protection) devices or low-sensitivity RCDs. Vigilohm System range which automatically and
Moreover, the use of medium-sensitivity RCDs immediately detects faults on outgoers, including
(300 mA) can also reduce the risk of fire by transient faults (which users particularly dread).
eliminating stray currents. This is the function of the XM200 IMD with the

XD301 detectors (1 outgoer) or XD312 detectors These products communicate this information
(12 outgoers) combined with closed locally and via the supervision system, and make
A toroids. it possible to implement preventive maintenance
p In order to meet the needs of sites with the most so as never to be subjected to the earth fault.
exacting availability requirements, These protection devices are: XM300C, XD308C,
Schneider Electric offers products designed to XL308, XL316, and the local XAS, XL1200,
measure resistance and capacitance outgoer by XL1300, XTU300 interfaces according to the
outgoer. installation configuration.


System earthing arrangement choice criteria

Their performance is evaluated sufficient protection, and use of the TN-S system
according to the five criteria listed below: earthing arrangement combined with residual
p protection against electrical shocks current devices is recommended.
p protection against electrical fires p in normal operation, the TN-C system
p continuity of supply earthing arrangement presents a higher risk of
p overvoltage protection fire than the others.
p protection against electromagnetic This is because the load unbalance current
disturbances. permanently flows through not only the PEN
A summary of the properties of each conductor but also the devices connected to it:
system earthing arrangement results in metal frameworks, exposed conductive parts,
shieldings, etc.
the following technical comparison.
When a short-circuit occurs, the energy lost in
these stray trajectories considerably increases.
Protection against electrical shocks For this reason the TN-C system earthing
All the system earthing arrangements guarantee arrangement is forbidden on premises where
equal protection against electrical shocks there is a risk of fire or explosion.
provided that they are implemented and used
according to standards.
Continuity of supply
Choice of the IT system earthing arrangement
Protection against the risk of avoids all the harmful consequences of the
electrical fires. insulation fault:
In the TT and IT system earthing arrangements, p the voltage sag
when the first insulation fault occurs, the current p the disturbing effects of the fault current
generated by this fault is low or very low p damage to equipment
respectively, and the risk of fire is slight. p opening of the faulty outgoer.
On the other hand: If this system earthing arrangement is used
p in the event of a full fault, the current correctly, the second fault is highly unlikely.
generated by the insulation fault is high in the TN
type system earthing arrangements, Note: it is always a combination of measures that
and the resulting damage is serious. helps ensure continuity of supply: dual power
supply sources, UPS, discrimination of protection
p in the event of an impedant fault, the TN devices, IT system earthing arrangement,
system earthing arrangements implemented maintenance department, etc.
without residual current devices do not provide

Overvoltage protection Any system earthing arrangement can be chosen:
Protection may be necessary in all system p for all differential mode disturbances
earthing arrangements. Choice of the right p for all disturbances (common or differential
protection must take site exposure and the type mode) with a frequency greater than a MHz.
and activity of the establishment into account.
It is then necessary to determine the number and The TT, TN-S and IT system earthing
quality of necessary equipotential zones in order arrangements can thus satisfy all electromagnetic
to implement the protection devices required compatibility criteria. However, it should be noted
(surge arresters, etc.) on the lines of the various that the TN-S system generates more
incoming and outgoing electrical systems. disturbances during the insulation fault, as the
Remarks: fault current is higher.
p the IT system earthing arrangement more often On the other hand, the TN-C and TN-C-S system
requires the use of surge arresters earthing arrangements are not recommended, as
p no system earthing arrangement completely in these systems a permanent current due to load
does away with these measures unbalance flows through the PEN conductor, the
p in the IT system earthing arrangement, exposed conductive parts and the cable
protection against overvoltages due to MV faults shieldings. This permanent current creates
must be provided by a surge limiter. disturbing voltage drops between the exposed
conductive parts of the sensitive equipment
Protection against electromagnetic connected to the PEN. The presence of 3rd order
multiple harmonics has considerably amplified
disturbances this current in modern installations.

(1) In the event of an insulation fault.

(2) All electromagnetic disturbances:
p external: faults on HV distribution system, switching surges, lightning surges, etc.
p internal: insulation fault currents, harmonics in LV installations.

Choice of system earthing arrangement and conclusion
The common aim of the three system earthing O continuity of supply and no maintenance
arrangements internationally used and department: there is no completely satisfactory
standardised by the IEC 60364 is maximum solution: prefer a TT system for which
dependability. discrimination on tripping is easier to implement
As regards protection of persons, all 3 system and which minimises damage compared with
earthing arrangements are equivalent provided a TN system.
that all installation and operating rules are Extensions are easy (no calculations)
complied with. O continuity of supply is not essential and there is
Given the specific characteristics of each system a competent maintenance department:
earthing arrangement, it is impossible to make a prefer a TN-S system (rapid repairs and extension
choice without considering installation and according to rules)
operating needs. O continuity of supply is not essential and there is
This choice must be the result of joint deliberation no maintenance department: prefer a TT system
between the user and the system designer O risk of fire: IT if there is a maintenance
(electrical consultants, contractor, …) on: department, and use a 0.5 A RCD, or TT
p the installation characteristics p Take the special features of the system and
p operating conditions and requirements. loads into account:
It is pointless trying to operate an unearthed O very extensive system or with a high leakage
neutral system in part of an installation which, by current: prefer TN-S
its very nature, has a low insulation level O use of replacement or standby power supplies:
(a few thousand ohms): old and extended prefer TT
installations, installations with external lines… O loads sensitive to high fault currents (motors):
Likewise, it would be a contradiction in industry prefer TT or IT systems
where continuity of supply and productivity are O loads with low natural insulation (furnaces)
essential and fire risks high, to choose a multiple or with a large HF filter (large computers):
earthed neutral system. prefer a TN-S system
O supply of control and monitoring systems:
How to choose the right system ear- prefer an IT (continuity of supply) or TT system
thing arrangement (enhanced equipotentiality of communicating
p First and foremost, do not forget that all three devices).
system earthing arrangements can exist side by
side in the same electrical installation. This is a Conclusion
guarantee that the best solution for safety and Using only one system earthing arrangement is
availability needs will be found for every case. not always the best choice. In many cases it is
p You must then ensure that the choice of system thus preferable to implement several system
earthing arrangement is not recommended or earthing arrangements in the same installation.
imposed by standards or legislation As a rule, a "radial" installation, with careful
(decrees, ministerial orders). identification of priority loads and use of standby
p You then need to dialogue with the user in order sources or uninterruptible power supplies, is
to identify his needs and means: preferable to a tree-structured monolithic
O need for continuity of supply installation.
O whether or not there is a maintenance We hope this technical guide has furthered your
department knowledge of system earthing arrangements and
O risk of fire. that it will enable you to optimise the dependability
Generally speaking: of your installations.
O continuity of supply and a maintenance
department: the solution is an IT system
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