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Ungrounded Battery Backup, Charger Supplied (DC) Systems

Reliable or Not?

Ungrounded Battery Backup, Charger Supplied (DC) Systems have been

traditionally used in facilities where the loads are normally contained within
specific buildings and cabling systems are not subject to cathodic corrosion.
Grounded Battery Backup, Charger Supplied (DC) Systems have been used
have been used where the loads are distributed and cabling systems are subject
to cathodic corrosion. Examples of the ungrounded DC Plant is a generating
station or computer facility, an example of the second DC Plant is a dispersed
telephone systems. An argument for not grounding the Battery Backup, Charger
Supplied (DC) System is single fault tolerance and personnel safety. Arguments
for grounding the Battery Backup, Charger Supplied (DC) System are the speed
in identification of the fault, labor savings, and personnel safety. The division
between these basic practices occurred greater than 60 years ago when digital
loads were electromechanical, controls were hydraulic or air, electronic amplifiers
were magnetic or vacuum tubes, and components were discrete. To a early
generating station, DC motors were the predominant factor in designing the DC
system. The accepted rules for ungrounded DC systems predates the
emergence of chips, op amps, metal oxide varistors, switching power supplies,
Data Acquisition and Digital Control systems, power quality filters, and noise
suppression. With the emergence of critical, sensitive electronic loads is the
Ungrounded DC system and the techniques associated for clearing ground faults
up to the task of maintaining the required power quality and electromagnetic
emissions environment.

The Ungrounded DC system is typically DC and AC coupled to ground

through an inductive or resistive ground monitor, through surge protection, and
through the capacitance of the cables and noise filters. Switching power
supplies may also provided coupling to ground. Currents to ground may flow
during resistive faults to ground, capacitive faults to ground, switching faults to
ground, starts of DC loads, starts of large unbalanced AC Loads, bringing
chargers on line, single phase AC faults, and lightning. A resistor model of the
ungrounded DC system with a resistive ground fault monitor easily explains
current flow to ground for a single fault. Multiple faults are generally not
accounted for in the resistive ground monitor and subsequent faults to the first
may result in a reduction of ground current in the ground fault monitor. With
large diverse DC systems, individual, untraceable, leakage paths to ground may
sum to large values on each leg of the battery. The sum of these insignificant
values may present a large aggregate fault, resulting in spurious detection of
subsequent faults. Engineering ground fault detection systems, responding to
ground alarms, identifying the cause of the alarm is an exercise in engineering
judgement, and is often based on rumor and existing practices. The mystery of
the spurious Ungrounded Dc System alarm results in a lot of head scratching
and fear. Sophisticated troubleshooting, alternate monitor detection techniques,
careful attention to specification of electronic loads and their power line filters, or

0-7803-6420-1/00/$10.00 ( c ) 2000 IEEE 1705

alternative hybrids of grounded and ungrounded DC systems may be required
answer for complex DC systems in the new millenium.

The panel consists of Jose Marrero, Southern Company, Marcel Tremblay,

Bender Inc., and Dick Meininger, Char Services. Jose is the DC system
engineer at plant Hatch in Georgia, Marcel is the Vice President at Bender’s US
office, and Dick is the Char’s President. Bender produces portable and Installed
Ground monitors. Char provides EMI, Noise, and grounding services.

John K. Coyle
Vice Chair PES Battery Sub-committee
Senior Engineer
61 0-640-6288

(c) 2000 IEEE

0-7803-6420-1/00/$10.00 1706