Depending on the particular characteristics of the ‘electronic’ loads and controls connected to an electrical installation, an RCD could be exposed to a range of residual current waveforms and frequencies. Unless RCDs are selected that are compatible with the loads and other devices connected, the protection intended may be compromised, as the experts at NICEIC explain.
Electronic components are to be found in most electrical products installed in modern electrical installations. These include, for example:
- LED lights,
- Variable speed drives,
- UPS systems,
- Lighting and heating controllers,
- Appliances such as washing machines, induction hobs, dishwashers and fridges.
Such ‘electronic’ products can, in normal operation, generate DC as well as residual current waveforms of high or mixed frequencies, as shown in Fig 1(a). Furthermore, in the event of a fault, the current flowing is likely, depending on where the fault occurs, to be complex in shape rather than the sinusoidal waveform as shown in Fig 1(b).
Therefore, an RCD exposed to such waveforms needs to be of a suitable type, otherwise a distorted waveform (or DC) could affect the time/current operation of an RCD and cause it to operate outside its correct operating characteristics – or, at worst, the RCD could fail to operate at all.
It should be recognised that the term RCD covers a range of residual current devices. While the selection of an RCD is primarily based on the residual current sensitivity required, other factors also need to be taken into account, including:
- the compatibility of the device with the type of loads connected,
- co-ordination between Types of RCDs, and
- selectivity between RCDs and other protective devices that may be connected in series.
Classification of RCDs
The operating characteristics of a general purpose RCD (Type AC) is designed for sinusoidal waveforms of 50 Hz. Exposure to high frequency waveforms or DC can saturate the core of the RCD, and may render the device unable to correctly detect residual currents, ¹and as such, fail to operate under fault conditions.
Similarly, the correct operation of a Type A RCD cannot be assured where it is likely to be exposed to certain waveforms of mixed frequencies. For these reasons, regulation 531.3.3 of BS 7671 requires that an appropriate ‘Type’ of RCD is selected based on the frequencies and DC component likely to be present.
When used to describe the operating characteristics of an RCD, the term ‘Type’ relates to the frequency and shape of current waveform for which operation is assured. A summary of the Types of RCDs detailed in regulation 531.3.3 and the particular current waveforms for which they are designed is provided in Table 1.
In addition, the recommendations given in Figure A53.1 of Annex A53 of BS 7671, for protection against possible fault currents in systems with semiconductors should also be taken into account. As such, regulation 531.3.3 details the different types of RCD that exist and may be selected for use.
Note: An RCD intended for operation by ordinary persons should conform to the relevant product standard listed in regulation 518.104.22.168, whereas an RCD for use by skilled or instructed persons should conform to regulation 522.214.171.124.
Co-ordination between RCD Types
Where RCDs are connected in series within an installation, the selection of one Type of RCD should not impair the operation of another device. Therefore, with reference to Table 1, RCDs should be co-ordinated such that:
- Type AC RCD should not be installed upstream of any other type of RCD,
- Type A RCD should not be installed upstream of a Type F or B RCDs, and
- Type B RCDs should not be installed downstream of any other type of RCD.
Selectivity between RCDs
Given the RCD Types are compatible, selectivity between RCDs connected in series based on the residual current is achieved where:
- the upstream RCD is of selective type (Type S² or time-delayed type³ with appropriate time delay setting), and
- the ratio between the rated residual operating current (IΔn) of the upstream RCD and the downstream RCD is at least 3:1 (5126.96.36.199).
A residual current protective device connected upstream of an RCD providing additional protection (rated residual current ≤ 30 mA), should be a Type S device, incorporating a time-delay for selectivity purposes.
Note: A Type S RCD is not suitable for providing additional protection and where this device is installed it shall satisfy the disconnection requirements of Chapter 41 of BS 7671.
Requirements for selectivity between overcurrent protective devices and RCDs are contained in regulation Group 5188.8.131.52. It should be noted that a Residual Current Circuit Breaker (RCCB) is not designed to provide overload or short-circuit protection and so suitable devices providing such protection must be installed.
In the case of RCCBs housed within a typical consumer unit to BS EN 61439-3, short-circuit protection is provided by an upstream device, generally the supplier’s intake fuse, while overload protection is provided by the protective devices installed within the consumer unit.
Therefore, the loads connected to a single RCCB must not cause the device to be subjected to a continuous overload exceeding its rating. Additionally, the short-circuit withstand capability of the RCCB should have a rating higher than the highest prospective fault current that could occur at its point of installation (5184.108.40.206).
Compatibility with SPDs
Regulation 534.4.7 requires an RCD installed upstream of a Surge Protective Device to be a transient resistant type having an immunity to surge currents (8/20) of up to 3 kA. Both Type S RCCBs to BS EN 61008-1 and RCBOs to the BS EN 61009-1 satisfy this requirement. However, the installation of a Type 1 SPD downstream of an RCD is not recommended (534.4.7).
Considerations for electrical testing
Irrespective of the function of an RCD, whether it is installed to provide fault protection, additional protection or protection against fire, its operation must be verified by testing (regulation Group 643.7).
In some circumstances, due to the compatibility of the RCD and the test instrument used, it may not be possible to obtain a measured value of earth fault loop impedance. Historically, some earth fault loop impedance test instruments injected a DC current to saturate the core of the RCD prior to testing so that the actual test current is undetected by the RCD. This technique of applying a DC bias effectively ‘blinded’ the RCD and prevented it tripping during the test. Such a test was only suitable for certain devices such as Type AC and A RCDs.
For other Types of RCD either a test instrument having a low current no trip facility or similar is required or the impedance value can be obtained by measuring the earth fault loop impedance on the supply side of the RCD and adding this to the value of the combined resistance (R1+R2) on the load side of the RCD.
Alternatively, automatic disconnection of supply (ADS) may be confirmed by verifying the effectiveness of the RCD and confirmation of the continuity of protective conductors downstream of the RCD (643.7.1).
In addition to providing the correct level of residual current protection required, an RCD should be selected so that it is compatible with the operating characteristics of the loads it protects and other devices connected in series. As the nature of loads and their operating characteristics become more complex, then confirming the suitability of existing RCDs should not be overlooked.
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¹This is known as ‘blinding’
²Type S RCDs are covered by the BS EN 61008 series (RCCBs) and BS EN 61009 (RCBOs)
³Circuit-breakers incorporating residual current protection (CBRs) with time delay settings and Modular residual current devices (MRCDs) with time delay settings are covered by BS EN 60947-2:2017+A1:2020. These RCDs should also be type S.