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Advances in Electrical Engineering Systems (AEES)

Vol. 1, No. 3, 2012, ISSN 2167-633X


Copyright World Science Publisher, United States
www.worldsciencepublisher.org

163

Practical and Theoretical Investigation of Current Carrying


Capacity (Ampacity) of Underground Cables
1

Adel El-Faraskoury, 2Sherif Ghoneim, 2Ali Kasem Alaboudy, 2Ragab Salem, 3Sayed A. Ward
1

Extra High Voltage Research Center, Egyptian Electricity Holding Company, Egypt, a.elfaraskoury@yahoo.com
2
Faculty of Industrial Education, Suez University, Suez Campus, Suez,
Egypt, ghoneim_sherif2003@yahoo.com; ali_hkasem@yahoo.com
3
Faculty of Engineering, Benha University, Shoubra, Cairo, Egypt, drsayedw@yahoo.com

Abstract In urban areas, underground cables are commonly used for bulk power transmission. The utilization of
electricity in factories, domestic premises and other locations is typically performed by cables as they present the most
practical means of conveying electrical power to equipment, tools and other different applications. Estimation of cable
current carrying capacity (ampacity) gains higher potential in recent times due to the continuous increase of energy
utilization in modern electric power systems. This paper presents a theoretical study based on relevant IEC standards to
calculate the ampacity of underground cables under steady state conditions. The ampacity formula stated in IEC standards
are coded using Matlab software. Further, an untraditional experimental ampacity test of a 38/66 kV- XLPE/CU- 1 X 630
mm2 cable sample is performed in the extra high voltage research center. This paper proposes a new approach that uses the
complementary laboratory measurements in cable ampacity data preparation. The modified approach gives more accurate
estimation of cable parameters. The level of improvement is assessed through comparisons with the traditional ampacity
calculation techniques. Main factors that affect cable ampacity, such as the insulation condition, soil thermal resistivity,
bonding type, and depth of laying are examined. Based on paper results, cable ampacity is greatly affected by the installation
conditions and material properties.
Keywords Underground cable; Cable ampacity; Soil thermal resistivity; Bonding type; Depth of laying

1. Introduction
Compared with transient temperature rises caused by
sudden application of bulk loads, the calculation of the
temperature rise of cable systems under steady state
conditions, which includes the effect of operation under a
repetitive load cycle, is relatively simple. Steady state cable
ampacity involves only the application of the thermal
equivalents of Ohms and Kirchoffs laws to a relatively
simple thermal circuit. This analogy circuit usually has a
number of parallel paths with heat flows entering at several
points. However, heat flows and thermal resistances
involved should be carefully addressed. Differing methods
are sometimes used by various engineers. In general, all
thermal resistances are developed according the conductor
heat flowing through them. The ampacity or current
carrying capacity of a cable is defined as the maximum
current which the cable can carry continuously without the
temperature at any point in the insulation exceeding the
limits specified for the respectively material. The ampacity
depends upon the rate of heat generation within the cable as

well as the rate of heat dissipation from the cable to the


surroundings. In the case of underground cable systems, it is
convenient to utilize an effective thermal resistance for the
earth portion of the thermal circuit which includes the effect
of the loading cycle and the mutual heating effect of the
other cable of the system. Ampacity of an underground
cable system is determined by the capacity of the
installation to extract heat from the cable and dissipate it in
the surrounding soil and atmosphere. The maximum
operating temperature of a cable is a function of the
insulation damage experienced as a consequence of high
operating temperatures. Based on the duration of the current
circulating in the conductors, the cable insulation can
withstand different temperature values [1]. There are three
standardized ampacity ratings: steady state, transient (or
emergency) and short-circuit. This paper focuses only on
cable steady state ampacity ratings. Theoretical and
experimental investigation of cable ampacity is conducted.

2. Cable ampacity calculation

Adel El-Faraskoury, et al., AEES, Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 163-169, 2012

The maximum temperature that the cable insulation can


be endured for long term determines its ampacity. The long
term and short term allowable maximum temperatures
ensure that the cable can operate safely, reliably and
economically. If the operating temperature exceeds certain
limit, the insulation aging becomes faster and thus shortens
the cables life span. In addition, the electrical and
mechanical properties, and thermal behavior must be
considered in choosing cable to ensure that the heat is not
exceeding the limited value while the transmission
capability is satisfied. The thermal behaviour of the

cables in underground lines during regimes of normal


load or under emergency not only depends on the
previous knowledge of the constructive characteristics
of the cable and the load curve that submitted, but
also of the way conditions where it is installed. Thus
other factors will have to be known as: amount of
loaded conductors, geometric configuration between
the cable, type of grounding of the metallic shields of

164

the cable, thermal characteristics of the materials


around of the cable (soil, ducts, concrete, "backfill",
etc), effect of the typical variation of the environment
(humidity and temperature in the land) and other
interferences caused for external sources of heat. The
maximum temperature that XLPE insulation enduring is 90
C, so when the cable core come to this temperature, the
current in the cable core is considered cable ampacity. IEC
60287 support a method for calculation the cable ampacity
of 100% load current, which is a common method used in
all over the world. To find the ampacity, we first note that
the potential of every node in the circuit analogizes the
temperature of the regions between the layers. Thus, the
potential difference between the terminals of the circuits
and the innermost current source represents the temperature
rise of the core of the cable with respect to the ambient
temperature. Therefore the temperature of the cable's core is
the ambient temperature plus t; Figure 1 shows thermal
electrical equivalent.

Figure 1. Electrical equivalent of thermal circuit

From Figure (1) we can compute t as follows:

t = Wc + Wd T1 (Wc + Wd + Ws )T2 +
2

(Wc + Wd + Wa )(T 2 + T 4)

(1)

To derive an expression from where the ampacity can


be computed directly, the heat sources (electrical losses)
W's are expressed as proportion of the conductor losses
(W c ). The conductor losses are computed using the ac
resistance and the current. Thus, by substituting the
following expressions:

Ws = 1Wc , Wa = 1Wc , Wc = Rac I 2

(2)

In (1) and re-arranging we have:

I=

t W4 [0.5T1 + n(T2 + T3 + T4 )]
RT1 + nR(1 + 1 + 2 )[T3 + T4 ]

(3)

From expression (3) one can compute the ampacity of a


cable by calculating the thermal resistances T, the loss
factors and the ac resistance R of the core of the cable.
The loss factors take into account eddy losses induced and
circulating currents, while R considers the temperature
dependency of the resistance [2,3,4,5]. T 1, T 2 is related with
insulation material and the cables physical dimension.
Besides the cables construction, T 4 also has relationship
with the soil thermal resistance coefficient, namely the
earths property and moisture content. If the three cables
contact with each other, the interrelationship of these cables
also should be considered in. The loss factor 1, 2 , relate
to the resistance of sheath and armour. The resistance is the
function of temperature. In IEC standard, the temperature of
sheath and armour are estimated by the maximum
temperature insulation endured, but in effect, they also have
some relationship with ambient temperature and the current
in the cable core. So the cable ampacity calculated by IEC
standard has some errors. An iterative method for
calculation ampacity is provided in this paper based on
precise calculation of circulating current in cable sheath.
Firstly, the cable core is given an initial current, and the

Adel El-Faraskoury, et al., AEES, Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 163-169, 2012

initial temperatures of the core and sheath are also given.


Secondly, iterative calculate their temperatures under this
current. Thirdly, change the core current continually based
on the temperature difference between the core and its
allowable maximum temperature, until this difference is
smaller than the given error [6]. When the conductor is
energized, heat is generated within the cable. This heat is
generated due to the I2R losses of the conductor, the
dielectric losses in the insulation and losses in the metallic
component of the cable. The ampacity of the cable is
dependent on the way this heat is transmitted to the cable
surface and ultimately dissipated to the surrounding. The
thermal resistances control heat dissipation from the
conductor. Thus the efficiency of heat dissipation is
dependent upon the various thermal resistances of the cable
material and the external backfill and soil plus the ambient
temperature around the cable. If the cable is able to
dissipate more heat, the cable can carry more current.
In the Neher-McGrath method [1], the thermal resistances
are either computed from basic principles or from
heuristics. One can appreciate, from Figure 3, that some of
the internal layers of a cable can be considered as tubular
geometries. The following expression is used for the
computation of the thermal resistance of tubular geometries:

T=

1
r2
ln
=
A 2 r1

(4)

Equation (4) is applicable for most internal to the cable


layers (T 1 , T 2 , T 3 ). For complicated geometries and for the
layers external to the cable, such as three-core cables, duct
banks, etc., heuristics are used. The external to the cable
thermal resistivity is commonly computed assuming that the
surface of the earth in the neighborhood of the cable
installation is an isothermal. Kennelly made this assumption
in 1893 and it is still being used. This assumption allows for
the application of the image method to compute the external
to the cable thermal resistance (T 4 ). The following
expression results from the image method:

T=

4L
1

=
ln
A 2 De

(5)

The thermal resistance of the layers external to the cable


(T 4 ) must also include the duct when present, and the air
inside. The duct itself is of tubular geometry and it very
easy to model, however, the treatment of the air inside of a
duct is a complex matter. The heat transfer is dominated by
convection and radiation and not by conduction. There exist
simple formulas, which have been obtained experimentally

165

and that work fine for the conditions tested [5]. A software
code by Matlab is provided to calculate the ampacity at
different cases and the flowchart that explained the program
is shown in Figure 2.

3. Factors affecting cable ampacity


3.1 Effect of soil resistivity
Dry soils have much higher thermal resistivity than
moist soils. With sufficiently high ampacity thermal, runaway conditions can occur. If cable current is high enough,
it will generate sufficient heat and if it is maintained for a
long enough time, the soil will become unstable and the
circuit will have to be de-rated or overheated. Cable
ampacity varies with change of soil resistivity, for both
with-conduit and the conduit-less cable. Cable ampacity is
proportional to soil conductivity; rising soil conductivity
dissipates more heat, and increase cable ampacity.

3.2 Effect of cable depth


Depth affects the ampacity of cables that buried with
conduit and conduit-less, in both homogeneous and
heterogeneous soil. Soil conductivity is reduced by
increasing the cable depth in the soil as well as less heat
dissipation, less ampacity. The closer the cable to earths
surface, the rate of cable ampacity changes will increase
[7].

4. Test arrangement
4.1 Theoretical study for ampacity
A computer program has been proposed using
MATLAB to calculate the current carrying capacity
(ampcity) for different underground cables. The flowchart
is presented in Figure (1). The program takes into account
the steady state conditions which based on the formulas in IEC
standards. Equation (1) is used to calculate the cable
ampacity and the parameters of the equation (1) should be
separately calculated dependant on the various factors like
cable construction types, installation types, installation
environment. Steady state conditions is considered when the
current flow through the cable is at a constant value and the
temperature of the cable is also constant i.e. the heat
generated is equal to the heat dissipated. The temperature
depends on the type of cable and XLPE construction is
chosen where the maximum temperature normally for
steady-state is 90C.

Adel El-Faraskoury, et al., AEES, Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 163-169, 2012

shape of the soil particles determines the surface contact


area between particles which affects the ability of the soil to
conduct heat. Figure 3 and Figure 4 show the variation of
ampacity for cable with soil resistivity and soil temperature,
respectively. For underground cable system the main heat
transfer mechanism is by conduction. Since, the
longitudinal dimension of a cable is always much larger
than the depth of the installation, the problem is considered
a two-dimensional heat conduction problem. Figure 5
shows the effect of depth on cable ampacity and Figure 6
shows the variation of ampacity with cable temperature.

Start

Read input data


1. Cable data
2. Temp. data
3. Soil resistivity

Calculate
1. The outer diameter of the cable, sheath diameter and insulation
diameter and different thicknesses
2. DC Resistance and AC resistance
3. Dielectric losses
4. Sheath loss factor
5. Armor loss factor
6. Thermal resistivities

Ampacity Calculation

Flat Formation

Emergency

Comparison of cable ampacity between single


circuit and double circuits with manufactures

Table 1.

Trifoil Formation

Emergency

Steady state

166

Steady state

Ampacity
Bonded number

Double
bond

Single
bond

Double
bond

Double
bond

Single
bond

240
mm2
(Amp.)

400
mm2
(Amp.)

630
mm2
(Amp.)

800
mm2
(Amp.)

Flat

502

648

839

939

Trefoil

478

616

796

909

Flat

435

584

702

780

Trefoil

460

558

672

754

Flat

484

649

778

865

Trefoil

511

620

746

737

Flat

497

640

829

935

Trefoil

445

550

774

863

Double
bond

Write the ampacity of the different cases

Ampacity Calculation for different cable depth

Flat Formation

Trifoil Formation

Single
Bonded

Double
Bonded

Write the ampacity of the different cases

Ampacity Calculation for different soil temperature

Double
Bonded
Emergency

Trifoil Formation

Flat Formation

Write the ampacity of the different cases

Manufacturers

Ampacity Calculation for different soil resistivity

1000
Flat Formation

SoilRes for trfoil


SoilRes for flat

Trifoil Formation

900
Write the ampacity of the different cases

End

The MATLAB program is provided to calculate the cables


ampcity for single bonded, double bonded and double
bonded emergency with equal load. The ampacity is
calculated at different grounding mode and comparing it
with manufactures based on IEC and it is shown in Table I
and Figures from Figure 3 to Figure 6 for the following
conditions; flat and trefoil formation, soil resistivity is 1.2
C.m/w, the ground temperature at 25C for cable sample
38/66 kV [8]. The thermal resistivity of soft depends on the
type of soil encountered as well as the physical conditions
of the soft. The conditions which most influence the
resistivity of a specific soil are the moisture content and dry
density. As the moisture content or dry density or both of a
soil increases, the soil resistivity decreases. The structural
composition of the soil also affects the soil resistivity. The

800

Current (A)

Figure 2. Flowchart of the Matlab program used for ampacity


calculation

700

600

500

400

300
0.5

1.5

2
2.5
Soil Resitivity (oC w/m)

Figure 3. Variation of cable ampacity with soil resistivity

3.5

Adel El-Faraskoury, et al., AEES, Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 163-169, 2012

800

4.2 Experimental study (Calibration of the


temperature method)

SoilTemp for trfoil


SoilTemp for flat

Current (A)

750

700

650

600

550
10

40

35

30
25
Degrees (C)

20

15

45

Figure 4. Effect of soil temperature on the ampacity of cable

820
Depth for trfoil
Depth for flat

800
780
760
Current (A)

167

740

The calibration should be carried out in a draught-free


situation at a temperature of 20 5 C. Temperature
recorders should be used to measure the conductor, oversheath and ambient temperature simultaneously. The
calibration should be performed on a minimum cable length
10 m, taken from the same cable under test. IEC adopts a
cable system test approach and requires a minimum of 10 m
of the cable. The length should be such that the longitudinal
heat transfer to the cable ends does not affect the
temperature in the center 2 m of the cable by more than 1
C. During calibration and during the test of the main loop
should be calculated according with either IEC 60287 or
60853[9], based on the measured external temperature of
the oversheath (TC S ). The measurement should be done
with a thermocouple at the hottest spot, attached to or under
the external surface. The hottest current should be adjusted
to obtain the required value of the calculated conductor
temperature, based on the measured external temperature of
the over-sheath [9]. The cable that used for calibration
should be identical to that used for the test, and the way
(path) of heat should be identical. After stabilization has
been reached the following should be noted and drawing
the curve as in Figure 7.

720

700
680

Ambient temperature
Conductor temperature
Over-sheath temperature
Heating current

660
640
0.4

0.6

0.8

1.2
Depth (b)

1.4

1.6

1.8

Figure 5. Effect of depth on ampacity

900
800
700

Current (A)

600

Emerg flat
Emerg trfoil
Dbl Bond flat
Dbl Bond trfoil
Sng Bond flat
Sng Bond trfoil

500
400
300
200
100
0
20

Figure 7. Calibration of temperature for XLPE cable sample


38/66 kV 1x 630 mm2
30

40

50

60
70
80
Cable Temp - Degrees (C)

90

Figure 6. Variation of cable ampacity with temperature

100

110

The heating currents in both the reference loop and


the test loop were kept equal at all time, thus the conductor
temperature of the reference loop in representative for the
conductor temperature of the test loop. The tests elevated
temperature is carried out two hours after thermal

Adel El-Faraskoury, et al., AEES, Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 163-169, 2012

equilibrium has been established. it must develop a


consistent heating cycle to maintain the conductor
temperature adjustment generally cannot be made in
sufficient time during testing due to the large thermal time

168

constants of high voltage cables. In this test, the cable


sample 38 /66 kV CU/XLPE/LEAD/HDPE 1x 630
mm2 with 15m length as shown in Table II and Figure 8.

Table2. Heating cycle for xlpe cables


xlpe cu- 38/66kv- 1x 630 mm2
No. of
heating
cycle

Required
Heating
steady
current at
conductor
stable
temp.
condition

Amp.

20
95-100

Cooling
per
cycle

Heating
per cycle

Total
duration
hr

1600

Stable
temp.
hr

hr

16

Voltage
Per
cycle

hr

2U
0

2
4

72

Figure 8. Heating cycle for cable sample 38/66 kV 1x 630 mm2

Ambient temperature (Lab. Temperature) affects the


heating current as shown in Figure 9. Figure 10 shows the
relation between heating current with conductor
temperature during heating per cycle. The heating current
varies with the ambient temperature during heating cycle. Steady
state conditions are considered when the current flow
through the cable is at a constant value and the temperature
of the cable is also constant i.e. the heat generated is equal
to the heat dissipated. The temperature depends on the type
of cable but XLPE construction is searched where the
maximum temperature normally for steady-state is 90C.
The IEC requirement is simply that the conductor be at
this temperature for at least 2 hours of the current on
period.

Figure 9. Variation of current with ambient temperature during test


period

Figure 10. Variation of heating current conductor temperature

Adel El-Faraskoury, et al., AEES, Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 163-169, 2012

5. Conclusions
The theoretical and practical study for cable ampacity
estimation under steady state conditions shows that the
underground cable ampacity depends on the cable geometry
installation, its depth as well as on the soil thermal
resistivity. Cable ampacity is proportional to soil
conductivity; when soil conductivity increases, cable
ampacity will be increased. The results show that the cable
ampacity decreases with the increase of cable depth
installation under soil surface. By using MATLAB with the
steady state conditions based on IEC standards and comparing
with manufacturers, it gives good results. In facts that stand

out the importance of interaction with the manufacturers,


designer and installers of the line for attainment of coherent
data with the reality. The maximum operating temperature
of a cable is typically limited by its insulation material but
can also be limited by the maximum temperature which the
surrounding environment can be withstood without
degradation.

169

[2]

[3]

[4]

[5]
[6]

[7]

Acknowledgment
The authors would like to express his great thanks to the
team work of the Extra High Voltage Research Centre for
providing their facilities during this work.

[8]

[9]

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