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Fault ( In Electric Power )

Introduction

In an electric power system, a fault is any abnormal flow of electric current. For example, a short
circuit is a fault in which current flow bypasses the normal load. An open-circuit fault occurs if a
circuit is interrupted by some failure. In three-phase systems, a fault may involve one or more
phases and ground, or may occur only between phases. In a "ground fault" or "earth fault",
current flows into the earth. The prospective short circuit current of a fault can be calculated for
power systems. In power systems, protective devices detect fault conditions and operate circuit
breakers and other devices to limit the loss of service due to a failure.

In a poly-phase system, a fault may affect all phases equally which is a "symmetrical fault". If
only some phases are affected, the resulting "asymmetrical fault" becomes more complicated to
analyze due to the simplifying assumption of equal current magnitude in all phases being no
longer applicable. The analysis of this type of fault is often simplified by using methods such as
symmetrical components.

1- Transient Fault

A transient fault is a fault that is no longer present if power is disconnected for a short time.
Many faults in overhead power lines are transient in nature. At the occurrence of a fault power
system protection operates to isolate area of the fault. A transient fault will then clear and the
power line can be returned to service. Typical examples of transient faults include:

 momentary tree contact


 bird or other animal contact
 lightning strike
 conductor clash
In electricity transmission and distribution systems an automatic reclose function is commonly
used on overhead lines to attempt to restore power in the event of a transient fault. This
functionality is not as common on underground systems as faults there are typically of a
persistent nature. Transient faults may still cause damage both at the site of the original fault or
elsewhere in the network as fault current is generated

2- Persistent Fault

A persistent fault does not disappear when power is disconnected. Faults in underground power
cables are most often persistent due to mechanical damage to the cable, but are sometimes
transient in nature due to lightning

3- Balanced (Symmetric Fault)

A symmetric or balanced fault affects each of the three phases equally. In transmission line
faults, roughly 5% are symmetric. This is in contrast to an asymmetric fault, where the three
phases are not affected equally. In practice, most faults in power systems are unbalanced. With
this in mind, symmetric faults can be viewed as somewhat of an abstraction; however, as
asymmetric faults are difficult to analyze, analysis of asymmetric faults is built up from a
thorough understanding of symmetric faults.

4- Unbalanced (Asymmetric Fault)

An asymmetric or unbalanced fault does not affect each of the three phases equally. Common
types of asymmetric faults, and their causes:

 line-to-line
 line-to-ground
 double line-to-ground

 Generator sets – In a power plant, the protective relays are intended to prevent damage to
alternators or to the transformers in case of abnormal conditions of operation, due to
internal failures, as well as insulating failures or regulation malfunctions. Such failures
are unusual, so the protective relays have to operate very rarely. If a protective relay fails
to detect a fault, the resulting damage to the alternator or to the transformer might require
costly equipment repairs or replacement, as well as income loss from the inability to
produce and sell energy.

 Overload & Back-up for Distance (Overcurrent) – Overload protection requires a current
transformer which simply measures the current in a circuit. There are two types of
overload protection: instantaneous overcurrent and time overcurrent (TOC).
Instantaneous overcurrent requires that the current exceeds a pre-determined level for the
circuit breaker to operate. TOC protection operates based on a current vs time curve.
Based on this curve if the measured current exceeds a given level for the preset amount of
time, the circuit breaker or fuse will operate.

 Earth fault (Ground fault in the United States) – Earth fault protection again requires
current transformers and senses an imbalance in a three-phase circuit. Normally the three
phase currents are in balance, i.e. roughly equal in magnitude. If one or two phases
become connected to earth via a low impedance path, their magnitudes will increase
dramatically, as will current imbalance. If this imbalance exceeds a pre-determined value,
a circuit breaker should operate.

 Distance (Impedance Relay) – Distance protection detects both voltage and current. A
fault on a circuit will generally create a sag in the voltage level. If the ratio of voltage to
current measured at the relay terminals, which equates to impedance, lands within a pre-
determined level the circuit breaker will operate. This is useful for reasonable length
lines, lines longer than 10 miles, because its operating characteristics are based on the
line characteristics. This means that when a fault appears on the line the impedance
setting in the relay is compared to the apparent impedance of the line from the relay
terminals to the fault. If the relay setting is determined to be below the apparent
impedance it is determined that the fault is within the zone of protection. When the
transmission line length is too short, less than 10 miles, distance protection becomes
more difficult to coordinate. In these instances the best choice of protection is current
differential protection.

 Back-up – The objective of protection is to remove only the affected portion of plant and
nothing else. A circuit breaker or protection relay may fail to operate. In important
systems, a failure of primary protection will usually result in the operation of back-up
protection. Remote back-up protection will generally remove both the affected and
unaffected items of plant to clear the fault. Local back-up protection will remove the
affected items of the plant to clear the fault.

Introduction to Electrical Faults

Electrical networks, machines and equipments are often subjected to various types of faults while
they are in operation. When a fault occurs, the characteristic values (such as impedance) of the
machines may change from existing values to different values till the fault is cleared.

There may be lot of probabilities of faults to appear in the power system network, including
lighting, wind, tree falling on lines, apparatus failure, etc.
Electrical Faults

A fault in an electric power system can be defined as , any abnormal condition of the system that
involves the electrical failure of the equipment, such as , transformers, generators, busbars, etc.

The fault inception also involves in insulation failures and conducting path failures which results
short circuit and open circuit of conductors.

Under normal or safe operating conditions, the electric equipments in a power system network
operate at normal voltage and current ratings. Once the fault takes place in a circuit or device,
voltage and current values deviates from their nominal ranges.

The faults in power system causes over current, under voltage, unbalance of the phases, reversed
power and high voltage surges. This results in the interruption of the normal operation of the
network, failure of equipments, electrical fires, etc.

Usually power system networks are protected with switchgear protection equipments such as
circuit breakers and relays in order to limit the loss of service due to the electrical failures.
Types of Faults

Electrical faults in three-phase power system mainly classified into two types, namely open and
short circuit faults. Further, these faults can be symmetrical or unsymmetrical faults. Let us
discuss these faults in detail.

Open Circuit Faults

These faults occur due to the failure of one or more conductors. The figure below illustrates the
open circuit faults for single, two and three phases (or conductors) open condition.

The most common causes of these faults include joint failures of cables and overhead lines, and
failure of one or more phase of circuit breaker and also due to melting of a fuse or conductor in
one or more phases.

Open circuit faults are also called as series faults. These are unsymmetrical or unbalanced type of
faults except three phase open fault.

Consider that a transmission line is working with a balanced load before the occurrence of open
circuit fault. If one of the phase gets melted, the actual loading of the alternator is reduced and
this cause to raise the acceleration of the alternator, thereby it runs at a speed slightly greater than
synchronous speed. This over speed causes over voltages in other transmission lines.

Thus, single and two phase open conditions can produce the unbalance of the power system
voltages and currents that causes great damage to the equipments.
Causes

Broken conductor and malfunctioning of circuit breaker in one or more phases.

Effects

 Abnormal operation of the system


 Danger to the personnel as well as animals
 Exceeding the voltages beyond normal values in certain parts of the network, which further leads
to insulation failures and developing of short circuit faults.

Although open circuit faults can be tolerated for longer periods than short circuit faults, these
must be removed as early as possible to reduce the greater damage.

Short Circuit Faults

A short circuit can be defined as an abnormal connection of very low impedance between two
points of different potential, whether made intentionally or accidentally.

These are the most common and severe kind of faults, resulting in the flow of abnormal high
currents through the equipment or transmission lines. If these faults are allowed to persist even
for a short period, it leads to the extensive damage to the equipment.

Short circuit faults are also called as shunt faults. These faults are caused due to the insulation
failure between phase conductors or between earth and phase conductors or both.

The various possible short circuit fault conditions include three phase to earth, three phase clear
of earth, phase to phase, single phase to earth, two phase to earth and phase to phase plus single
phase to earth as shown in figure.

The three phase fault clear of earth and three phase fault to earth are balanced or symmetrical
short circuit faults while other remaining faults are unsymmetrical faults
Causes

These may be due to internal or external effects

 Internal effects include breakdown of transmission lines or equipment, aging of insulation,


deterioration of insulation in generator, transformer and other electrical equipments, improper
installations and inadequate design.
 External effects include overloading of equipments, insulation failure due to lighting surges and
mechanical damage by public.

Effects

 Arcing faults can lead to fire and explosion in equipments such as transformers and circuit
breakers.
 Abnormal currents cause the equipments to get overheated, which further leads to reduction of
life span of their insulation.
 The operating voltages of the system can go below or above their acceptance values that creates
harmful effect to the service rendered by the power system.
 The power flow is severely restricted or even completely blocked as long as the short circuit fault
persists.

Symmetrical and Unsymmetrical Faults

As discussed above that faults are mainly classified into open and short circuit faults and again
these can be symmetrical or unsymmetrical faults.

Symmetrical Faults

A symmetrical fault gives rise to symmetrical fault currents that are displaced with 1200 each
other. Symmetrical fault is also called as balanced fault. This fault occurs when all the three
phases are simultaneously short circuited.

These faults rarely occur in practice as compared with unsymmetrical faults. Two kinds of
symmetrical faults include line to line to line (L-L-L) and line to line to line to ground (L-L-L-G)
as shown in figure below.

A rough
occurrence of symmetrical faults is in the range of 2 to 5% of the total system faults. However, if
these faults occur, they cause a very severe damage to the equipments even though the system
remains in balanced condition.

The analysis of these faults is required for selecting the rupturing capacity of the circuit breakers,
choosing set-phase relays and other protective switchgear. These faults are analyzed on per phase
basis using bus impedance matrix or Thevenins’s theorem.

Unsymmetrical Faults

The most common faults that occur in the power system network are unsymmetrical faults. This
kind of fault gives rise to unsymmetrical fault currents (having different magnitudes with
unequal phase displacement). These faults are also called as unbalanced faults as it causes
unbalanced currents in the system.

Up to the above discussion, unsymmetrical faults include both open circuit faults (single and two
phase open condition) and short circuit faults (excluding L-L-L-G and L-L-L).

The figure below shows the three types of symmetrical faults occurred due to the short circuit
conditions, namely phase or line to ground (L-G) fault, phase to phase (L-L) fault and double
line to ground (L-L-G) fault.

A single line-to-ground (LG) fault is one of the most common faults and experiences show that
70-80 percent of the faults that occur in power system are of this type. This forms a short circuit
path between the line and ground. These are very less severe faults compared to other faults.

A line to line fault occur when a live conductor get in contact with other live conductor. Heavy
winds are the major cause for this fault during which swinging of overhead conductors may
touch together. These are less severe faults and its occurrence range may be between 15-20%.
In double line to ground faults, two lines come into the contact with each other as well as with
ground. These are severe faults and the occurrence these faults is about 10% when compared
with total system faults.

Unsymmetrical faults are analyzed using methods of unsymmetrical components in order to


determine the voltage and currents in all parts of the system. The analysis of these faults is more
difficult compared to symmetrical faults.

This analysis is necessary for determining the size of a circuit breaker for largest short circuit
current. The greater current usually occurs for either L-G or L-L fault.

Protection Devices against Faults

When the fault occurs in any part of the system, it must be cleared in a very short period in order
to avoid greater damage to equipments and personnel and also to avoid interruption of power to
the customers.

The fault clearing system uses various protection devices such as relays and circuit breakers to
detect and clear the fault.
Some of these fault clearing or faults limiting devices are given below.

Fuse

It opens the circuit whenever a fault exists in the system. It consists of a thin copper wire
enclosed in a glass or a casing with two metallic contacts. The high fault current rises the
temperature of the wire and hence it melts. A fuse necessitates the manual replacement of wire
each time when it blows.

Fuse
Circuit Breaker

It is the most common protection device that can make or break the circuit either manually or
through remote control under normal operating conditions.

There are several types of circuit breakers available depending on the operating voltage,
including air brake, oil, vacuum and SF6 circuit breakers. For more information on circuit
breakers, follow the link attached.

Circuit Breakers

Read :Different types of Circuit Breakers


Protective Relays

These are the fault detecting devices. These devices detect the fault and initiate the operation of
the circuit breaker so as to isolate the faulty circuit. A relay consists of a magnetic coil and
contacts (NC and NO). The fault current energizes the coil and this causes to produce the field,
thereby the contacts get operated.

Some of the types of protective relays include

 Magnitude relays
 Impedance relays
 Directional relays
 Pilot relays
 Differential relays

Read :Classification of relays

Lighting Arrestor

Surges in the power system network caused when lightning strikes on transmission lines and
equipments. This causes high voltage and currents in the system. These lighting faults are
reduced by placing lighting arrestors at transmission equipments.

Electrical Fault

Definition: Fault in electrical equipment or apparatus is defined as an imperfection in the


electrical circuit due to which current is deflected from the intended path. In other words, the
fault is the abnormal condition of the electrical system which damages the electrical equipment
and disturbs the normal flow of the electric current.

The fault reduces the insulation strength between phase conductors and earth or any earthed
screen surrounding the conductors. It also reduces the impedance (property of circuit to oppose
the flow of current) between the conductors and earth due to which the heavy short circuit
current flows through the system and damage the power system equipment.

The probability of the failure or occurrence of abnormal faults is more on the transmission lines.
About one-half of the fault occurs on the power system is the transmission line fault. Because
transmission lines are broadly branched, have a greater length, operate under variable weather
conditions and are subjected to the action of atmospheric disturbances of an electrical nature.

According to the causes of incidence, the causes of failures may be classified, as mentioned
below;

 Breakdown due to insulation may occur at normal voltage due to the decline or ageing of the
insulation, and the damages are caused by the unpredictable happening such as blowing of
heavy winds, tree falling across the line, vehicles colliding with the towers or poles, bird shorting
out lines, aircraft colliding with the line, line breaks etc.,
 The breakdown may occur due to abnormal voltages caused by switching surges or lightning
strokes which may be either direct or induced.

The line and insulation apparatus may also be damaged due to the transient overvoltage which is
generated in the switching operation. During the switching operation, the voltage rises at a rapid
rate and may achieve a peak value approaching three-time phase to neutral voltage. Hence the
higher insulation level is provided for protecting the equipment from damage.

The fault can be minimised by improving the system design, better quality of the equipment and
maintenance. But the fault cannot be eliminated completely.

Types of Electrical Fault

The most common and dangerous fault that occurs in a power system is the short circuit or shunt
fault. On the occurrence of the short circuit fault, heavy or short-circuit current flow through the
circuit which damages the insulation of current carrying phase conductors corresponding to earth
or in the insulation between phases. The different types of the electrical fault are explained
below:

1. Single Phase to Ground Fault – It is also called a line-to-ground fault. It mainly occurs due to
insulation breakdown between one of the phase and earth. Single-line-to-fault is most
frequently occurs in the power system. Their chances of appearance in the power system are
70%.
2. Phase-to-Phase Fault – Such type of fault rarely occurred on the power system. It is also called
Line-to-line fault. It occurs when two conductors are short circuited. Their chance of appearance
is hardly 15 % in the power system.
3. Two Phases to Ground Fault – In this type of fault breakdowns of insulation between two
phases and earth occur. It is the most severe type of fault but rarely occurs in the power system.
It is also called Line-to-line-to-ground fault (L-L-G). Their chance of occurrence is hardly 10 %.
4. Phase to phase and Third Phase to Ground Fault – It is the combination of phase to phase and
phase to phase to ground fault. Such types of fault occur due to the breakdown of insulation
between two phases and simultaneous breakdown of insulation between the third phase and
earth. The chance of such type of fault is hardly 2 % to 3 %.
5. All the Three Phases to Ground Fault – It is the most severe type of the fault and very rarely
occurs in the power system. It occurs due to a breakdown of insulation between all the phases
as well as to the earth. It is 2% to 3% in the power system.
6. All the three Phases Short Circuited – This type of fault mainly occurs due to a breakdown of
insulation between all the three phases. Their appearance is rarely 2 % to 3% in the power
system.

The first four faults are of an unsymmetrical nature and give rise to unsymmetrical current, i.e.,
different currents in the three phases. The latter two faults are of symmetrical nature and give
rise to symmetrical current, i.e., equal fault current in all the three phases with 120º
displacement.

Harmful Effect of Faults on Power System

On the occurrence of the fault, heavy short circuit current is flowing in the circuit. This current
have the following disadvantages. Their consequences are explained below in details.

1. The heavy current due to fault causes excessive heating which may result in fire or explosion.
2. Sometimes the short circuit current takes the form of an arc that may cause considerable
damage to the element of the power system.
3. The stability of the power system may be adversely affected, and even the complete shutdown
of the power system may occur.
4. Damage to other apparatus in the system may be caused due to overheating and due to
abnormal mechanical forces set up.

A large number of unsymmetrical faults is temporary in nature and may vanish within a few
cycles as would be the cause when a twig (stem) falls across a line and burn itself out or just fall.
The symmetrical three-phase faults, generally occur due to the carelessness of operating
personnel

Types of Faults and Effects in Electrical Power Systems


by Tarun Agarwal at

 Electrical

18 Comments
Electrical powers system is growing in size and complexity in all sectors such as generation,
transmission, distribution and load systems. Types of faults like short circuit condition in power
system network results in severe economic losses and reduces the reliability of the electrical
system.

Electrical fault is an abnormal condition, caused by equipment failures such as transformers and
rotating machines, human errors and environmental conditions. Theses faults cause interruption
to electric flows, equipment damages and even cause death of humans, birds and animals.

Types of Faults
Electrical fault is the deviation of voltages and currents from nominal values or states. Under
normal operating conditions, power system equipment or lines carry normal voltages and
currents which results in a safer operation of the system.

But when fault occurs, it causes excessively high currents to flow which causes the damage to
equipments and devices. Fault detection and analysis is necessary to select or design suitable
switchgear equipments, electromechanical relays, circuit breakers and other protection devices.

There are mainly two types of faults in the electrical power system. Those are symmetrical and
unsymmetrical faults.

1.Symmetrical faults

These are very severe faults and occur infrequently in the power systems. These are also called
as balanced faults and are of two types namely line to line to line to ground (L-L-L-G) and line
to line to line (L-L-L).
Symmetrical faults

Only 2-5 percent of system faults are symmetrical faults. If these faults occur, system remains
balanced but results in severe damage to the electrical power system equipments.

Above figure shows two types of three phase symmetrical faults. Analysis of these fault is easy
and usually carried by per phase basis. Three phase fault analysis or information is required for
selecting set-phase relays, rupturing capacity of the circuit breakers and rating of the protective
switchgear.

2.Unsymmetrical faults

These are very common and less severe than symmetrical faults. There are mainly three types
namely line to ground (L-G), line to line (L-L) and double line to ground (LL-G) faults.

Unsymmetrical
faults

Line to ground fault (L-G) is most common fault and 65-70 percent of faults are of this type.

It causes the conductor to make contact with earth or ground. 15 to 20 percent of faults are
double line to ground and causes the two conductors to make contact with ground. Line to line
faults occur when two conductors make contact with each other mainly while swinging of lines
due to winds and 5- 10 percent of the faults are of this type.

These are also called unbalanced faults since their occurrence causes unbalance in the system.
Unbalance of the system means that that impedance values are different in each phase causing
unbalance current to flow in the phases. These are more difficult to analyze and are carried by
per phase basis similar to three phase balanced faults.

Causes of Electrical Faults


• Weather conditions: It includes lighting strikes, heavy rains, heavy winds, salt deposition on
overhead lines and conductors, snow and ice accumulation on transmission lines, etc. These
environmental conditions interrupt the power supply and also damage electrical installations.

• Equipment failures: Various electrical equipments like generators, motors, transformers,


reactors, switching devices, etc causes short circuit faults due to malfunctioning, ageing,
insulation failure of cables and winding. These failures result in high current to flow through the
devices or equipment which further damages it.

• Human errors: Electrical faults are also caused due to human errors such as selecting
improper rating of equipment or devices, forgetting metallic or electrical conducting parts after
servicing or maintenance, switching the circuit while it is under servicing, etc.

• Smoke of fires: Ionization of air, due to smoke particles, surrounding the overhead lines results
in spark between the lines or between conductors to insulator. This flashover causes insulators to
lose their insulting capacity due to high voltages.

Effects of electrical faults

• Over current flow: When fault occurs it creates a very low impedance path for the current
flow. This results in a very high current being drawn from the supply, causing tripping of relays,
damaging insulation and components of the equipments.

• Danger to operating personnel: Fault occurrence can also cause shocks to individuals.
Severity of the shock depends on the current and voltage at fault location and even may lead to
death.

• Loss of equipment: Heavy current due to short circuit faults result in the components being
burnt completely which leads to improper working of equipment or device. Sometimes heavy
fire causes complete burnout of the equipments.

• Disturbs interconnected active circuits: Faults not only affect the location at which they
occur but also disturbs the active interconnected circuits to the faulted line.
• Electrical fires: Short circuit causes flashovers and sparks due to the ionization of air between
two conducting paths which further leads to fire as we often observe in news such as building
and shopping complex fires.

Fault limiting devices

It is possible to minimize causes like human errors, but not environmental changes. Fault
clearing is a crucial task in power system network. If we manage to disrupt or break the circuit
when fault arises, it reduces the considerable damage to the equipments and also property.

Some of these fault limiting devices include fuses, circuit breakers, relays, etc. and are discussed
below.

• Fuse: It is the primary protecting device. It is a thin wire enclosed in a casing or glass which
connects two metal parts. This wire melts when excessive current flows in circuit. Type of fuse
depends on the voltage at which it is to operate. Manual replacement of wire is necessary once it
blowout.

Protecting devices

• Circuit breaker: It makes the circuit at normal as well as breaks at abnormal conditions. It
causes automatic tripping of the circuit when fault occurs. It can be electromechanical circuit
breaker like vacuum / oil circuit breakers etc, or ultrafast electronic circuit breaker.

• Relay: It is condition based operating switch. It consists of magnetic coil and normally open
and closed contacts. Fault occurrence raises the current which energizes relay coil, resulting in
the contacts to operate so the circuit is interrupted from flowing of current. Protective relays are
of different types like impedance relays, mho relays, etc.

• Lighting power protection devices: These include lighting arrestors and grounding devices to
protect the system against lighting and surge voltages.

Application based three phase fault analysis

We can analyze three phase faults by using simple circuit as shown below. In this temporary and
permanent faults are created by fault switches. If we press button once as a temporary fault,
timer’s arrangement trips the load and also restores the power supply back to the load. If we
press ON this button for a particular time as a permanent fault, this system completely shutdowns
the load by relay arrangement.

Three phase fault analysis