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Overcurrent Protection

Overcurrent protection is widely applied at all voltage levels to protect lines,
transformer, generators, and motors. There are two types of overcurrent relays: 1)
instantaneous (NEMA #50) and 2) time-delay (NEMA #51). Instantaneous
Overcurrent Relays operate without any intentional time delay. They are normally used
for faults close to the source when the fault current is very high. The relay can detect and
respond to a fault in a few cycles. Time-delay Overcurrent Relays operate with an
adjustable time delay. For a given setting, the actual time delay depends on the current
through the relay coil. In general, higher currents will cause a faster operation of the relay.
The minimum current at which the relay will respond (called the pick-up value) is also

Principle of Protection
Instantaneous overcurrent protection is considered the simplest protection scheme.
It is widely used because of its quick reaction time. A simple logic diagram, as shown in
Figure 1, can illustrate this protection scheme.

Figure 1 Logic diagram of instanteous overcurrent scheme

The relay pick up value is commonly set to a value anywhere between 125-135%
of the maximum load current and 90% of the minimum fault current. These values help
to minimize unnecessary responses from the relay. The following formula is used to
calculate the pick up value:

1.2 × Max load current ≤ Pick up value ≤ 0.9 × Min fault current (1)

Transient sag/swell is not an uncommon phenomenon in power systems, especially in

high voltage transmission systems. The instantaneous overcurrent relay will usually treat
tolerable transients as faults and trip the circuit breaker. It is therefore necessary to add
some time delay to allow the transients to decay. This is when a time-delay relay is used.
Coincidently, a typical electromechanical relay has some degree of time delay.
Figure 3 Overcurrent relay coordination system

A reasonable time delay is necessary so that relays can be coordinated with each
other. Consider the scenario illustrated in Figure 3. It describes a radial distribution line
that has three major segments. Notice that each segment has one overcurrent protection
relay connected to it. The protection system should be designed to satisfy the following

1) Under normal conditions the breakers are not tripped

2) Under fault conditions only the breaker closest to the fault will trip
3) If the closest breaker fails to operate, then the next breaker closest to the fault
should trip.

For example, if a fault occurs at the third segment, then breaker 3 should trip. Breaker 1
and breaker 2 should remain closed so that power can still be delivered to loads on the
first two segments. But if breaker 3 fails to trip, breaker 2 should trip after a time delay
while breaker 1 remains closed. This scenario shows that the time delay setting is
necessary in some applications and should be preciously calibrated among relays.

There are two settings that must be applied to all time-delay overcurrent relays: 1) the
pickup value and 2) the time delay. Time-delay overcurrent relays are designed to
produce fast operation at high current and slow operation at low current; hence, an
inverse time characteristic. Relays from different manufactures may have different
inverse time characteristics.

Over the years various shapes of time curves have evolved. Some standard curves were
made according to IEEE C37.112-1996 Standard Inversed-Time Characteristic
Equations for Overcurrent Relays. Four typical curves are attached at the end of this lab
manual. The curves are plotted in terms of multiples of the pickup value, and not in terms
of the actually pickup value of current. This allows the same curves to be used, regardless
of the actual input value corresponding to a specific tap setting. In order to use these
curves, you must first calculate the following:

fault current
“Multiples of pickup values” = (2)
pick up value
Laboratory Procedure

1. Setting up relay
a. Click on the ACSELERATOR icon.
b. From the ACSELERATOR menu go to Settings > Open > MISS STATE
351S > OK.
c. From the second menu choose File > Import > floppy disk >SEL Project >
InstantOverCurrent > set_1 > OK.
d. Fill out the ctr and ptr values on table 1 using the data from GROUP1 >
e. Find the pickup value from GROUP 1 > SET 1 > Phase Instantaneous
f. From the second menu bar choose File > Send.. > Group 1 > OK. A
message box with title Transfer Statue will show up. Usually it takes 15
seconds to complete the transfer.

Table 1 SEL-351S Setting Value (Instantaneous OverCurrent)

CTR Phase (IA, IB, IC) PTR Phase (VA, VB, VC) 50PIP Level 1 (Pickup Value)

2. Setting up the programs

a. Click on the SEL 5401 icon.
b. Choose File > Open > floppy disk > OverCurrentAMS.RTA
c. Fill out tables 2-4 using the data of different states. To change the states click
on the middle arrow icon that is located below “Results”. You should note
that the states names appear on the right side of the screen.
d. Click on Run > Download Test and Run it. You will see some interaction
between SEL_AMS and relay.

Table2 State 1 (Prefault State)


Table 3 State 2 (Fault State)


Table 4 State 3 (Post Fault State)


3. Viewing the waveforms

a. From the ASCESERATOR menu, click ANALYSIS > EVENT
b. From the dialogue window, select the recent event (the top one) and set
EVENT TYPE as 4 samples/cycs and EVENT LENGTH as 15, then click
GET EVENT. When prompted to save the file click NO. It usually takes
around two minutes to complete the file transfer. After that, you will see a
window titled Event Waveform.
c. Another window will come up showing you all the voltage and current
waveforms and some logical levels (don’t worry about the logic levels).
Figure 4 shows an example of the graph you should see.
d. Count the number of cycles from fault occurrence to fault clearance. Record
this value in the appropriate table (tables 5 or 7). Use this value to calculate
the operating time of the relay (operating at 60 Hz).
e. Close the Waveform Window, the Event Waveform Window, and the Relay
Event History window.

Table 5: Instantaneous Overcurrent

Fault Current Operating Cycles Operating Time (sec)
15 A
30 A

4. Different scenarios
a. Go back to the SEL 5401 window and change the value of IA in the state
2(fault state) to 25. Click on Run > Download Test and Run it. Then repeat
step 3 to get a new output waveform.
b. From the ASCESRATOR window click FILE > IMPORT > floppy disk
>SEL Project > TimeOverCurrent > set_1 > OK
c. Fill out table 6 by checking GROUP1 > SET1 > Phase Time-OverCurrent.
d. Repeat step 1f.
e. Make sure that IA in the fault state is set to 15, then repeat step 3.
f. Repeat step 4a.

Table 6: SEL-351S Setting Value (Time OverCurrent)

51PIP Level 1 51DIC Level 1 Curve 51PITD Level 1
Pickup Value Time Dial

Table 7: Time-Delay Overcurrent

Fault Current Operating Cycles Operating Time (sec)
15 A
30 A
Figure 4 Instant overcurrent relay event report

Figure 5 Time delay relay event report

1. Calculate the pick up value given the following information:
Max load current = 10 A
Min. fault current = 50 A

2. Does the fault current change the operating time of these two types of relay?

3. For time-delay overcurrent relay, based on table 6, use the attached curves to
pinpoint the operating time and compare it with the calculated value.

4. Write a short paragraph about your understanding of the difference of these

two types of overcurrent relay.