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Installing, maintaining and testing earthing in electrical networks - Electrical Engineering

Electrical Engineering Test & Measurement

Installing, maintaining and testing earthing in
electrical networks
Published: 19 June 2015 - Marianne Evans

Earthing, or 'grounding' an
electrical network is an essential
safety feature, which can protect
equipment from electrical faults and
save lives. When live wires touch a
grounded metallic section, the brunt
of the high voltages is safely directed
towards the ground.

Electrical networks are earthed for three main purposes:

1. As a safety feature for property, equipment and life - An

earthed circuit reduces the risk of death or injury by providing an
alternate path for current to discharge into the ground. Equipment,
appliances and property are protected against faults, leaks and
fires resulting from short-circuits and sparking.

2. Protection against over-voltage - Earthing also provides

protection against power surges, accidental connection with high-
voltage lines and even lightning strikes, allowing the energy to
flow to the ground, with minimal effect.

3. Voltage Stabilisation - The ground offers a common point

of reference for calculating the relationship between different
voltage sources. It's been used as a universal standard since the
introduction of the distribution system.

Conventional Methods of Implementing Earthing

There are two basic methods of earthing used in conventional


1. Plate Type Earthing

One of the conventional methods of installing earthing is to bury a

conductive plate in the ground and connect it to the earthing
circuitry. The plate is typically installed vertically, edge-wise at a
depth of 8 feet, with a galvanized iron (GI) strip running to the
surface for connections. The strip typically has a cross section of
50mm X 6mm. The first four feet above the plate is filled with
alternating layers of charcoal and salt, to increase conductivity
and moisture retention.

The specifications of the plate vary, along with the material:

ꞏ Cast iron - 600mm X 600mm X 12mm

ꞏ Galvanised iron - 600mm X 600mm X 6mm

ꞏ Copper - 600mm X 600mm X 3.5mm

2. Pipe Type Earthing

Another commonly used method for installing a ground connector

is to bury a pipe vertically, deep into the ground. A 10 foot long
C-class galvanised iron pipe is used as the base of the ground
connector, with 75mm GI flanges welded on. The flanges that are
used have six holes, which are used for wiring. The area
surrounding the pipe is filled with layers of charcoal, salt or an
earth reactivation compound.

Constructing and Maintaining an Earth-Pit

Nowadays, earth-pits are the preferred method for earthing, especially

for electrical networks. Electricity always follows the path of least
resistance, and to divert the maximum current away from a circuit,
earthing pits are designed to reduce ground resistance, ideally to 1
ohm. To achieve this:

An area of 1.5m X 1.5m is excavated to a depth of 3m.

The pit is half filled with a mixture of wood coal powder, sand and salt.
A 500mm X 500mm X10mm GI plate (earth plate) is placed in the middle
Connections between the earth plate and the surface are installed for system

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Installing, maintaining and testing earthing in electrical networks - Electrical Engineering

The rest of the pit is filled with the coal/sand/salt mixture.

To connect the earth plate to the surface, two GI strips with a cross
section of 30mm X 10mm can be used, but a 2.5” GI pipe with a
flange at the top is preferable. Additionally, the top of the pipe can be
covered with a T-section, to prevent mud and dust from entering and
clogging the pipe. In summer, the pit should be watered to keep it
from drying out.

Advantages of the earth-pit method include:

Wood coal powder is a great conductor and prevents corrosion of the metal parts
The salt dissolves in water easily, increasing conductivity significantly
Sand allows water to percolate through the entire pit

To test the effectiveness of the pit, check that the voltage difference
between the pit and the neutral of the mains supply is less than 2
volts. The resistance of the pit should be maintained at under 1 ohm,
up to a distance of 15m from the conductor.

Earth Resistivity

The resistance of the earthing system is affected by a variety of


Soil Resistance - The composition of the soil, grain size and distribution.
Moisture - Up to 15% water content significantly changes resistivity. Beyond that,
it has little effect.
Dissolved Salts - Pure water has very low conductivity. Salt is an electrolyte that
reduces the resistance when it's dissolved in water.
Obstructions - Nearby concrete buildings nearby or rocks in the soil underneath
the earthing system can increase its resistance.
Current Magnitude - Long periods of exposure or higher currents flowing through
the earth can dry the soil in the surrounding area and increase the system's

Measuring Earth Resistance

Earth resistance is measured with an earth tester, also called a

'megger', which can test the resistance across a range of currents and
distances. It consists of a voltage source, ohm-meter to measure
resistance and spikes that are staked into the ground for measuring.
You can measure the soil resistance using either the 3-point method or
the 4-point method.

Author Bio:

Jeson Pitt, Online marketing manager, writes on behalf of D&F

Liquidators. He constantly shares his thoughts on innovations
evolving in the field of electrical engineering, and is committed to
helping people with any ‘electrical’ dilemmas or questions.

Source: Electrical Engineering

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