REASONS FOR SUBSTATION GROUNDING

The substation grounding system is an essential part of the overall electrical system. The proper grounding of a substation is important for the following two reasons:

1. It provides a means of dissipating electric current into the earth without exceeding the operating limits of the equipment
2. It provides a safe environment to protect personnel in the vicinity of grounded facilities from the dangers of electric shock under fault conditions

The grounding system includes all of the interconnected grounding facilities in the substation area, including the ground grid, overhead ground wires, neutral conductors, underground cables, foundations, deep well, etc. The ground grid consists of horizontal interconnected bare conductors (mat) and ground rods.

The design of the ground grid to control voltage levels to safe values should consider the total grounding system to provide a safe system at an economical cost. The following information is mainly concerned with personnel safety.

The information regarding the grounding system resistance, grid current, and ground potential rise can also be used to determine if the operating limits of the equipment will be exceeded.

Safe grounding requires the interaction of two grounding systems:
1. The intentional ground, consisting of grounding systems buried at some depth below the earth’s surface
2. The accidental ground, temporarily established by a person exposed to a potential gradient in the vicinity of a grounded facility

It is often assumed that any grounded object can be safely touched. A low substation ground resistance is not, in itself, a guarantee of safety.

There is no simple relation between the resistance of the grounding system as a whole and the maximum shock current to which a person might be exposed. A substation with relatively low ground resistance might be dangerous, while another substation with very high ground resistance might be safe or could be made safe by careful design.

There are many parameters that have an effect on the voltages in and around the substation area. Since voltages are site-dependent, it is impossible to design one grounding system that is acceptable for all locations.

The grid current, fault duration, soil resistivity, surface material, and the size and shape of the grid all have a substantial effect on the voltages in and around the substation area. If the geometry, location of ground electrodes, local soil characteristics, and other factors contribute to an excessive potential gradient at the earth surface, the grounding system may be inadequate from a safety aspect
despite its capacity to carry the fault current in magnitudes and durations permitted by protective relays.

During typical ground fault conditions, unless proper precautions are taken in design, the maximum potential gradients along the earth surface may be of sufficient magnitude to endanger a person in the area. Moreover, hazardous voltages may develop between grounded structures or equipment frames and the nearby earth.

The circumstances that make human electric shock accidents possible are:
• Relatively high fault current to ground in relation to the area of the grounding system and its resistance to remote earth
• Soil resistivity and distribution of ground currents such that high potential gradients may occur at points at the earth surface
• Presence of a person at such a point, time, and position that the body is bridging two points of high potential difference
• Absence of sufficient contact resistance or other series resistance to limit current through the body to a safe value under the above circumstances
• Duration of the fault and body contact and, hence, of the flow of current through a human body for a sufficient time to cause harm at the given current intensity

The relative infrequency of accidents is due largely to the low probability of coincidence of the above unfavorable conditions. To provide a safe condition for personnel within and around the substation area, the grounding system design limits the potential difference a person can come in contact with to safe levels. IEEE Std. 80, IEEE Guide for Safety in AC Substation Grounding [1], provides general information about substation grounding and the specific design equations necessary to design a safe substation grounding system. 

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