Zones of protection

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To limit the extent of the power system that is disconnected when a fault occurs, protection is arranged in zones. Ideally, the zones of protection should overlap, so that no part of the power system is left unprotected.

For practical physical and economic reasons, this ideal is not always achieved, accommodation for current transformers being in some cases available only on one side of the circuit breakers. This leaves a section between the current transformers and the circuit breaker A that is not completely protected against faults. In Figure 2 b) a fault at F would cause the busbar protection to operate and open the circuit breaker but the fault may continue to be fed through the feeder. The feeder protection, if of the unit type, would not operate, since the fault is outside its zone. This problem is dealt with by intertripping or some form of zone extension, to ensure that the remote end of the feeder is tripped also. The point of connection of the protection with the power system usually defines the zone and corresponds to the location of the current transformers. Unit type protection will result in the boundary being a clearly defined closed loop. Figure 3 illustrates a typical arrangement of overlapping zones.

Alternatively, the zone may be unrestricted; the start will be defined but the extent (or ‘reach’) will depend on measurement of the system quantities and will therefore be subject to variation, owing to changes in system conditions and measurement errors.

Figure 1 Division of power system into protection zones
Figure 2 CT locations
Figure 3 Overlapping zones of protection systems


When a fault occurs, the protection scheme is required to trip only those circuit breakers whose operation is required to isolate the fault. This property of selective tripping is also called 'discrimination' and is achieved by two general methods:

  • 1. Time Grading

Protection systems in successive zones are arranged to operate in times that are graded through the sequence of equipments so that upon the occurrence of a fault, although a number of protection equipments respond, only those relevant to the faulty zone complete the tripping function. The others make incomplete operations and then reset. The speed of response will often depend on the severity of the fault, and will generally be slower than for a unit system.

  • 2. Unit Systems

It is possible to design protection systems that respond only to fault conditions occurring within a clearly defined zone. This type of protection system is known as 'unit protection'. Certain types of unit protection are known by specific names, e.g. restricted earth fault and differential protection. Unit protection can be applied throughout a power system and, since it does not involve time grading, is relatively fast in operation. The speed of response is substantially independent of fault severity. Unit protection usually involves comparison of quantities at the boundaries of the protected zone as defined by the locations of the current transformers. This comparison may be achieved by direct hard-wired connections or may be achieved via a communications link. However certain protection systems derive their 'restricted' property from the configuration of the power system and may be classed as unit protection, e.g. earth fault protection applied to the high voltage delta winding of a power transformer. Whichever method is used, it must be kept in mind that selectivity is not merely a matter of relay design. It also depends on the correct coordination of current transformers and relays with a suitable choice of relay settings, taking into account the possible range of such variables as fault currents, maximum load current, system impedances and other related factors, where appropriate.