Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Three phase electrical supplies and technical earth

I had a customer ask a question yesterday about why single phase in a machine room is considered a good thing and why technical earths need to be unified. Here's what I wrote; it's not a complete chapter & verse but it's a good excuse to put in a link to the episode of the Engineer's Bench that Hugh & I did in 2012.

He's confusing the phase that his various supplies are on with the "best practise" requirement of a unified technical earth. Twenty years ago the 16th Edition of the IEE regs forbade powering bays next to each other with different phases. There is more than 400v of difference between the mains phases and so it was thought that having that much potential difference within reach of each other was more dangerous than should be allowed; hence the practise of powering the machine room off a single phase.
However, the other consideration is that the power company charges you 3 x your most heavily used phase. So, if you're averaging 100A on the red (your machine room maybe?) but only 10A on the blue & yellow phases you'll be paying for 300A of current whilst only using 120A - if you don't "balance the phases" your electricity can (worst case) cost you three time per KW/h than it should. So, what with the improvement in RCDs and the cost issue the 3rd revision of the 16th Edition (and it's carried into the 17th) allows for mixed phase supplies in machine rooms. Looking up section 514 all that is required is labelling;
"6.1 Labels to be Provided The following durable labels are to be securely fixed on or adjacent to equipment installed in final circuits. (i) Unexpected presence of nominal voltage (U or Uo) exceeding 230 V Where the nominal voltage (U or Uo) exceeds 230 V, e.g. 400 V phase-to-phase, and it would not normally be expected to be so high, a warning label stating the maximum voltage present shall be provided where it can be seen before gaining access to live parts. (ii) Nominal voltage exceeding 230 volts (U or Uo) between simultaneously accessible equipment For simultaneously accessible equipment with terminals or other fixed live parts having a nominal voltage (U or Uo) exceeding 230 volts between them, e.g. 400 V phase-to-phase, a warning label shall be provided where it can be seen before gaining access to live parts."
On the subject of a technical earth - it's an entirely different consideration to mains phases but best practice is that you run all your tech feeds - bays and edit desks etc, back to the same earth bus-bar in the MCR. This is then run to the incoming feed supply. It's not good to try and tie it to the domestic "cooking" earth somewhere upstream of the incoming supply. The attached PDF is what we spec to customers' electricians.  It’s worth pointing out that getting the earth’s wrong is not unsafe; you can have volts of difference between two earths and they still both work as effective safety earths, but a hundred mV of earth differential between and edit suite and MCR will be a problem – the HD/SDi signal is only a volt big after all and zero level analogue audio is 775mV.
I did a podcast on the subject;

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