Medium voltage switchgear is a key element in the power supply chain. Existing protection systems operate effectively under most circumstances, but they are too slow to handle arcing short circuits.
Arcing faults can occur as a result of insulation breakdown due to equipment age & / or poor maintenance.
The degree of damage caused by arcing depends principally on the duration of the arc. If an arc lasts only 100ms, the switchgear needs to be checked & the insulation resistance measured before power can be re-established. With a 200ms arc, the power supply will be interrupted; the switchgear must be checked; power is re-established only after minor repairs. In the event of a 500ms arc the supply is interrupted, metal parts of the switchgear are destroyed & poisonous gases are emitted. A 1s arc destroys most of the switchgear & may cause a fire, injury to personnel & damage to property.
The over-current caused by an arc is, due to its resistance, lower than the overcurrent caused by a “metallic” short circuit. The over-current caused by the arc may also be lower than the protection start current when energising circuits or starting large motors. The consequence of these conditions is that a protection system based solely on over-current detection cannot effectively discriminate between normal system currents & an arc fault condition: