Residual Current Devices (RCD) and Isolated UPS Systems

Residual Current Devices (RCD) and Isolated UPS Systems

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Did you know BS7671:2018 Requirements for Electrical Installations, a.k.a. The IET Wiring Regulations 18th Edition states that any socket outlet under 32A must be protected by a Residual Current Device (RCD)?

BS7671:2018 Section 411.3.3 states that RCDs are necessary on all socket outlets under 32A

Section 4.11.3 is the Requirements for fault protection. Subclause 4.11.3.3 entitled “Additional requirements for socket outlets and for the supply of mobile equipment for use outdoors” states:

In AC systems, additional protection by means of an RCD with a rated residual operating current not exceeding 30mA shall be provided for:

(i) socket-outlets with a rated current not exceeding 32A

BS7671:2018

In other words any socket outlet that you plug anything into (basically anything powered from a 13A outlet, or up to 8KVA Systems on Commandos) must have an RCD protecting that circuit. There are exceptions to this, dwellings excepted, but only following a documented risk assessment which would have to clearly state why an RCD would not be necessary.

Purpose of RCDs.

An RCD works differently to a miniature circuit breaker (MCB) or fuse. An MCB renders devices safe in the event of an overload, or short circuit to earth. They are rated in Amps, generally in stages from 1-32A. RCDs work by tripping on an earth leakage fault typically of 30mA. This is a fault current of up to 1000 times smaller than the MCB! RCDs are useful as certain hazards can exist in the event of a fault that will not trip an MCB. Typically this involves applications that are, or may, come into contact with water.

Earth leakage is a small current that stems from phase conductors to earth. This causes an imbalance between live and neutral and it is this imbalance that RCDs detect. If the earth leakage is high enough on an appliance due to a fault or water contact then the equipment chassis can deliver a dangerous “touch current” if a user touches it. The RCD is there to protect against this scenario. If your application has water involved, then it is very difficult for a risk assessment to justify the omission of an RCD from the electrical infrastructure unless other safety measures are taken.

Isolation Transformer

An isolation transformer, by its very nature will stop RCDs from tripping – even in the event of an earth fault. See Isolation Transformers – what you need to know for further reference on this. However this isn’t a problem. In fact, the isolation transformer can make the installation more safe than with the RCD alone. Even a device with a fault can be touched by a user without any hazard occurring. Unless – and¬†I can’t stress this point enough¬†– the isolation transformer has the output Neutral and Earth bonded!

N-E bonds are not there for safety, but rather for noise rejection performance by establishing a zero volt neutral-earth voltage. Isolation transformers in conjunction with UPS Systems provide a very resilient power protection solution. However, in order to ensure the system is safe, then you should not bond the N-E. Our isolated UPS systems leave the system floating, providing true isolation and an inherently safe electrical environment. If you use a N-E bonded system and no risk assessment has been carried out to determine that no RCD is necessary then this contravenes the requirements of BS7671:2018.

Decision Flowchart

BS7671 RCD UPS Selection Flowchart

Start by asking if there is a documented Risk Assessment as to why there is no need for an RCD on a socket outlet. If there is, then you’re good to go and any UPS is good for this scenario. You can use isolated (floating or N-E bonded) or non-isolated depending upon your requirements.

If there is not a risk assessment in place then we need to check if there is an RCD fitted. If not, or unknown, then in order to provide the safest environment, the solution is a truly floating isolated UPS. Granted, if no RCD is in place, fitting any UPS does not make the situation less safe, it’s just that a floating isolated UPS does make it safe.

If there is an RCD fitted, and no risk assessment has been carried out, then you must not use any NE bonded system. This removes the safety aspect of the RCD.

Conclusion

According to the 2018 Wiring regulations there needs to be an RCD fitted on any sub 32A circuit. This will cause power to be removed if earth leakage of over 30mA is detected. Any standard UPS will not interfere with the operation of the RCD, however an isolated UPS will prevent the RCD from operating.

However, a floating isolated system, where Neutral and Earth are not connected provides a safe electrical environment. In situations where an RCD should be installed, for example there is water required by the application, and the electrical infrastructure is unknown (for example older installations to which RCD was not a mandatory requirement), floating isolated UPS provide the ideal solution.

An isolated UPS that is floating renders RCDs ineffective but provides enhanced safety by removing any touch current hazard.

On the other hand, a N-E bonded UPS system not only negates an RCD but does not make safe any scenario to which the RCD was required to protect against. There’s a reason for section 4.11.3.3 of BS7671 and this situation violates it.

An isolated UPS with a Neutral and Earth Bond renders RCDs ineffective and does not protect against hazards for which the RCD is intended.

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