Residual-current device

Summary of residual current devices. Its main purpose, operation and placement. Purpose of National Electrical Code. The process of RCDs. The process of replacing the two-wire (ungrounded) output. Photo of the internal mechanism of the residual current.

Рубрика Физика и энергетика
Вид реферат
Язык английский
Дата добавления 08.11.2012
Размер файла 191,2 K

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Residual-current device

A residual current device (RCD), similar to a residual current circuit breaker (RCCB), is an electrical wiring device that disconnects a circuit whenever it detects that the electric current is not balanced between the energized conductor and the return neutral conductor. Such an imbalance is sometimes caused by current leakage through the body of a person who is grounded and accidentally touching the energized part of the circuit. A lethal shock can result from these conditions. RCDs are designed to disconnect quickly enough to mitigate the harm caused by such shocks although they are not intended to provide protection against overload or short-circuit conditions.

In the United States and Canada, a residual current device is also known as a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI), ground fault interrupter (GFI) or an appliance leakage current interrupter (ALCI). In Australia they are sometimes known as "safety switches" or simply "RCD". They can be found in kitchens, bathrooms, and other places that can be wet.

Purpose and operation

RCDs are designed to prevent electrocution by detecting the leakage current, which can be far smaller (typically 5-30 milliamperes) than the currents needed to operate conventional circuit breakers or fuses (several amperes). RCDs are intended to operate within 25-40 milliseconds, before electric shock can drive the heart into ventricular fibrillation, the most common cause of death through electric shock.

In the United States, the National Electrical Code requires GFCI devices intended to protect people to interrupt the circuit if the leakage current exceeds a range of 4-6 mA of current (the trip setting is typically 5 mA) within 25 milliseconds. GFCI devices which protect equipment (not people) are allowed to trip as high as 30 mA of current. In Europe, the commonly used RCDs have trip currents of 10-300 mA.

RCDs operate by measuring the current balance between two conductors using a differential current transformer. The device will open its contacts when it detects a difference in current between the live conductor and the neutral conductor. The supply and return currents must sum to zero; otherwise, there is a leakage of current to somewhere else (to earth/ground, or to another circuit, etc.).

RCDs with trip currents as high as 500 mA are sometimes deployed in environments (such as computing centers) where a lower threshold would carry an unacceptable risk of accidental trips.

In some countries, two-wire (ungrounded) outlets may be replaced with three-wire GFCIs to protect against electrocution, and a grounding wire does not need to be supplied to that GFCI, but the outlet must be tagged as such. The GFCI manufacturers provide tags for the appropriate installation description.


The photograph depicts the internal mechanism of a Residual Current Device (RCD). The device pictured is designed to be wired in-line in an appliance power cord. It is rated to carry a maximum current of 13 amperes and is designed to trip on a leakage current of 30 mA. This is an active RCD; that is, it doesn't latch mechanically and therefore trips out on power failure, a useful feature for equipment that could be dangerous on unexpected re-energisation.

The incoming supply and the neutral conductors are connected to the terminals at (1) and the outgoing load conductors are connected to the terminals at (2). The earth conductor (not shown) is connected through from supply to load uninterrupted.

When the reset button (3) is pressed the contacts ((4) and hidden behind (5)) close, allowing current to pass. The solenoid (5) keeps the contacts closed when the reset button is released.

The sense coil (6) is a differential current transformer which surrounds (but is not electrically connected to) the live and neutral conductors. In normal operation, all the current down the live conductor returns up the neutral conductor. The currents in the two conductors are therefore equal and opposite and cancel each other out.

Any fault to earth (for example caused by a person touching a live component in the attached appliance) causes some of the current to take a different return path which means there is an imbalance (difference) in the current in the two conductors (single phase case), or, more generally, a nonzero sum of currents from among various conductors (for example, three phase conductors and one neutral conductor).

This difference causes a current in the sense coil (6) which is picked up by the sense circuitry (7). The sense circuitry then removes power from the solenoid (5) and the contacts (4) are forced apart by a spring, cutting off the electricity supply to the appliance.

The device is designed so that the current is interrupted in a fraction of a second, greatly reducing the chances of a dangerous electric shock being received.

The test button (8) allows the correct operation of the device to be verified by passing a small current through the orange test wire (9). This simulates a fault by creating an imbalance in the sense coil. If the RCD does not trip when this button is pressed then the device must be replaced.

Use and placement

In most countries, not all circuits in a home are protected by RCDs. If a single RCD is installed for an entire electrical installation, any fault will cut all power to the premises. Normal practice in domestic installations in the UK was to use a single RCD for all RCD protected circuits but to have some circuits that are not protected at all. Regulation introduced in 2008 dictate that on all new electrical installations in the UK, all circuits must be protected by an RCD; however, this does not affect existing installations.

GFI receptacles in the USA have connections to protect downstream receptacles so that all outlets on a circuit may be protected by one GFI outlet.

Residual current and overcurrent protection may be combined in one device for installation into the service panel; this device is known as a GFCI breaker in the US and as an RCBO in Europe. In the US, RCBOs are more expensive than RCD outlets.

More than one RCD feeding another is unnecessary, provided they have been wired properly. One exception is the case of a TT earthing system where the earth loop impedance may be high, meaning that a ground fault might not cause sufficient current to trip an ordinary circuit breaker or fuse. In this case a special 100 mA (or greater) trip current time-delayed RCD is installed covering the whole installation and then more sensitive RCDs should be installed downstream of it for sockets and other circuits which are considered high risk.

residual current output


RCDs can be tested with the built-in test button to confirm functionality on a regular basis. RCDs if wired improperly may not operate correctly and are generally tested by the installer to verify correct operation. Use of a solenoid voltmeter from live to earth provides an external path and can test the wiring to the RCD. Such a test may be performed on installation of the device and at any "downstream" outlet.


A residual current circuit breaker cannot remove all risk of electric shock or fire. In particular, an RCD alone will not detect overload conditions, phase to neutral short circuits or phase-to-phase short circuits. Over-current protection (fuse or circuit breaker) must be provided. Circuit breakers that combine the functions of an RCD with overcurrent protection respond to both types of fault. These are known as RCBOs, and are available in 1, 2, 3 and 4 pole configurations. RCBOs will typically have separate circuits for detecting current imbalance and for overload current but will have a common interrupting mechanism.

An RCD will help to protect against electric shock where current flows through a person from a phase to earth. It cannot protect against electric shock where current flows through a person from phase to neutral or phase to phase, for example where a finger touches both live and neutral contacts in a light fitting; a device can not differentiate between current flow through an intended load from flow through a person.

Whole installations on a single RCD, common in the UK, are prone to nuisance trips that can cause safety problems with loss of lighting and defrosting of food. RCDs also cause nuisance trips with appliances where earth leakage is common and not a cause of injury or mortality, such as water heaters.

A dangerous condition can arise if the neutral wire is broken or switched off before the RCD while its live wire is not interrupted. In this situation the tripping circuitry of the RCD that needs power to be supplied will cease to work. The circuit will look like it is switched off, but if someone touches the live wire thinking that it is de-energized, the RCD will not trip. For this reason circuit breakers must be installed in a way that ensures that the neutral wire is turned off only at the moment when the live wire is also turned off. Separate single-pole circuit breakers must never be used for live and neutral, only two or four pole breakers must be used in cases there is a need for switching off the neutral wire.

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