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Marking Available Fault Current

Posted By Thomas A. Domitrovich, Friday, January 24, 2014

When standing in front of a line-up of switchgear, panelboards or switchboards you may be amazed at how many labels you see. These labels are there for a reason and can be very helpful if you just take the time to understand them. Today we’re going to talk about NECSection 110.24, "Available Fault Current,” and a few other associated sections to understand this requirement and the various ways it impacts safety.

 

Photo 1.   Free software is available for calculating available fault current to help meet Section 110.24 requirements.

Available Fault Current

Available fault current, to many, simply means maximum available fault current because of the fact that we have always had to ensure equipment was rated properly and could handle the interruption or could withstand the maximum the system could provide. It has been a requirement for years in the NEC. In my copy of NEC 1940 for example, Section 1114, "Interrupting Capacity,” states, "Devices intended to break current shall have an interrupting capacity sufficient for the voltage employed and for the current which must be interrupted.” I’m sure this requirement goes much further back than 1940. We know this requirement today as 110.9, "Interrupting Rating,” of the NEC and even as recent as NEC 2014, this section continues to receive attention. NEC 2014 language for 110.9 reads as follows:

"Equipment intended to interrupt current at fault levels shall have an interrupting rating at nominal circuit voltage sufficient for the current that is available at the line terminals of the equipment.

"Equipment intended to interrupt current at other than fault levels shall have an interrupting rating at nominal circuit voltage sufficient for the current that must be interrupted.”

The second paragraph above was added as part of NEC1978. The substantiation for the proposal that was made and accepted by the panel noted that "The concept of ‘at fault levels’ removes from this consideration simple disconnect switches which may break charging or magnetizing current. ‘System’ voltage may be different from ‘employed.’ ‘Available current’ is a more adequate definition than ‘that must be interrupted.’ The difference between a fault interrupter and a simple disconnect switch needs bringing out in this section.” Section 110.9 has seen changes ever since to become ultimately what we know in NEC 2014 as that depicted above.

Another important equipment rating involving available fault current is an equipment short-circuit current rating. While an interrupting rating applies to the ability of an overcurrent device to safely open an overcurrent, or the ability of, for example, a motor controller to open locked rotor current, a short-circuit current rating applies to the ability of electrical equipment to safely carry short-circuit current, not openshort-circuit current. NEC 110.10, "Circuit Impedance, Short-Circuit Current Ratings, and Other Characteristics” requires that equipment have a short-circuit current rating that is equal to or greater than the maximum available short-circuit current.

 

Photo 2.  There are many labels that can be found on electrical equipment and they are there for a reason.  Understand these labels and how they relate to the proper application of products.

Available fault current is an important parameter for designers, installers and inspectors to ensure equipment is being applied within its rating. The requirement of labeling the available fault current as part of 110.24 though did more than just elevate the awareness of meeting 110.9 and 110.10 when it was introduced as part of NEC 2011. This section packs a punch when it comes to safety.

Field Marking requirements

There are various sections in the code that require a field marking to be applied to equipment. A marking would have to be field applied and not applied by the manufacturer prior to shipping for various reasons. One example can be found in 450.14, "Disconnect Means,” for transformers. The language in this section states, for transformers other than Class 2 or Class 3 that are required to have a disconnect, where that disconnect is ". . . in a remote location, the disconnecting means shall be lockable, and the location shall be field marked on the transformer.” Due to the installation method, a field marking is required. Other examples in addition to 450.14 of field marking requirements, include the following sections of the NEC

240.86, "Series Ratings”

408.3, "Support and Arrangement of Busbars and Conductors.” 408.3(F), "Switchboard or Panelboard Identification.”

550.33, "Feeder,” 550.33(A) "Feeder Conductors”

Section 110.24, "Available Fault Current”, which was first introduced in NEC 2011, is another example of a field marking requirement that cannot be applied by the manufacturer as the system dictates the available fault current. The field marking language of 110.24 states, "Service equipment in other than dwelling units shall be legibly marked in the field with the maximum available fault current. The field marking(s) shall include the date the fault current calculation was performed and be of sufficient durability to withstand the environment involved

In addition to the available fault current, the requirement here is for the date that the fault current calculation was performed. As far as this author can tell, there are only two other areas in NEC2014 that require a date to be field marked. Those can be found in Article 640 for "Audio Signal Processing, Amplification, and Reproduction Equipment” and in Article 645 which addresses "Information Technology Equipment.” Section 640.6, "Mechanical Execution of Work” item (D), "Installed Audio Distribution Cable Identified for Future Use,” requires cable tags on these future use cables to include the date the cable was identified for future use and the date of intended use. In a similar manner 645.5, "Supply Circuits and Interconnecting Cables,” has item (H), "Installed Supply Circuits and Interconnecting Cables Identified for Future Use,” which requires labeling of these cables with tags that include a date the cable was identified for future use and the date of intended use. Including a date on these labels makes a statement. Including a date on the label required as part of 110.24 does this as well.

The field marking of available fault current raised the awareness of meeting the requirement of 110.9, and including the date raised the awareness that the available fault current can change. Changes in available fault current could be due to changes on the utility side of the equipment and on the customer side of the equipment. Lighting loads and similar will not add to the fault contribution, but those that add motors for example are adding sources of fault current. Major changes in facilities can increase the available fault current. Changes on the utility side of the facility can also increase the available fault current. As an example of when a utility available fault current could change and cause a problem for existing equipment, let’s consider a strip mall of X number of stores that experiences a growth by adding 2X more stores to the existing structure. In this case, if the existing service is used, the utility may have to increase the size of the transformer supplying the entire load. A larger transformer, with the same impedance would translate into higher fault current. This new fault current could put the existing service and all existing electrical equipment at risk of having their ratings exceeded. Good planning ahead of time could avoid problems like this. When the existing labels are updated and inspections proceed, awareness of the problem may be raised.

 

Figure 1.  This is the calculation and label for equipment showing an available fault current of more than 32kA.  The equipment in this case must be rated for an available fault current greater than that marked.   The circuit breaker label shown in Photo 3 would be adequate in this application.

 

Figure 2.   For the same circuit as shown in Figure 1, the transformer in this case was changed having a higher KVA rating and a lower impedance.  The fault current is significantly different.  The circuit breaker label shown in Photo 3 would not be adequate in this application.


110.24 and Arc Flash

There has been a bit of confusion regarding the use of the 110.24-required maximum available fault current marking for arc-flash protection. When first introduced, many in the industry rose to the floor in concern that this number would be used for the calculation of incident energy. Others pointed out the original intent of verifying short-circuit ratings but also noted it could be used with the "Table Method” in NFPA 70E to determine the necessary personal protective equipment. These discussions led to the addition of an Informational Note to 110.24(A) which stated that, "The available fault-current marking(s) addressed in 110.24 is related to required short-circuit current ratings of equipment. NFPA 70E-2012,Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, provides assistance in determining the severity of potential exposure, planning safe work practices, and selecting personal protective equipment.”

The Informational Note clarifies the purpose of the marking, which is to assure that service equipment has the right interrupting ratings and short-circuit current ratings. The second part of this informational note simply says that "NFPA 70E-2012 . . . provides assistance in determining the severity of potential exposure, planning safe work practices and selecting personal protective equipment.” This additional note about 70E is helpful as it directs us to the appropriate place for addressing arc flash safety. So that’s where I went to understand whether or not I can use this label for any activities surrounding safe work practices and arc flash.

What I learned was that the marked maximum available fault current cannot be used in the calculation of incident energy, as an incident energy calculation actually needs the actual available fault current; but this number can be used with the "Table Method” that is a part of NFPA 70E. Using the maximum available fault current in the calculation method could result in a calculation that significantly underestimates or overestimates the incident energy, either of which could result in serious injury or death to the worker if an arc-flash incident occurs. If the calculation results in a significant underestimate, it is quite obvious that the worker might not have "enough” PPE for the arc-flash that could occur. On the other hand, overestimating the incident energy could also be hazardous. My initial thought of this was that overdressing for an arc flash event is a good thing. But as many in the industry who must suit up for these higher energies have pointed out to me, an overestimate of incident energy could result in a worker wearing too much PPE which could result in heat exhaustion or an accident from poor visibility and/or poor dexterity. After donning a 40 Cal suit, you’ll understand as well.

 

Photo 3.  Electrical equipment will be marked with short-circuit interrupting capabilities. This is a circuit breaker label that shows the interrupting capability of the breaker. The maximum available fault current must be less than the interrupting rating of the breaker at the applied voltage. 

The "Table Method” outlined in NFPA 70E does offer one way that these 110.24 labels could be used for arc flash safety. In the 2012 edition of NFPA 70E, Table 130.7(C)(15)(a) can be used to determine the Hazard Risk Category for specific tasks with specific equipment under specific operating conditions. For example, assume that an enclosed 200-ampere molded-case circuit breaker, with a 42,000-ampere interrupting rating, is the service disconnecting means and service overcurrent protective device feeding a main-lug-only 240-volt panelboard immediately next to the enclosed circuit breaker. Assume the task is to remove a bolted cover on the 240-volt panelboard. An energized electrical work permit is obtained after determining that performing the work de-energized would introduce additional or increased risk.

When an incident energy value is not available, the very first part of Table 130.7(C)(15)(a) might be utilized as long as the equipment and operating conditions are met. Those conditions include a maximum available short-circuit (fault) current of 25,000 amperes and a maximum of a 2-cycle clearing time for the class of overcurrent protective device protecting the panelboard (at the 25,000-ampere fault level). In this example, the maximum available fault current is 19,829 amperes. This fault current level addresses the first of the conditions (25,000 amperes or less). Standard thermal magnetic 200-ampere (and less) molded-case circuit breakers, as a class, will have clearing times about ½ cycle at their interrupting rating, so the 2-cycle clearing time requirement is also met. Finally, the working distance is determined to be 18 inches or greater. With all of the specific conditions met, the table can be used to determine that the task would be a Hazard/Risk Category 1. Table 130.7(C)(16) then shows that arc-rated clothing with a minimum arc-rating of 4 cal/cm2 would be required (see Note 3). This would include (1) arc-rated shirt and arc-rated pants (or arc-rated coveralls), (2) arc-rated face shield (See Note 2) or arc-flash suit hood, (3) arc-rated jacket, parka, rainwear, or hard-hat liner, (4) hard hat, (5) Safety glasses or safety goggles, (6) Hearing protection, (7) Heavy duty leather gloves (See Note 1), and (8) Leather work shoes.

 

Photo 4.  IAEI offers materials and training to help educate on such requirements as NEC 110.24 as well as many more — yet one more example of why it is important to be a member of the IAEI.

Closing Remarks

Available fault current is a very important parameter to consider in your design, installation and inspection. There are tools available on the market to help you calculate the available fault current. Leverage your resources and ensure proper labels are installed to ensure products are applied within their listing. With respect to how this maximum available fault current value, marked per 110.24, may or may not be used with respect to arc flash, note that it may not be used to calculate incident energy, but it may be used with the "Table Method” in NFPA 70E.

As always, keep safety at the top of your list and ensure you and those around you live to see another day.


Seeds of Safety

Quite a few editions ago, I included an article about how West Virginia IAEI, under the guidance of Jack Jamison and his team of leaders in safety, work every year to foster continued education of students of electricity through the involvement of the SkillsUSA competition events. SkillsUSA is a national organization for students in trade, industrial, technical and health occupations education (www.skillsusa.org). This organization sponsors a SkillsUSA Championship annual event that recognizes achievements of career and technical education students. Although this past year was not hosted by IAEI, the team is still very much involved with helping students understand the National Electrical Code and other important topics for our industry through the educational events that the West Virginia IAEI provides. Just this past fall saw more than 40 students attend the educational program put on by the West Virginia IAEI. Today I want to tell you about two other leaders from the tri-state area that have a great story to tell.

Mr. Tim Gump has been teaching for more than 15 years and is currently ushering students through the ins and outs of electricity and electrical safety at Marion County Technical Center in West Virginia. Tim has been involved with SkillsUSA for a while and has had a student compete in the National competition held by this organization 13 times since he’s been involved with the program. This past year, one of Mr. Gump’s students placed 5th in the National at the Kansas City, MO, Skills National competition. Mr. Matthew Toothman achieved this in the industrial motor controls competition. Matt is now working for a company in Morgantown, WV, and has a great career ahead of him in this industry. Matt’s hard work earned him this achievement; a great foundation for one who just may be a future leader in our industry.

Mr. Lawrence Rossi of Fayette County Career and Technical Institute in Pennsylvania is yet another leader that has a great story to tell. Mr. Rossi has been teaching for 27 years and over the years that he has been involved with SkillsUSA, he has had four students compete at the National event and 11 students place at the state competition. Pennsylvania’s program is a little different from West Virginia’s. This past year, Mr. Patrick McDonough prevailed more than once before his trip to the National competition in Kansas City. Patrick competed with students from 10 other schools and took first place at regional competitions in Pennsylvania. After taking regionals, Patrick then competed with approximately 9 other students and took first place for the State competition. This earned him the opportunity to compete nationally where he placed 8th in the country for electrical construction, which used to be titled residential wiring. Patrick is currently on the job with an electrical contractor and has aspirations to achieve an IBEW Apprenticeship. Hopefully, 2014 will find him accepted into the NJATC program. Patrick is yet another future leader in our industry and his hard work has earned him a great start to his career.

It’s leaders like Jack Jamison, Tim Gump, and Lawrence Rossi and those around them that are planting the seeds that keep our industry alive. It’s hard workers and goal-oriented students like Mr. Matthew Toothman and Mr. Patrick McDonough that just may be future leaders of IAEI, IBEW, NECA ,or other organizations, working to guide and steer the future of our electrical industry.


Read more by Thomas A. Domitrovich

Tags:  Featured  January-February 2014 

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c/o Jack Lyons NEMA says...
Posted Thursday, February 20, 2014
Thank you for the great article Tom

This information/Article is being rejected by many States as they adopt the NEC.
I fear they have many misconceptions about the true value of this marking at the time of Installation and Modifications.
The biggest concern is the collaboration that Contractors and Utilities seem to overlook.
Both sides of the Industry need to have clear understanding of these marks and work together more effectively.
Jack Lyons NEMA
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