(206) 687-4009 | [email protected]

Protection Schemes for Electrical Power System

Last updated: Feb 07, 2022

Electrical Power System is a highly invested area. The more reliable electricity we want, the more is need to protect it. Protection is essential to keep equipment and personnel safe from any kind of damage caused by an electrical unbalance or fault condition. Read more as we cover the objectives of power system protection, different protection devices and schemes to provide complete safety to an electrical power system.

Protection devices perform their purpose by keeping a faulty section isolated from the remaining healthy system to make it work without any disturbances. The function of a protection system is not to prevent faults as its name suggests, rather it minimizes repair costs as it senses fault because it only acts after a fault occurs. Different protection schemes are explained in this article. But first, we need to look at why protecting the power system is crucial?


Objectives of Power System Protection

Power system protection's main objective is to maintain the reliability of the running power system and to save the equipment from getting damaged. To achieve reliability, two points are kept in mind:

  • Only the faulty part of the system is completely isolated within a minimum time so that the remaining system operates normally.
  • In the case of normal conditions, there should be no nuisance tripping.

To isolate the system from the faulty section, fuses and circuit breakers are used and to detect fault relays are used. In low voltage systems breakers perform both functions of detecting and isolating the fault.

Protection Zones in Power System

Each protection scheme safeguards a defined area known as a protection zone. The protection zone surrounds each power equipment. When a fault occurs in any of the zone, then only the circuit breaker in that zone trips. Therefore, only a faulty element is disconnected without affecting the rest of the system.

Following six categories of protection zones are possible in a system, we apply here a concept of selective coordination.

  • Generators and generator–transformer units
  • Transformers
  • Buses
  • Lines (transmission, sub-transmission, and distribution)
  • Utilization equipment (motors, static loads, or other)
  • Capacitor or reactor banks (when separately protected).

zones of protection on simple power system

Power System Protection Devices

Before we mention more about protection schemes, let us go through some elemental components in the power protection system:

  • Fuse
  • Instrument Transformer
  • Relay
  • Circuit Breaker
  • Batteries
  • ESD Protection Device
  • Surge Protection Device


circuit breaker

Fuse is the self-destructing device. It passes the current in a power circuit endlessly and sacrifices by blowing itself up under abnormal conditions. These are independent protection components in an electrical system unlike a circuit breaker, which necessarily requires the support of external components.

Instrument Transformer

CT-1000 Current TransformerAccurate protection cannot be achieved without properly measuring the normal and abnormal conditions of a system. Instrument transformers work as a transducer in electrical systems.

Voltage and Current measurements give feedback on whether a system is healthy or not. Voltage transformers and current transformers measure these basic parameters.

The current transformer has two jobs to do. Firstly, it steps down the current to such levels that it can be easily handled by the relay current coil. Secondly, it isolates the relay circuitry from the high voltage of the High Voltage system. A CT primary is in series with the line in which current is to be measured.

The voltage transformer steps down the high voltage of the line to a level safe enough for the relaying system (pressure coil of the relay) and personnel to handle. A PT primary is connected in parallel at the point where a measurement is desired.

We previously wrote an article on Current Transformer. Have a look at it to understand the basics of current transformer including construction, applications, working principle, grounding and connections.


RelayRelays are sensing devices. Due to the ability to make decisions about fault recognition, these relays are regarded as the brain of power systems.

Relays are operated by measuring the voltage and current values and converting them into digital and/or analog signals, which in turn isolate the circuits by opening the faulty circuits. Most often, the relays serve two objectives, alarm and trip, once the abnormality is noticed.

In the previous years, the relays had very limited functions and were quite bulky. However, with the advancement in digital technology, relays monitor various parameters, which give the complete history of a system.

Check out Power System Protection Fundamentals Course in which we briefly discussed "Types of protective relays & design requirements". We started with the introduction to the design and working mechanism of a Relay, based on a protection system. Then moved forward to the discussion on the factors that need to consider when designing a relay-based protection scheme. Then we introduced Overcurrent Relays, Directional Relays, Distance or Impedance Relays & Reverse Power Flow Relays in detail. 

Circuit Breaker

circuit breaker

The circuit breaker is an electrically operated switch, which is capable of safely opening and closing circuits. The circuit breaker functions by the output of the linked relay.

When the circuit breaker is in the closed condition, its contacts are held closed by the tension of the closing spring. When the trip coil is energized, it releases a latch, causing the stored energy in the closing spring to bring about a quick opening operation.

The opening of faulty circuits requires some time. However, the circuit breakers, which are used to isolate the faulty circuits, can carry these fault currents until the fault currents are cleared.

Circuit breakers can be classified according to different design considerations like arc quenching media, operation mechanism, voltage levels, etc.

We have written another blog on Selecting the Right Circuit Breaker and Its Type. Read it to understand how circuit breakers work, what are their different types are and how to choose a suitable breaker according to your requirements.


The other component which is crucial in a protective system is batteries that are used to ensure uninterrupted power to relays and breaker coils. The operation of relays and breakers require power sources, which shall not be affected by faults.

ESD Protection Device

circuit breaker

An ESD protection device protects the electronic components from electrostatic discharge. Electrostatic discharge is the buildup of charges which can damage a protective circuitry and can cause malfunction.


Surge Protection Device

surge protection deviceA surge protector is a device used to protect electrical equipment by suppressing voltage spikes. This device attempts to limit the supplied voltage to an electrical device by maintaining it below a safe threshold.

The above items are extensively used in any protective system and their design requires careful study and selection for proper operation.

We also wrote an article on Surge Protection Devices. Read more as we cover various applications and benefits of installing a surge protective device.

Protection Schemes

There are several protection schemes invented along the line as protection engineers face new challenges with the advancement in power systems. Here, we will discuss the most basic ones.

  1. Overcurrent Protection Scheme 
  2. Differential Protection Scheme
  3. Distance Protection Scheme
  4. Directional Protection Scheme 

1. Overcurrent Protection Scheme

An over-current protection scheme is regarded as the most obvious principle of protection as it can detect a sudden buildup of current magnitude that is considered as an effect of fault. But, the magnitude of the fault current is related to the type of fault and the source impedance.

The source impedance depends upon the number of generating units that are in service at a given time and keeps changing from time to time. So, the setpoint for the distinction of fault current magnitude from the normal current as well as the operating time of over-current protection keep changing from fault to fault, and time to time. This has led protection engineers to think of other principles.

Instantaneous Overcurrent Relay

Instantaneous means no intentional time delay. The operating time of an instantaneous relay is in milliseconds. Such a relay has only the pick-up setting and does not have any time setting.

Definite Time Overcurrent Relay

A definite time overcurrent relay can be adjusted to issue a trip output at an adjustable definite amount of time after it picks up. Thus, it has a pick-up adjustment and a time-setting adjustment.

Inverse Time Overcurrent Relay

Inverse time characteristic corresponds with the requirement that the more severe a fault is, the faster it should be cleared to avoid damage to the apparatus. Following inverse time characteristics have been standardized.

1. Inverse definite minimum time (IDMT) OC relay.

2. Very inverse time OC relay.

3. Extremely inverse time OC relay.

 overcurrent relays 

2. Differential Protection Scheme

Differential protection is based on the assertion that the current leaving a protected section must be equal to that entering it. Any difference between the two endpoints of a single section indicates a fault. Thus, we can compare the two currents either their phase or magnitude or both.

This method of detecting faults is very popular if both ends of an apparatus are physically very close to each other. It should remain steady in case of an external fault or through-fault which will be outside of its protective zone and should only trip if the fault is internal. The ability of this protection to discriminate between internal and external faults define its stability. Though, it is impracticable to apply this scheme to a transmission line because the ends are at a great distance, and it is not feasible to equate information.

Balanced Circulating Current System, External Fault (stable)
Balanced Circulating Current System, Internal Fault (operate)

3. Distance Protection Scheme

A distance protection scheme relates the voltage with the current at the same end. This scheme computes the impedance between the protection location and the fault point. Then it compares it with a pre-set value to make the trip decision.

Since the impedance of a transmission line can be directly proportional to the distance of the fault in a line due to the simple series model, it helps in identifying fault location. This type of protection is known as distance protection or under-impedance protection. In practice, the word 'under' is dropped and now it is simply called impedance protection.

4. Directional Protection Scheme 

Directional protection scheme becomes functional in the case of a double-end feed system or parallel lines or a ring main system, where a fault gets fed from both sides. From the selection perspective, this type of protection is sensitive enough to detect the direction of the fault power flow.

There are other situations where it becomes necessary to use a directional scheme to supervise overcurrent schemes. Since directional protection units are much more costly and need the provision of power transformers, they should be used only when necessarily needed.

Comparison Summary for all Protection Schemes: 

Primary Protection Apparatus Overcurrent Directional Differential Distance
 Alternator   yes yes yes
 Busbar     yes  
 Transformer     yes  
 Transmission line yes yes   yes
 Large Induction Motor yes   yes  

There are many protection devices or components available, which are installed along with the equipment so as to ensure safety of not only the equipment but the working personnel as well. Also, we have various protection schemes and each of them is suitable for a particular application and every type has some advantages over the other. Altogether, the different devices and schemes are to make the electrical power system completely reliable and secure.


Stay Sharp & Join our Mailing List!

Subscribe to Allumiax Blog for updates on power system studies, tips, guides and insights on electrical engineering from industry leaders.