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In an electric power system, overcurrent or excess current is a situation where a larger than intended electric current exists through a conductor, leading to excessive generation of heat, and the risk of fire or damage to equipment. Possible causes for overcurrent include short circuits, excessive load, incorrect design, an arc fault, or a ground fault. Fuses, circuit breakers, and current limiters are commonly used overcurrent protection (OCP) mechanisms to control the risks. Circuit breakers and fuses protect circuit wiring from damage caused by overcurrent.

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Short circuit Electrical circuit with negligible impedance

A short circuit is an electrical circuit that allows a current to travel along an unintended path with no or very low electrical impedance. This results in an excessive current flowing through the circuit. The opposite of a short circuit is an "open circuit", which is an infinite resistance between two nodes. It is common to misuse "short circuit" to describe any electrical malfunction, regardless of the actual problem.

Circuit breaker electrical switch designed to open when exposed to excess current

A circuit breaker is an automatically operated electrical switch designed to protect an electrical circuit from damage caused by excess current from an overload or short circuit. Its basic function is to interrupt current flow after a fault is detected. Unlike a fuse, which operates once and then must be replaced, a circuit breaker can be reset to resume normal operation.

Voltage spike fast, short duration electrical transient in voltage in an electrical circuit

In electrical engineering, spikes are fast, short duration electrical transients in voltage, current, or transferred energy in an electrical circuit.

Residual-current device Electrical safety device used in household wiring

A residual-current device (RCD), or residual-current circuit breaker (RCCB), is a device that quickly breaks an electrical circuit to prevent serious harm from an ongoing electric shock. Injury may still occur in some cases, for example if a human falls after receiving a shock, or if the person touches both conductors at the same time.

Fuse (electrical) type of low resistance resistor that acts as a sacrificial device to provide overcurrent protection, of either the load or source circuit

In electronics and electrical engineering, a fuse is an electrical safety device that operates to provide overcurrent protection of an electrical circuit. Its essential component is a metal wire or strip that melts when too much current flows through it, thereby interrupting the current. It is a sacrificial device; once a fuse has operated it is an open circuit, and it must be replaced or rewired, depending on type.

A distribution board is a component of an electricity supply system that divides an electrical power feed into subsidiary circuits, while providing a protective fuse or circuit breaker for each circuit in a common enclosure. Normally, a main switch, and in recent boards, one or more residual-current devices (RCD) or residual current breakers with overcurrent protection (RCBO), are also incorporated.

In the electrical appliance manufacturing industry, the following IEC protection classes are defined in IEC 61140 and used to differentiate between the protective-earth connection requirements of devices.

Arc-fault circuit interrupter a circuit breaker that protects against intermittent faults associated with arcing

An arc-fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) also known as an arc-fault detection device (AFDD) is a circuit breaker that breaks the circuit when it detects an electric arc in the circuit it protects to prevent electrical fires. An AFCI selectively distinguishes between a harmless arc, and a potentially dangerous arc.

Electrical wiring in the United Kingdom is commonly understood to be an electrical installation for operation by end users within domestic, commercial, industrial, and other buildings, and also in special installations and locations, such as marinas or caravan parks. It does not normally cover the transmission of electrical power to them.

The prospective short-circuit current (PSCC), available fault current, or short-circuit making current is the highest electric current which can exist in a particular electrical system under short-circuit conditions. It is determined by the voltage and impedance of the supply system. It is of the order of a few thousand amperes for a standard domestic mains electrical installation, but may be as low as a few milliamperes in a separated extra-low voltage (SELV) system or as high as hundreds of thousands of amps in large industrial power systems.

Backfeeding is the delivery or flow of electric power in the reverse direction of the "normal" flow of power, which is from power stations, through electric power transmission and electric power distribution, to homes and buildings, to electrical appliances. It includes feeding power into the "load" side of a distribution panel, rather than the "line" side.


In electric power distribution, automatic circuit reclosers (ACRs) are a class of switchgear which is designed for use on overhead electricity distribution networks to detect and interrupt momentary faults. Also known as reclosers or autoreclosers, ACRs are essentially high voltage rated circuit breakers with integrated current and voltage sensors and a protection relay, optimized for use as an overhead network distribution protection asset. Commercial ACRs are governed by the ANSI/IEEE C37.60, IEC 62271-111 and IEC 62271-200 standards. The three major classes of operating voltage are 15.5 kV, 27 kV and 38 kV.

Switchgear electrical disconnect switches, fuses or circuit breakers used to control, protect and isolate electrical equipment

In an electric power system, switchgear is composed of electrical disconnect switches, fuses or circuit breakers used to control, protect and isolate electrical equipment. Switchgear is used both to de-energize equipment to allow work to be done and to clear faults downstream. This type of equipment is directly linked to the reliability of the electricity supply.

In an electrical installation, an earthing system (UK) or grounding system (USA) connects specific parts of that installation with the Earth's conductive surface for safety and functional purposes. The point of reference is the Earth's conductive surface. The choice of earthing system can affect the safety and electromagnetic compatibility of the installation. Regulations for earthing systems vary considerably among countries, though most follow the recommendations of the International Electrotechnical Commission. Regulations may identify special cases for earthing in mines, in patient care areas, or in hazardous areas of industrial plants.

Extra-low voltage (ELV) is an electricity supply voltage in a range which carries a low risk of dangerous electrical shock. There are various standards that define extra-low voltage. The International Electrotechnical Commission member organizations and the UK IET define an ELV device or circuit as one in which the electrical potential between conductor or electrical conductor and earth (ground) does not exceed 50 V a.c. or 120 V d.c.. EU's Low Voltage Directive applies from 50 to 1,000 V a.c. and from 75 to 1,500 V d.c.

Power-system protection is a branch of electrical power engineering that deals with the protection of electrical power systems from faults through the disconnection of faulted parts from the rest of the electrical network. The objective of a protection scheme is to keep the power system stable by isolating only the components that are under fault, whilst leaving as much of the network as possible still in operation. Thus, protection schemes must apply a very pragmatic and pessimistic approach to clearing system faults. The devices that are used to protect the power systems from faults are called protection devices.

Arc flash

An arc flash is the light and heat produced as part of an arc fault, a type of electrical explosion or discharge that results from a low-impedance connection through air to ground or another voltage phase in an electrical system.

In the design of electrical power systems, the ANSI standard device numbers identifies the features of a protective device such as a relay or circuit breaker. These types of devices protect electrical systems and components from damage when an unwanted event occurs, such as an electrical fault. Device numbers are used to identify the functions of devices shown on a schematic diagram. Function descriptions are given in the standard.

Thermal cutoff electrical safety device

A thermal cutoff is an electrical safety device that interrupts electric current when heated to a specific temperature. These devices may be for one-time use or may be reset manually or automatically.

In an electric power system, a fault or fault current is any abnormal electric current. For example, a short circuit is a fault in which current bypasses the normal load. An open-circuit fault occurs if a circuit is interrupted by some failure. In three-phase systems, a fault may involve one or more phases and ground, or may occur only between phases. In a "ground fault" or "earth fault", current flows into the earth. The prospective short-circuit current of a predictable fault can be calculated for most situations. In power systems, protective devices can detect fault conditions and operate circuit breakers and other devices to limit the loss of service due to a failure.