Understanding time current curves: Part 1

The first installment of a three-part series about time current curves (TCCs) provides a quick overview of item identification and how to read TCC plots.


A time current curve (TCC) plots the interrupting time of an overcurrent device based on a given current level. These curves are provided by the manufacturers of electrical overcurrent interrupting devices, such as fuses and circuit breakers. These curves are part of the product acceptance testing required by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and other rating agencies. The shape of the curves is dictated by both the physical construction of the device as well as the settings selected in the case of adjustable circuit breakers. The time current curves of a device are important for engineers to understand because they graphically show the response of the device to various levels overcurrent. The curves allow the power systems engineer to graphically represent the selective coordination of overcurrent devices in an electrical system. Modern power system design software packages, such as EasyPower, SKM Power Tools, and Etap, contain graphical libraries of curves to allow the power system engineer the ability to plot, analyze, and print the curves with minimal effort compared to the previous methods used when coordinating a power system.

TCC item identification

The TCC diagram shown in Figure 1 (below) plots the interrupting response time of a current interrupting device versus time. Current is shown on the horizontal axis using a logarithmic scale and is plotted as amps X 10X. Time is shown on the vertical axis using a logarithmic scale and is plotted in seconds X10X .The light blue curve is a switchgear feeder circuit breaker curve. The violet curve is the switchgear main circuit breaker curve. The red curve is the transformer primary fuse curve. The orange curve is the transformer damage curve. The green curves are the cable damage curves. Each one of these items will be explained. The system represented by this curve is well coordinated and adequately protected from damage. It also has minimal arc flash hazard category ratings due to low instantaneous circuit breaker trip values.

Figure 1: Selectively coordinated electrical power system major elements of the time current curve are labeled on this typical time current curve plot. Courtesy: MAVERICK Technologies

The one line diagram (see Figure 2) and TCC plot show a typical hypothetical industrial power system. There is a utility delivery point with power supplied at a medium voltage level (in this case 4,160 V), which feeds the primary side of a 2.5 MVA power transformer through a medium voltage fused switch containing an E Class fuse. The 480 V secondary side of the transformer feeds a piece of low voltage power switchgear utilizing draw out low voltage power circuit breakers for the main and feeder circuit breakers. The TCC plot also displays the transformer and cable damage curves. These curves are based on accepted industry consensus standards published by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI, for the transformer) and the Insulated Cable Engineers Association (ICEA, for the cables). Interpreting the damage curves is fairly straight forward. Operating conditions (overcurrent protection) must be kept to the left of the damage curve to guarantee no permanent damage is done to the transformer or cable in question. Operating conditions that allow operation to the right of the damage curve subject the device in question to currents that can cause permanent irreversible damage, a shortened lifespan, and possible catastrophic failure. Therefore, the overcurrent and circuit breaker coordination schemes must take this into account during the initial design phase.

Figure 2: This one line diagram is represented in the TCC plot in Figure 3. Courtesy: MAVERICK TechnologiesThere are two transformer damage curves (shown in orange on Figure 1) – one is dashed, the other is solid. The solid damage curve is unbalanced and takes into account a de-rating factor for transformer winding type and fault type. The dashed damage curve is the 100% rating curve with no de-rating consideration. The transformer inrush current is also plotted a single point on the TCC diagram. Again, as part of the initial design, the transformer inrush current must be to the left of the transformer primary fuse curve, otherwise the fuse will open when the transformer is energized. These differences in the unbalanced and 100% damage curves can be mitigated with additional protective relaying to allow the 100% curve to be used for power system design without the risk of transformer damage.

There are three cable damage curves (shown in green on Figure 1). There is one curve for each cable represented on the one line diagram. As part of the initial design, the overcurrent interrupting device must limit the fault current to left of the damage curve to prevent permanent damage. The damage curves for the cables are dependent on size, insulation type and raceway configuration.

This post was written by David Paul. David is a Principle Engineer at MAVERICK Technologies, a leading automation solutions provider offering industrial automation, strategic manufacturing, and enterprise integration services for the process industries. MAVERICK delivers expertise and consulting in a wide variety of areas including industrial automation controls, distributed control systems, manufacturing execution systems, operational strategy, business process optimization and more.

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