Philosophy of Primary and Back-up Protection

The protection provided by the protective relaying equipment can be categorized into two types as: a) Primary protection b) Back-up protection

The primary protection is the first line of defense and is responsible to protect all the power system elements from all the types of faults. The backup protection comes into play only when the primary protection fails.
In the event of failure or non-availability of the Primary Protection some other means of ensuring that the fault is isolated must be provided. These secondary systems are referred to as Back-up Protection. Back-up protection may be considered as either being local or remote. Local back-up protection is achieved by protection which detects an un-cleared primary system fault at its own location and which then trips its own circuit breakers, e.g. Time Graded Overcurrent Relays.

What is Time Grading?

Protection systems in successive zones are arranged to operate in times that are graded through the sequence of equipment so that upon the occurrence of a fault, although a number of protection equipment respond, only those relevant to the faulty zone complete the tripping function. The others make incomplete operations and then reset. The speed of response will often depend on the severity of the fault, and will generally be slower than for a unit system.

As shown in figure above, if a fault occurs then Relay C is supposed to trip instantaneously, but in case of failure of operation of Relay C to isolate the fault, Relay B shall issue trip command after a time delay of 350 ms. In the worst case when both the Relays B & C fails, Relay A shall operate after 1 sec. This is Time Grading where a time is provided for main Relay to operate.

Remote back-up protection is provided by protection that detects an un-cleared primary system fault at a remote location and then issues a local trip command, e.g. the second or third zones of a distance relay. In both cases the main and back-up protection systems detect a fault simultaneously, operation of the back-up protection being delayed to ensure that the primary protection clears the fault if possible. Normally being unit protection, operation of the primary protection will be fast and will result in the minimum amount of the power system being disconnected. Operation of the back-up protection will be, of necessity, slower and will result in a greater proportion of the primary system being lost.

The extent and type of back-up protection applied will be related to the failure risks and relative economic importance of the system. For distribution systems where fault clearance times are not critical, time delayed remote back-up protection may be adequate. For EHV systems, where system stability is at risk unless a fault is cleared quickly, multiple primary protection systems, operating in parallel and possibly of different types (e.g. distance and unit protection), will be used to ensure fast and reliable tripping. Back-up overcurrent protection may then optionally be applied to ensure that two separate protection systems are available during maintenance of one of the primary protection systems. Back-up protection systems should, ideally, be completely separate from the primary systems. For example a circuit protected by a current differential relay may also have time graded overcurrent and earth fault relays added to provide circuit breaker tripping in the event of failure of the main primary unit protection. To maintain complete separation and thus integrity, current transformers, voltage transformers, relays, circuit breaker trip coils and d.c. supplies would be duplicated. This ideal is rarely attained in practice. The following compromises are typical:

a) Separate current transformers(cores and secondary windings only) are provided. This involves little extra cost or accommodation compared with the use of common current transformers that would have to be larger because of the combined burden. This practice is becoming less common when digital or numerical relays are used, because of the extremely low input burden of these relay types.

b)  Voltage transformers are not duplicated because of cost and space considerations. Each protection relay supply is separately protected (fuse or MCB) and continuously supervised to ensure security of the VT output. An alarm is given on failure of the supply and, where appropriate, prevents an unwanted operation of the protection.

c) Trip supplies to the two protections should be separately protected (fuse or MCB). Duplication of tripping batteries and of circuit breaker tripping coils may be provided. Trip circuits should be continuously supervised.

d) It is desirable that the main and back-up protections (or duplicate main protections) should operate on different principles, so that unusual events that may cause failure of the one will be less likely to affect the other.

Numerical relays may incorporate suitable back-up protection functions (e.g. a distance relay may also incorporate time-delayed overcurrent protection elements as well). A reduction in the hardware required to provide back-up protection is obtained, but at the risk that a common relay element failure (e.g. the power supply) will result in simultaneous loss of both main and back-up protection. 

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