What Is Derating Factors For Underground Cables?

What Is Derating Factors For Underground Cables?
ground temperature derating

Each cable has current carrying capacity (or cable ampacity). The value of this current is given in cables ampacity tables, and depends on some factors which is called derating or correction factors.

I work with cables for more than 13 years till now. Cables we use in my workplace are XLPE copper cables. Selecting the right cable for the load is economical, technical and safety factor.

If we choose a cable with lower ampacity than the load it heats up and gets overloaded. If we choose a cable much higher ampacity than the load It costs more, this is not accepted for us engineers.

Derating cables is essential to choose the suitable cable for the load.

What is Derating factor in cable sizing?

De-rating factor, also known as correction factor, is a multiplier that is applied to a cable ampacity rating in order to change the value depending on various operation conditions.

For example ambient air temperature, soil temperature and laying method of the cable. These factors make a cable current carrying capacity lower than the designed value.

Cables de-rating factors are used to assess a cable’s safe power dissipation capability at high temperatures. The multiplier might be less than one, equal to one, or more than one.

Cables are designed for normal or specified environmental conditions, assuming adequate ventilation. De-rating is a method of designing a cable for high-performance systems.

Why is cable derating necessary?

A cable in service without correction factors may fail catastrophically.

If the temperature of the surrounding environment rises, or if the cable is needed to be utilized in temperatures, humidity, enclosures, or other circumstances outside of its range, it will not operate to its full potential. The de-rating factor is used to illustrate how much the cable may be stressed/used under such conditions.

This may be multiplied by actual design ratings. Under these situations, derating factors or correction factors are utilized to generate limits for the cable.

 De-rating factors manage the cable’s current carrying capacity and increases the safety margin between the cable’s specification limit and the maximum load, providing extra protection and guaranteeing that the cable does not fail when temperature or other external conditions change.

When we make proper cable derating, we are lowering the maximum current that cables are authorized to carry. Its purpose is to protect the insulation of the wire against deterioration caused by extreme heat.

Cable selection comprises choosing the suitable conductor type as well as the appropriate conductor size/cross-section area/diameter dependent on the application. To begin with, it is vital to understand the relevance of cable size and selection.

Following that, the selection criteria will be assessed, taking into consideration all of the derating elements that may have an influence on cable ampacity. Aside from the size of the conductor, a variety of additional conductor kinds will be studied.

So, what exactly is ampacity? The maximum current that an insulated conductor may safely take without exceeding its insulator and sheath temperature limits is described as ampacity. For more information about cable ampacity, you can find it in my other article here.

External disturbances, such as cable laying depth, influence a cable’s current rating. In such cases, existing ratings must be enhanced by including particular relevant criteria known as derating factors.

Because there are several derating factors, the values of all derating factors are multiplied to provide an average value. The key derating considerations to consider while choosing cable size are as follows.

The quantity of heat produced increases as the amount of current flowing through a conductor increases. The conductor’s heat must be evacuated into the atmosphere. If the heat does not dissipated, the conductor’s temperature will rise until it exceeds the cable’s temperature tolerance, at which point the cable will fail.

Do overhead power lines need derating factor?

Overhead power lines need a derating factor to correct their current carrying capacity/ampacity. This happens in the hot climatic regions that are with higher ambient temperatures; these temperatures can affect the cables installed overhead. Warm surrounding the cables becomes a reason to heat dissipation from the cables resulting in a hotter cable.

For more information about OHTL, read my other detailed article here.

When should you derate cables?

When current flows through a wire, it generates heat. The quantity of heat produced increases as current levels climb. The National Electrical Code (NEC) mandates conductor derating in two situations: when the ambient temperature reaches 30 degrees Celsius and when more than three cables are bundled in a conduit.

Because of electromagnetic and physical proximity effects, many circuits operating in close proximity may raise the temperature of the conductors.

When cables are stacked close together or deployed in a temperature-varying environment, their ability to transfer heat and achieve a higher working temperature is hampered.

Cable current ampacity is determined according to a specific ambient or ground temperature. If the temperature of the laying ground or the ambient is not the same as the design one, Then temperature derating is necessary to enhance the cable operation and safety.

All of these factors must be taken into account when deciding the cable de-rating that will keep cable temperatures within design requirements while enhancing cable insulation life.

What will happen if I don’t derate my cable?

If you don’t derate your cable, it can be the reason to produce excessive heat in the cable because of overloading. The higher the overload the higher the cable temperature rise. Cables derating reduces their current carrying capacity. Essentially, it protects the insulation from degradation caused by excessive heat.

The major reason cables must be derated is overheating . In a cables due to current flow, heat is created due to the electrical resistance of the conductor.

Multiple circuits operating in close proximity can raise the temperature of the conductors due to electromagnetic and physical proximity effects.

When cables are stacked close together, their capacity to disperse heat and attain a higher working temperature is hindered. Linear resistance, or cable resistance per meter, is relatively modest, but it accumulates over a long cable length and causes voltage loss.

As the temperature of the cable rises, so does the linear resistance, resulting in higher voltage drop and decreased system output.

When cable derating is not required?

No scenario exists in which deratings of cable are not required because it’s a necessary factor that must need to be considered when you are going to select the underground cables in conduit for the facility, whether it’s commercial, residential, or industrial.

However, when the derating factors of the cable installation conditions are unity, then no need to derate the cable. In fact, its derating will be useless in this case, because the total derating factor is unity which won’t affect the current value of the cable.

For example, if we have a cable underground, the depth of burial is 0.5 m and the ground temperature is 35°C, no cables are sharing the same path, then the derating factor of burial depth is 1 and for the ground temperature is 1, the total derating factor will be 1*1 = 1.

Theoretically we can say in this condition that derating the cable is not required. While its essential to check each cable case to make sure either  its derating is required or not.  

What are the derating factors considered in cable installation?

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Below are tables of important derating factors that should considered in cable installation, In the end of the article we will give an example for using the tables of correction factors.

  • Air ambient temperature derating:

Cable temperature is one of the most important factors which affect current carrying capacity. The higher the temperature is the lower the current the cable can carry.

The ampacity of a cable should be equal to or greater than the maximum current that it is expected to carry during its service life while not exceeding its temperature rating.

The temperature rating is determined by the heat resistance of the components used in the cable’s coating and sheath.

The greater the thermal electrical resistivity, the less likely it is to fail at higher temperatures. Cable ampacity derating is also applied for both ambient and ground temperature.

air temperature derating
air temperature derating
  • Ground temperature derating:

Just like the air temperature, the ground temperature affects electrical cables ampacity.

ground temperature derating
ground temperature derating
  • Burial depth of cable:

Buried cables depend on soil to reduce cable temperature. So the current of the cable should be derated according to soil temperature to protect cable from overheating.

Each cable has a designed laying depth, If the laying depth is not the same as the designed value, then you should apply Laying Depth factor.

Burial depth derating
Burial depth derating
  • Soil thermal resistivity correction table:

Soil thermal resistivity is one of the most important factors in cable laying underground. This importance is because it affects directly in soil conductivity and its ability to reduce cable temperature.

Cables buried in the ground must emit heat into the environment. Soil heat conductivity varies substantially based on soil characteristics such as closeness to a water source, coastal area, dry soil, and desert sand.

The higher the level of thermal resistance, the more difficult it is to remove heat from the cable. As a result, the cable size becomes a significant consideration when applying the de-rating factor.

soil thermal resistivity
soil thermal resistivity
  • Cables formation factors

The cable manufacturers provide derating factors for a variety of options, including the number of installed cables in a layer, the number of layers, and cable spacing horizontally and vertically. The true situation is the result of an insufficient mix of cable installation and cable manufacturer characteristics.

International standards (IEC, ERA, etc.) have been developed to address this issue. Similarly, rules established a deduction factor for a group of cables in a cable ladder or inside a duct bank.

 It is common for cables to encounter a variety of climatic conditions as they travel. The environment with the largest rated current derating factor should be chosen and applied to the whole cable path.

This criterion is generally eased if the length of the cable route is less than 0.35 m. In the below tables, the formation of the cables affect its current capacity.

trefoil formation

How to calculate cable derating? (How to derate cables example)

Say we have 95 mm2 electrical cable. If we lay this cable underground in a soil with temperature of 40°C, thermal resistivity of 150°C. cm/watt  and laying depth is 1.5 m.

Then the cable ampacity should be multiplied by three correction factors.

  • laying depth (K1)
  • soil temperature (K2)
  • soil resistivity (K3)

Derating factor formula = Cable current * K1*K2*K3*K4…*Kn, While K’s are the derating factors of the cable.

Total derating factors = K1*K2*K3 = 0.95*0.9*0.91 =0.77, Then multiply this value by the cable current. The resulted current should be the new current carrying capacity for the cable.

After applying all derating factors we check if the cable still suitable to the load current. If the cable new ampacity is less than the load current, then we choose a larger size cable. Then we apply the same derating factor again to the new cable current and check if it is suitable to the load current.

You can use my 100% free android STABLE CABLES app to find the cable ampacity and derating factors tables. Install the app now from Google Play Store.

When Should I apply cable temperature derating?

According to the National Electrical Code (NEC), temperature derating must be applied in two circumstances: when the ambient temperature reaches 30 degrees Celsius and when there are more than three cables bundled together in one conduit. This will enhance the cable’s operation and safety.

Wires can be affected by the environment to an extent by the ampacity of their conductors. Based on an ambient temperature of 86°F, ampacities are calculated in accordance with NEC® Table 310.15 (B) (16).

In the case that the temperature exceeds 86°F, the ampacity from the table must be corrected according to the values contained in NEC Table 310.15 (B) (2) (a).

Among the factors considered in derating tables are the amount of heat produced by the current, the ambient temperature, and the temperature of the surrounding wires. 

Derating applies to current carrying conductors only. The earth wire is not considered a current-carrying conductor because it doesn’t carry current.

How many wires can you put in a conduit without derating?

You can put less than three cables in a conduit without derating. Furthermore, as per the NEC rule, if you are going to use the number of cables over three, you must have to drate the capacity of each cable.

This clause of NEC rules shows that if the number of cables is less than three in a conduit, you can ignore the derating factor.

Make sure to apply derating factor for wires in conduit to derate the current carrying capacity of them. The more the wires in the same conduit the higher the temperature rise of them.

Why depth of burial affect cable ampacity?

Due to thermal resistance, the impact on the soil surrounding around the cable usually increases with increasing the burial depth. That affects the current-carrying capacity (ampacity) reduces as the cable is buried deeper in the soil.

As expected, the current-carrying capacity diminishes with increasing burial depth. It is clear that cables buried at deeper depths have a significant impact on the cable’s ampacity rating.

Underground cables uses the contact with the soil to dissipate the temperature. The soil ability to dissipate heat varies with the depth. This is why burial depth affect the cable ampacity.

Why cable grouping effect correction factor?

Cable grouping affects the correction factor due to the thermal effect of each cable on the others because Power cables installed beside each other (in the form of the group) cannot tolerate as much current as a single piece of cable.

In this situation, if one conductor carries more current than its capacity, heat dissipation occurs in this cable; due to this heat, all other grouped cables’ correction factors will be affected.

How does ambient temperature affect cable rating?

The current rating of all cables decreases when the ambient (environmental) temperature, whether air or soil, approaches the maximum conductor temperature limit. The higher the temperature the higher the cable resistance the lower the cable ampacity.

The relationship between current rating and air temperature for cables in the air is a non-linear function of the excess of cable surface temperature above ambient air temperature and cable size (outer surface area) also matters. The rate of change in current rating with ambient air temperature varies with cable size (diameters).

Medium voltage cable de-rating factor.

Derating factors and tables of medium voltage cables are the same as the low voltage ones. Current rates for medium voltage cables are established by the International Electro-technical Commission standard IEC 60502. The derating factor is used to calculate the cable rating.

Voltages up to 1 kV are covered in Part 1 of the IEC 60502 standard, whereas voltages from 1 kV to 30 kV are covered in Part 2. Part 1 does not include any current capacity sizing since IEC 60364 is expected to take care of it. Component 2 Annex B provides a method for calculating current capacity at voltages covered by this component.

The current rating tables include three phase wires placed both above and below ground. Derating considerations for buried cables include ambient temperature, depth of laying, and soil thermal resistance, as well as cable grouping.

There are also multiple de-rating factors for various variables. As an example,

  • The de-rating factors for MV cables may be found in the standard’s related tables.
  • A table will provide the de-rating factor for ambient ground temperature.
  • A table will also include the reduction factor for cable grouping in the ground.
  • A table will also provide a de-rating factor for soil thermal resistance.
  • Table will also include a de-rating factor for laying depth.
  • The same is true for wires that are above ground.

To recapitulate, the first step in incorporating rating elements into the ampacity value of a cable is to identify and grasp the application, as well as to consult the standards or authority with jurisdiction.

Using this knowledge, choosing the best conductor size for your application can save you time and money on unnecessary repairs or material replacement.

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