In today’s power systems, care must be taken to protect equipment such as motors from overcurrent conditions. The current monitoring relay is the device that provides this protection. As such, understanding its use can help ensure the reliability of electrical systems. So, here’s what the current relay is and its application in today’s power networks.
What is a Current Relay?
Also called a current monitoring relay, current sensing relay, or current protection relay, the current relay is a current-sensitive device that can detect a circuit’s current problems. The relay monitors the current flowing through the circuit and opens the circuit when the current exceeds a predetermined value.
In an electrical circuit, two conditions can cause problems: undercurrent and overcurrent. An undercurrent condition is one in which the current flowing through the circuit is lower than normal. This can happen for a number of reasons, such as a loose wire or a faulty component.
An overcurrent condition happens when the current flowing through the circuit is higher than normal. This can be caused by a number of things, such as a short circuit or an overload. In order to detect these two events, an overcurrent/undercurrent relay is used.
An overcurrent monitoring relay, as the name implies, is a device that’s used to detect an overcurrent condition. When an overcurrent condition is detected, the relay trips and opens the circuit, thus preventing damage to the equipment.
These types of current monitoring relays are mostly used in motor and transformer protection applications. They are also installed in distribution systems where they provide protection against faults, such as phase-to-phase and phase-to-ground faults.
An undercurrent monitoring relay will detect when the current flowing through the circuit is lower than normal. In many cases, an undercurrent condition can be just as damaging as an overcurrent condition, so it’s important to have protection against both.
An undercurrent relay is commonly used in cases where it’s desirable to maintain a minimum current flow in a circuit. This includes applications such as monitoring the charging current of a battery. If the current falls below the minimum value, the undercurrent relay will trip and open the circuit.
Differential Current Relay
In some cases, it may be necessary to use a differential current relay. This type of relay is used when it’s required to monitor the difference between two currents. For example, in a three-phase system, a line current differential relay can be used to monitor the difference between the currents flowing through each phase.
By doing this, the relay can provide protection against unbalanced currents. This type of current monitoring relay is also used in transformer protection applications to detect primary and secondary current differences. In generator circuits too, as current monitoring devices.
How a Current Relay Works
The basic operation of a current monitoring relay is to compare the current flowing in the protected circuit to a set point. If the current exceeds the set point, the relay will activate and take action to clear the fault. Here is more about how a current relay works.
- Every current monitoring relay is provided with knobs or screw adjusters to set the current at which the relay will trip (digital types come with buttons and a digital screen).
- The adjusters include a time delay setting, which is used to set the amount of time that the relay will wait before tripping. This is important because in some cases, such as during a motor start-up, it’s normal for the current to exceed the set point.
- If there was no time delay, the relay would trip every time the motor started up. By using a time delay adjuster, the relay will only trip if the current exceeds the set point for a certain amount of time.
- Other than that, current relay operation will usually include a reset button. This is important because once the relay trips, it will need to be manually reset before it can be used again.
Current monitoring relays can be either electromechanical or solid state. Electromechanical relays use an electromagnetic coil to operate a switch, while solid state relays use electronic components to control the flow of current.
Both types of relays have their advantages and disadvantages. Electromechanical monitoring relays are typically more rugged and can handle higher currents, but they are also larger and require more power to operate. Solid-state relays are smaller and more efficient, but they may not be able to handle as much current.
Current Relay Applications
A current monitoring relay is primarily utilized as a sensor in critical industrial and other electrical systems where safety-sensitive equipment is used. Current relays are commonly used in the following applications:
- In industries to prevent damage to motors from overcurrent conditions
- To provide overcurrent protection for circuit breakers
- As a component in motor control circuits
- In electrical distribution systems
- To provide protection against unbalanced currents in three-phase systems
It’s good to note that you can use a current monitoring relay in both AC and DC circuits. There are also current monitoring relays for single and three-phase systems. When selecting a current monitoring relay, it’s important to consider its best application.
Current Relay Price
The price of current monitoring relays depends on several factors, including the type of relay, the manufacturer, and the features. That said, the current relay price in today’s market will usually range from $20 to $500.
For example, a basic electromechanical relay might cost around $50, while a more advanced solid-state relay with additional features could cost closer to $500.
Besides price, it’s also important to consider the features and specifications of the relay to make sure it’s suitable for the application. Some of the things to look for include:
- The type of circuit that will be protected (single-phase or three-phase)
- The number of poles (which determines how many circuits the relay can control)
- The type of housing (which determines how the relay can be mounted)
- The current rating of the relay (the maximum current that the relay can handle)
- The voltage rating of the relay (the maximum voltage that the relay can handle)
- The response time of the relay (how quickly the relay will trip when an overcurrent condition is detected)
Current faults are a major cause of equipment damage and downtime in industrial and commercial facilities. By using a current monitoring relay, it’s possible to detect these faults before they cause major problems, thereby averting costly repairs and downtime.
Current monitoring relays are available in both electromechanical and solid-state versions, and the type of relay that’s best for a particular application depends on the specific needs of the circuit being protected.