The Importance of the X/R Ratio in Low-Voltage Short Circuit Studies
DATE: November 17, 1999
AUTHOR: John Merrell
In some short circuit studies, the X/R ratio is ignored when comparing the short circuit rating of the
equipment to the available fault current at the equipment. What is not always realized is that when low-
voltage gear is tested, it is tested at a certain X/R ratio. The X/R ratio is important because it determines
the peak asymmetrical fault current. The asymmetrical fault current can be much larger than the
symmetrical fault current. The purpose of this article is to introduce such terms as the X/R ratio and
asymmetrical fault current and to relate the importance of the X/R ratio to the rating of low-voltage
Purpose of a Short Circuit Study
The purpose of a short circuit study is to determine whether or not electrical equipment is rated properly
for the maximum available fault current that the equipment may see. The study is performed using
computer software first by modeling the system (conductors, transformers, generators, utility sources,
etc.) and then by simulating faults.
There are essentially four types of faults: three-phase, single line-to-ground, double line-to-ground, and
line-to-line. Each of these types of faults can result in different magnitudes of fault current. In all types,
however, there is a common element: an abnormally low-impedance path for current to flow. Such a
condition can lead to extremely high currents.
By Ohm’s Law, voltage equals current times impedance (resistance). Therefore, when the impedance
becomes very low and the voltage does not change, the current becomes very high. Large electrical
currents produce a lot of heat transfer, which increases the temperature of cables, transformers, etc. The
increase in temperature can cause insulation damage. These currents also produce high magnetic forces,
which can actually bend buses in switchgear. High fault currents cause magnetic forces that are
proportional to the square of the fault current.
Obviously, fault conditions are undesirable. Therefore, protective devices like circuit breakers and fuses
are used to remove the short-circuited part of the system from the power source(s). These devices are
meant to interrupt very large electrical current. However, there are limits to how many amps they can
interrupt. As was stated in the first paragraph of this section, the purpose of a short circuit study is to
make sure that each protective device can open the highest calculated fault current that the device can see.
Depending upon whether the equipment is low voltage or medium voltage, there is a different process of
comparing the fault current to the equipment rating. We will only discuss only low voltage gear, which is
equipment rated at 600 volts or less.
Electrical devices (i.e., power circuit breakers, fuses, molded-case circuit breakers, transfer switches) have
one of two types of ratings depending upon the type of device. The first type of rating is an interrupt
rating. Devices that would have such a rating include circuit breakers and fuses. An interrupt rating
refers to the maximum fault current that a device can interrupt.
The second type of rating is a withstand rating. Devices with withstand ratings are not intended to
interrupt fault current, but rather to “ride through” a fault without damage. The rating reflects the
device’s ability to hold up during a fault.
In the following section, we will discuss fault currents in some more detail.
X/R Ratio and Asymmetrical Fault Current
In the previous section, we used Ohm’s Law to say that if the voltage remains constant and the impedance
decreases, the fault current increases. This is true. However, it does not take into account the dynamics
of AC electrical systems. We must remember that a fault is a sudden event. Any time a sudden event
occurs, the electrical system requires some time to adapt. Such a response is called a transient, which
means that it lasts for only a short time.
In AC electrical systems, impedance has two components. The first is called reactance (X). Reactance
depends on two things: (1) the inductance and (2) the frequency. Inductance reflects how hard it is to
change the current. All conductors have some inductance, but a more useful example of a component
having inductance is a coil of wire. Frequency is fixed at either 60 or 50Hz, depending upon where in the
world the electrical system is, so the reactance is solely dependent upon the inductance.
The second component of impedance is the familiar resistance (R). Resistance is a measure of how hard
it is for current to flow. When current flows through a material having resistance, heat is transferred from
the material to the surroundings.
The resistance and reactance of a circuit establishes a power factor. The power factor (p.f.) is given by
the following equation:
p.f. = cos(tan-1(X/R))
If the power factor is unity (1), then the impedance only has resistance. If the power factor is zero, then
the impedance only has reactance.
The power factor also determines how much the voltage and current waveforms (sine waves) are out of
phase. Remember that both voltage and current are sine waves in linear AC electrical systems. For
purely resistive systems, the voltage and current are in phase. For purely reactive systems, the voltage
and current are 90-degress (one-quarter of a cycle) out of phase, with the voltage leading the current.
Figure 2 below illustrates this.
Figure 2. Effect of power factor upon voltage (-------) and current (- - - - - -) waveforms.
The above equation means that the power factor and X/R ratio are related. Therefore, power factor and
X/R ratio are different ways of saying the same thing. Please note that as power factor decreases, the X/R
Right after a fault occurs, the current waveform is no longer a sine wave. Instead, it can be represented by
the sum of a sine wave and a decaying exponential. Figure 3 below illustrates this phenomenon.
Voltage (volts) -200
Figure 3. Sine wave (-------), decaying exponential (- - - - -), and their sum (. . . . . . .).
Please note that the decaying exponential added to the sine wave causes the current to reach a much larger
value than that of the sine wave alone. The waveform that equals the sum of the sine wave and the
decaying exponential is called the asymmetrical current because the waveform does not have symmetry
above and below the time axis. The sine wave alone is called the symmetrical current because it does
have symmetry above and below the time axis.
The actual waveform of the asymmetrical fault current is hard to predict because it depends on what time
in the voltage cycle waveform the fault occurs. However, the largest asymmetrical fault current occurs
when a fault happens at a point when the voltage is zero. Then, the asymmetrical fault current depends
only on the X/R ratio, or power factor, and the magnitude of the symmetrical fault current.
Figure 4 below shows how the ratio of the peak asymmetrical current to the RMS symmetrical current
varies with the X/R ratio. (RMS symmetrical current equals the peak symmetrical current divided by the
square root of 2.) What Figure 4 shows is that the peak asymmetrical current increases with the X/R ratio.
RMS Symmetrical Current
Peak Asymmetrical Current /
Figure 4. Peak asymmetrical current as a function of symmetrical RMS current. (Data taken from
notes on the GE Electrical Distribution & Control Low-voltage Protector Application Seminar.)
Role of X/R Ratio when Comparing Short Circuit Ratings
Low voltage devices have one rating, as opposed to medium-voltage gear which have both a momentary
and interrupting rating. This rating is reported in terms of symmetrical current. Therefore, the rating
must be compared to the calculated symmetrical current.
But the story does not end here. All low voltage protective devices are tested at an X/R ratio. The X/R
ratio at which a device is tested depends upon the device type. Table 1 below summarizes the device
types and the X/R ratios at which they are tested.
Table 1. X/R ratios at which low voltage protective devices are tested.
Test X/R Ratio
Test Power Factor
Low Voltage Power Circuit Breakers
Fuses, Fused Low Voltage Power Circuit Breakers,
Insulated Case Circuit Breakers, Molded Case Circuit
Breakers (rated >= 20kA)
Molded Case Circuit Breakers (rated > 10kA and <
Molded Case Circuit Breakers (rated <= 10kA)
Although low voltage devices do not have asymmetrical ratings, if we know the symmetrical current
rating and the test X/R ratio, Figure 4 gives us the maximum asymmetrical fault current. So, in a way,
there is an asymmetrical fault current rating, but it is not explicit. Therefore, in any short circuit study,
both the X/R ratio and the symmetrical fault current must be taken into account.
Remember that, for a calculated value of RMS symmetrical current, as X/R ratio increase, the maximum
asymmetrical current (peak or RMS) also increases.
If the calculated symmetrical fault current is larger than the device short circuit rating, the device in
underrated, regardless of X/R ratio. However, it is possible for the device to be underrated even if the
short circuit rating exceeds the calculated symmetrical fault current. How is this possible? We will
discuss this next.
Consider some equipment whose calculated symmetrical fault current is less than the short circuit rating
of the equipment. Also, the calculated X/R ratio is less than or equal to the test X/R ratio. The maximum
calculated asymmetrical fault current will be less than the maximum asymmetrical current that
corresponds to the short circuit rating and the test X/R ratio. The device will be properly rated.
Now consider another possibility. What if the symmetrical fault current is the same as the equipment’s
rated current, but the actual X/R ratio is larger than the tested X/R ratio? Now, the maximum
asymmetrical fault current will be larger than the maximum asymmetrical current corresponding to the
short circuit rating and the test X/R ratio. Although the available symmetrical fault current is equal to the
rating, the asymmetrical fault current is higher than that when the device was tested. The device is not
The above two paragraphs motivate a de-rating factor, or multiplying factor (MF), that is defined by the
@ X / R
@ X / R
If the calculated X/R ratio at a device is larger than the test X/R ratio of the device, then the calculated
symmetrical fault current must be multiplied by the multiplying factor. Or, equivalently, the short circuit
rating must be divided by the multiplying factor. The multiplying factor is equal to the ratio of the
calculated asymmetrical fault current to the asymmetrical fault current at the test X/R ratio and the rated
Here is an example of the process. After running a fault analysis, the symmetrical fault current at some
low voltage switchgear is found to be 62kA during the first half-cycle. The switchgear contains power
circuit breakers rated at 65kA. The asymmetrical peak fault current was found to be 149kA. The X/R
ratio was calculated to be 11.1.
The test X/R ratio of low voltage power circuit breakers is 6.6. Although the symmetrical fault current is
lower than the rating of the circuit breakers, the fact that the X/R ratio is higher than the test value means
that we must use the multiplying factor.
Therefore, the effective symmetrical fault current is 1.07 X 62kA = 66kA. Because 66kA > 65kA, the
switchgear is underrated. We can also de-rate the switchgear. Then, the effective rating of the gear is
65kA / 1.07 = 61kA. Now, because 62kA > 61kA, the switchgear is underrated.
When performing short circuit calculations, it is important to consider the X/R ratio. The higher the X/R
ratio, the higher the asymmetrical peak fault current. Therefore, when verifying the ratings of electrical
equipment, both the symmetrical short circuit rating and the X/R ratio must be taken into consideration.
If the calculated X/R ratio is larger than the test X/R ratio, then the equipment short circuit rating must be
de-rated by a multiplying factor. This multiplying factor equals the ratio of the calculated peak
asymmetrical fault current divided by the peak asymmetrical current corresponding to the rated
symmetrical current and the test X/R ratio.
About the Author
John Merrell is an electrical engineer at Power Systems Engineering, P.S.. Mr. Merrell graduated from
the University of Washington with a B.S.E.E. degree in 1999. Prior to graduating, Mr. Merrell worked at
ALSTOM ESCA in Bellevue, WA. There he assisted in the development and testing of a graphical user
interface for web based power software.
At Power Systems Engineering, he is responsible for performing short circuit, harmonic, load flow, and
protection device coordination studies for industrial, commercial, and utility clients. Based outside of
Seattle, Washington since 1986, Power Systems Engineering is an electrical engineering consulting firm
specializing in power systems studies, power quality, and commissioning services. Customers include
Boeing, Microsoft, University of Washington, General Electric, Siemens, Square D, Cutler-Hammer, and
many others. Our web page address is www.powerstudies.com.