Comparison of Earthing systems

Earth fault loop impedance High Highest Low Low Low
RCD preferred? Yes No Yes No No
Need earth electrode at site? Yes Yes No No No
PE conductor cost Low Low Highest Least High
Risk of broken neutral No No No Highest High
Safety Safe Less Safe Safest Least Safe Safe
Electromagnetic interference Least Least Low High Low
Safety risks High loop impedance (step voltages) Double fault, overvoltage None Broken neutral Broken neutral
Advantages Safe and reliable Continuity of operation, cost Safest Cost Safety and cost


  • TN networks save the cost of a low-impedance earth connection at the site of each consumer. Such a connection (a buried metal structure) is required to provide protective earth in IT and TT systems.
  • TN-C networks save the cost of an additional conductor needed for separate N and PE connections. However, to mitigate the risk of broken neutrals, special cable types and lots of connections to earth are needed.
  • TT networks require proper RCD (Ground fault interrupter)protection.

Fault path impedance

If the fault path between accidentally energized objects and the supply connection has low impedance, the fault current will be so large that the circuit overcurrent protection device (fuse or circuit breaker) will open to clear the ground fault. Where the earthing system does not provide a low-impedance metallic conductor between equipment enclosures and supply return (such as in a TT separately earthed system), fault currents are smaller, and will not necessarily operate the overcurrent protection device. In such case a residual current detector is installed to detect the current leaking to ground and interrupt the circuit.


  • In TN, an insulation fault is very likely to lead to a high short-circuit current that will trigger an overcurrent circuit-breaker or fuse and disconnect the L conductors. With TT systems, the earth fault loop impedance can be too high to do this, or too high to do it quickly, so an RCD (or formerly ELCB) is usually employed. The provision of a Residual-current device (RCD) or ELCB to ensure safe disconnection makes these installations EEBAD (Earthed Equipotential Bonding and Automatic Disconnection). Earlier TT installations may lack this important safety feature, allowing the CPC (Circuit Protective Conductor) to become energized for extended periods under fault conditions, which is a real danger.
  • In TN-S and TT systems (and in TN-C-S beyond the point of the split), a residual-current device can be used as an additional protection. In the absence of any insulation fault in the consumer device, the equation IL1+IL2+IL3+IN = 0 holds, and an RCD can disconnect the supply as soon as this sum reaches a threshold (typically 10-500 mA). An insulation fault between either L or N and PE will trigger an RCD with high probability.
  • In IT and TN-C networks, residual current devices are far less likely to detect an insulation fault. In a TN-C system, they would also be very vulnerable to unwanted triggering from contact between earth conductors of circuits on different RCDs or with real ground, thus making their use impracticable. Also, RCDs usually isolate the neutral core. Since it is unsafe to do this in a TN-C system, RCDs on TN-C should be wired to only interrupt the live conductor.
  • In single-ended single-phase systems where the Earth and neutral are combined (TN-C, and the part of TN-C-S systems which uses a combined neutral and earth core), if there is a contact problem in the PEN conductor, then all parts of the earthing system beyond the break will rise to the potential of the L conductor. In an unbalanced multi-phase system, the potential of the earthing system will move towards that of the most loaded live conductor. Such a rise in the potential of the neutral beyond the break is known as a neutral inversion.[1]Therefore, TN-C connections must not go across plug/socket connections or flexible cables, where there is a higher probability of contact problems than with fixed wiring. There is also a risk if a cable is damaged, which can be mitigated by the use of concentric cable construction and multiple earth electrodes. Due to the (small) risks of the lost neutral raising 'earthed' metal work to a dangerous potential, coupled with the increased shock risk from proximity to good contact with true earth, the use of TN-C-S supplies is banned in the UK for caravan sites and shore supply to boats, and strongly discouraged for use on farms and outdoor building sites, and in such cases it is recommended to make all outdoor wiring TT with RCD and a separate earth electrode.
  • In IT systems, a single insulation fault is unlikely to cause dangerous currents to flow through a human body in contact with earth, because no low-impedance circuit exists for such a current to flow. However, a first insulation fault can effectively turn an IT system into a TN system, and then a second insulation fault can lead to dangerous body currents. Worse, in a multi-phase system, if one of the live conductors made contact with earth, it would cause the other phase cores to rise to the phase-phase voltage relative to earth rather than the phase-neutral voltage. IT systems also experience larger transient overvoltages than other systems.
  • In TN-C and TN-C-S systems, any connection between the combined neutral-and-earth core and the body of the earth could end up carrying significant current under normal conditions, and could carry even more under a broken neutral situation. Therefore, main equipotential bonding conductors must be sized with this in mind; use of TN-C-S is inadvisable in situations such as petrol stations, where there is a combination of lots of buried metalwork and explosive gases.

Electromagnetic compatibility

  • In TN-S and TT systems, the consumer has a low-noise connection to earth, which does not suffer from the voltage that appears on the N conductor as a result of the return currents and the impedance of that conductor. This is of particular importance with some types of telecommunication and measurement equipment.
  • In TT systems, each consumer has its own connection to earth, and will not notice any currents that may be caused by other consumers on a shared PE line.