Ampacity

# Ampacity

Discussion

Encyclopedia
Ampacity is the maximum amount of electrical current a conductor or device can carry before sustaining immediate or progressive deterioration.
Also described as current rating or current-carrying capacity, ampacity is the RMS
Root mean square
In mathematics, the root mean square , also known as the quadratic mean, is a statistical measure of the magnitude of a varying quantity. It is especially useful when variates are positive and negative, e.g., sinusoids...

electric current
Electric current
Electric current is a flow of electric charge through a medium.This charge is typically carried by moving electrons in a conductor such as wire...

which a device can continuously carry while remaining within its temperature
Temperature
Temperature is a physical property of matter that quantitatively expresses the common notions of hot and cold. Objects of low temperature are cold, while various degrees of higher temperatures are referred to as warm or hot...

rating. The ampacity of a cable
Cable
A cable is two or more wires running side by side and bonded, twisted or braided together to form a single assembly. In mechanics cables, otherwise known as wire ropes, are used for lifting, hauling and towing or conveying force through tension. In electrical engineering cables are used to carry...

depends on:
• its insulation
Thermal insulation
Thermal insulation is the reduction of the effects of the various processes of heat transfer between objects in thermal contact or in range of radiative influence. Heat transfer is the transfer of thermal energy between objects of differing temperature...

temperature rating;
• the electrical resistance of the cable material;
• frequency of the current, in the case of alternating current;
• ability to dissipate heat, which depends on cable geometry and its surroundings;
• ambient temperature
Temperature
Temperature is a physical property of matter that quantitatively expresses the common notions of hot and cold. Objects of low temperature are cold, while various degrees of higher temperatures are referred to as warm or hot...

.

All electrical conductors have some resistance to the flow of electricity, and electric current flowing through them causes voltage drop and power dissipation, which heats
Joule heating
Joule heating, also known as ohmic heating and resistive heating, is the process by which the passage of an electric current through a conductor releases heat. It was first studied by James Prescott Joule in 1841. Joule immersed a length of wire in a fixed mass of water and measured the temperature...

the cable. Copper
Copper
Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; an exposed surface has a reddish-orange tarnish...

or aluminum can conduct a large amount of current before melting, but long before the conductors melt, their insulation would be damaged by the heat
Heat
In physics and thermodynamics, heat is energy transferred from one body, region, or thermodynamic system to another due to thermal contact or thermal radiation when the systems are at different temperatures. It is often described as one of the fundamental processes of energy transfer between...

.

The ampacity for a power cable
Power cable
A power cable is an assembly of two or more electrical conductors, usually held together with an overall sheath. The assembly is used for transmission of electrical power...

is thus based on physical and electrical properties of the material & construction of the conductor and of its insulation
Electrical insulation
thumb|250px|[[Coaxial Cable]] with dielectric insulator supporting a central coreThis article refers to electrical insulation. For insulation of heat, see Thermal insulation...

, ambient temperature, and environmental conditions adjacent to the cable. Having a large overall surface area may dissipate heat well if the environment can absorb the heat.

In a long run of cable, different conditions govern, and installation regulations normally specify that the most severe condition along the run will govern the cable's rating. Cables run in wet or oil
Oil
An oil is any substance that is liquid at ambient temperatures and does not mix with water but may mix with other oils and organic solvents. This general definition includes vegetable oils, volatile essential oils, petrochemical oils, and synthetic oils....

y locations may carry a lower temperature rating than in a dry installation. Derating is necessary for multiple circuits in close proximity. When multiple cables are near, each contributes heat to the others and diminishes the amount of cooling air that can flow past the individual cables. The overall ampacity of the insulated conductors in a bundle of more than 3 must be derated, whether in a raceway
Electrical conduit
An electrical conduit is an electrical piping system used for protection and routing of electrical wiring. Electrical conduit may be made of metal, plastic, fiber, or fired clay. Flexible conduit is available for special purposes....

or cable. Usually the derating factor is tabulated in a nation's wiring regulations.

Depending on the type of insulating material, common maximum allowable temperatures at the surface of the conductor are 60, 75, and 90 °C, often with an ambient air temperature of 30 °C. In the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, 105 °C is allowed with ambient of 40 °C, for larger power cables, especially those operating at more than 2 kV. Likewise, specific insulations are rated 150, 200, or 250 °C.

The allowed current in cables generally needs to be decreased (derated) when the cable is covered with fireproofing
Fireproofing
Fireproofing, a passive fire protection measure, refers to the act of making materials or structures more resistant to fire, or to those materials themselves, or the act of applying such materials. Applying a certification listed fireproofing system to certain structures allows these to have a...

material. For example, the United States National Electric Code
National Electrical Code (US)
The National Electrical Code , or NFPA 70, is a regionally adoptable standard for the safe installation of electrical wiring and equipment...

, Table 310-16, specifies that up to three 8 AWG
American wire gauge
American wire gauge , also known as the Brown & Sharpe wire gauge, is a standardized wire gauge system used since 1857 predominantly in the United States and Canada for the diameters of round, solid, nonferrous, electrically conducting wire...

copper wires having a common insulating material (THWN) in a raceway, cable, or direct burial has an ampacity of 50 A
Ampere
The ampere , often shortened to amp, is the SI unit of electric current and is one of the seven SI base units. It is named after André-Marie Ampère , French mathematician and physicist, considered the father of electrodynamics...

when the ambient air is 30°C, the conductor surface temperature allowed to be 75°C. A single insulated conductor in air has 70 A rating.

Ampacity rating is normally for continuous current, and short periods of overcurrent occur without harm in most cabling systems. The acceptable magnitude and duration of overcurrent is a more complex topic than ampacity.

When designing an electrical system, one will normally need to know the current rating for the following:
• Wires
• Printed Circuit Board
Printed circuit board
A printed circuit board, or PCB, is used to mechanically support and electrically connect electronic components using conductive pathways, tracks or signal traces etched from copper sheets laminated onto a non-conductive substrate. It is also referred to as printed wiring board or etched wiring...

traces, where included
• Fuses
Fuse (electrical)
In electronics and electrical engineering, a fuse is a type of low resistance resistor that acts as a sacrificial device to provide overcurrent protection, of either the load or source circuit...

• Circuit breaker
Circuit breaker
A circuit breaker is an automatically operated electrical switch designed to protect an electrical circuit from damage caused by overload or short circuit. Its basic function is to detect a fault condition and, by interrupting continuity, to immediately discontinue electrical flow...

s
• All or nearly all components used

Some devices are limited by power
Power (physics)
In physics, power is the rate at which energy is transferred, used, or transformed. For example, the rate at which a light bulb transforms electrical energy into heat and light is measured in watts—the more wattage, the more power, or equivalently the more electrical energy is used per unit...

rating, and when this power rating occurs below their current
Electric current
Electric current is a flow of electric charge through a medium.This charge is typically carried by moving electrons in a conductor such as wire...

limit, it is not necessary to know the current limit to design a system. A common example of this is lightbulb holders.

## Current rating

For electronic component
Electronic component
An electronic component is a basic electronic element and may be available in a discrete form having two or more electrical terminals . These are intended to be connected together, usually by soldering to a printed circuit board, in order to create an electronic circuit with a particular function...

s (such as transistor
Transistor
A transistor is a semiconductor device used to amplify and switch electronic signals and power. It is composed of a semiconductor material with at least three terminals for connection to an external circuit. A voltage or current applied to one pair of the transistor's terminals changes the current...

s, voltage regulator
Voltage regulator
A voltage regulator is an electrical regulator designed to automatically maintain a constant voltage level. A voltage regulator may be a simple "feed-forward" design or may include negative feedback control loops. It may use an electromechanical mechanism, or electronic components...

s, and the like), the term current rating is more-commonly used than ampacity, but the considerations are broadly similar. However the tolerance of short-term overcurrent is near zero for semiconductor devices, as their thermal capacities are extremely small.