How We Answer Impossible Questions To Design SAFE Electrical Earthing Systems

Computer modelling for safe electrical earthing systems for Fault, EMI or Lightning Attachments

The use of computing power to check, evaluate or inspect concepts in all walks of life and business, is increasingly common.Whether you forecast the performance of stock and shares or building an Electrical Generation Plant.

For safe electrical earthing systems using engineering computer software such as CDEGS allows us to stress-test designs and systems to evaluate their performance under given conditions.

So, being able to bring Supercomputing power into the mix, is going to be able to answer previously unanswerable earthing/electrical power questions.

Additionally, this piece aims to highlight a fundamental limitation of current computer hardware and how supercomputing can unleash the range and scope of previously impossible scenarios for an investigation to resolve complex problems in our lives.


Continuous improvement programs rely on ‘proof-of-concept’ techniques, which can include, approved software simulation tools like CDEGS, to successfully deliver large-scale energy/project schemes.  Recent regulations recognise the role software plays both in achieving compliance (for safety) and also as a proof-of-concept BEFORE taking the more expensive step of making the design a physical reality!
 Earthing Systems Questions Answered

Figure 1 – Continuous improvement model using Denning's circles,
where computer simulation can provide proof-of-concept (plan phase).

However, most earthing system software continues to use a version of circuit theory based calculations to work out earth fault return current levels, step/touch potentials and similar safety critical data, which can lead to errors if all the data is anything less than perfect.

Recently, more sophisticated versions of earthing system software such as hi-freq (part of the CDEGS suite) have arrived, which use electromagnetic field theory, directly solving Maxwell’s equations to deliver far more accurate and complex simulations for safe earthing designs.

So what?

What electromagnetic field theory software does for the engineer is unchaining the range and scope of scenarios modelled. It expands the possibilities studied from specific single tasks.  Like earthing fault studies, which are limited to 2-dimensional below ground calculations. To ABOVE GROUND equipment and their influence on surrounding structures and environments. For example, the effects from GIS (Gas Insulated System) equipment, EMI (ElectroMagnetic Interference) or nearby Data-centers, pipelines or process plant due to HV power sources (including lightning).

At GreyMatters we like to take things further, for example:

Lightning Transient Studies utilise the electromagnetic field theory capabilities by providing visual animated responses to a bolt attachment to infrastructure. And systems so that asset owners can see how their control systems might react to a direct strike.  Answering the question, will the systems stand firm or fall over?

Other scenarios modelled. Such as, off-shore drilling vessels to investigate induced voltage pick-up on long (12 km) directional drilling heads 1 km beneath the ocean’s surface and what it would take to eliminate and ensure smooth, uninterrupted operation.  With downtime reaching £100,000’s per hour, just 30 minutes lost production would pay for the EMI study twice over.

What’s the downside?

The introduction of electromagnetic field theory software has no doubt had a massive impact on possible scenarios to be studied but not without cost. Meaning, the increased levels of intuitiveness and complexity of the software place exponential demands on the hardware running the simulations/computations.

Therefore, this procedure can lead some seriously heavy lifting computations, which cause ‘off-the-shelf’ hardware to break or force the engineer to simplify the study.

For example, a typical Transient Study, looking at how a system will respond to a lightning strike, needs to be able to compute hundreds of frequencies across millions of components.  But, using currently available hardware, this kind of studies can take days, weeks, even months to calculate a single scenario.

So, this scenario is where supercomputers can make a difference. Cue bringing the future into our present!

Time-travel with SuperComputers

Recent technology collaboration by GreyMatters is removing the shackles of current processing power – unleashing multiple 20 core computers networked together in a multi-nodal configuration is giving CDEGS and its electromagnetic modules unrivalled possibilities.

Imagine the scene – wouldn’t it be great to take a current simulation from say, a small 2 km section of the generic rail network and be able to study an entire 200 km section, with all the trackside equipment present in the actual locations where it's installed?  Taking a generic truncated representation and scaling it up to be an accurate representation of reality.

This scope of study may have taken years using current hardware, but by fast-forwarding in time, GreyMatters is challenging the status quo by bringing this reality into the reach of all of us, today.

Safe Electrical Earthing System - Now It's Your Turn!

So, with supercomputing in the mix and all this can bring, we want YOUR ideas on what could be modelled, simulated and studied.  It’s time to put your creative hats on and ask yourself the questions (without constraint).

  • What would happen to my critical asset, if ‘X’ were to happen?  (X could be lightning strike, fault, induced charge, inference – anything electrical)
  • What is causing me concern about my critical asset(s), that we don’t understand yet? But a Study into the scenario would help me make sense of the problem?
  • Would a proof-of-concept help me understand how my design will perform when constructed?

Supercomputers are unlocking the door to massive possibilities.  The only limitation now is our imagination to think of where to apply them to add value!

CDEGS could be used to study previously unthought-of scenarios or applications.

We’re not aware of anyone else using Supercomputer technology in this way, so let your imagination go wild!

Have earthing systems project where you need help?

Then please feel free to contact us or if you could use our 'live chat' facility below, where one of our research engineers will be happy to help.
© GreyMatters 

Figure 1 - "PDCA Process" by Johannes Vietze - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Featured Image:  TIANHE 2 (Milky Way 2), Guangzhou Supercomputing Center (China) from (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Ian Griffiths SelfieIan Griffiths

This post is written by Ian Griffiths, Principal Engineer at GreyMatters, an Earthing Consultant of 26 years, one of the top 1% accredited CDEGS consultants and professional advisor to international utility companies, data-centre and infrastructure developers.


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