Current transformer

Current transformer
A CT for operation on a 110 kV grid

In electrical engineering, a current transformer (CT) is used for measurement of electric currents. Current transformers, together with voltage transformers (VT) (potential transformers (PT)), are known as instrument transformers. When current in a circuit is too high to directly apply to measuring instruments, a current transformer produces a reduced current accurately proportional to the current in the circuit, which can be conveniently connected to measuring and recording instruments. A current transformer also isolates the measuring instruments from what may be very high voltage in the monitored circuit. Current transformers are commonly used in metering and protective relays in the electrical power industry.



Stromwandler Zeichnung.svg
SF6 110 kV current transformer TGFM series, Russia
Current transformers used in metering equipment for three-phase 400 ampere electricity supply

Like any other transformer, a current transformer has a primary winding, a magnetic core, and a secondary winding. The alternating current flowing in the primary produces a magnetic field in the core, which then induces a current in the secondary winding circuit. A primary objective of current transformer design is to ensure that the primary and secondary circuits are efficiently coupled, so that the secondary current bears an accurate relationship to the primary current.

The most common design of CT consists of a length of wire wrapped many times around a silicon steel ring passed over the circuit being measured. The CT's primary circuit therefore consists of a single 'turn' of conductor, with a secondary of many tens or hundreds of turns. The primary winding may be a permanent part of the current transformer, with a heavy copper bar to carry current through the magnetic core. Window-type current transformers are also common, which can have circuit cables run through the middle of an opening in the core to provide a single-turn primary winding. When conductors passing through a CT are not centered in the circular (or oval) opening, slight inaccuracies may occur.

Shapes and sizes can vary depending on the end user or switchgear manufacturer. Typical examples of low voltage single ratio metering current transformers are either ring type or plastic moulded case. High-voltage current transformers are mounted on porcelain bushings to insulate them from ground. Some CT configurations slip around the bushing of a high-voltage transformer or circuit breaker, which automatically centers the conductor inside the CT window.

The primary circuit is largely unaffected by the insertion of the CT. The rated secondary current is commonly standardized at 1 or 5 amperes. For example, a 4000:5 CT would provide an output current of 5 amperes when the primary was passing 4000 amperes. The secondary winding can be single ratio or multi ratio, with five taps being common for multi ratio CTs. The load, or burden, of the CT should be of low resistance. If the voltage time integral area is higher than the core's design rating, the core goes into saturation towards the end of each cycle, distorting the waveform and affecting accuracy.


Current transformers are used extensively for measuring current and monitoring the operation of the power grid. Along with voltage leads, revenue-grade CTs drive the electrical utility's watt-hour meter on virtually every building with three-phase service and single-phase services greater than 200 amp.

The CT is typically described by its current ratio from primary to secondary. Often, multiple CTs are installed as a "stack" for various uses. For example, protection devices and revenue metering may use separate CTs to provide isolation between metering and protection circuits, and allows current transformers with different characteristics (accuracy, overload performance) to be used for the devices.

Safety precautions

Care must be taken that the secondary of a current transformer is not disconnected from its load while current is flowing in the primary, as the transformer secondary will attempt to continue driving current across the effectively infinite impedance. This will produce a high voltage across the open secondary (into the range of several kilovolts in some cases), which may cause arcing. The high voltage produced will compromise operator and equipment safety and permanently affect the accuracy of the transformer.


The accuracy of a CT is directly related to a number of factors including:

  • Burden
  • Burden class/saturation class
  • Rating factor
  • Load
  • External electromagnetic fields
  • Temperature and
  • Physical configuration.
  • The selected tap, for multi-ratio CTs

For the IEC standard, accuracy classes for various types of measurement are set out in IEC 60044-1, Classes 0.1, 0.2s, 0.2, 0.5, 0.5s, 1, and 3. The class designation is an approximate measure of the CT's accuracy. The ratio (primary to secondary current) error of a Class 1 CT is 1% at rated current; the ratio error of a Class 0.5 CT is 0.5% or less. Errors in phase are also important especially in power measuring circuits, and each class has an allowable maximum phase error for a specified load impedance. Current transformers used for protective relaying also have accuracy requirements at overload currents in excess of the normal rating to ensure accurate performance of relays during system faults.


The load, or burden, in a CT metering circuit is the (largely resistive) impedance presented to its secondary winding. Typical burden ratings for IEC CTs are 1.5 VA, 3 VA, 5 VA, 10 VA, 15 VA, 20 VA, 30 VA, 45 VA & 60 VA. As for ANSI/IEEE burden ratings are B-0.1, B-0.2, B-0.5, B-1.0, B-2.0 and B-4.0. This means a CT with a burden rating of B-0.2 can tolerate up to 0.2 Ω of impedance in the metering circuit before its output current is no longer a fixed ratio to the primary current. Items that contribute to the burden of a current measurement circuit are switch-blocks, meters and intermediate conductors. The most common source of excess burden in a current measurement circuit is the conductor between the meter and the CT. Often, substation meters are located significant distances from the meter cabinets and the excessive length of small gauge conductor creates a large resistance. This problem can be solved by using CT with 1 ampere secondaries which will produce less voltage drop between a CT and its metering devices.

Knee-point voltage

The knee-point voltage of a current transformer is the magnitude of the secondary voltage after which the output current ceases to follow linearly the input current. This means that the one-to-one or proportional relationship between the input and output is no longer within declared accuracy. In testing, if a voltage is applied across the secondary terminals the magnetizing current will increase in proportion to the applied voltage, up until the knee point. The knee point is defined as the point at which an increase of applied voltage of 10% results in an increase in magnetizing current of 50%. From the knee point upwards, the magnetizing current increases abruptly even with small increments in the voltage across the secondary terminals. The knee-point voltage is less applicable for metering current transformers as their accuracy is generally much tighter but constrained within a very small bandwidth of the current transformer rating, typically 1.2 to 1.5 times rated current. However, the concept of knee point voltage is very pertinent to protection current transformers, since they are necessarily exposed to currents of 20 or 30 times rated current during faults.[1]

Rating factor

Rating factor viqar is a factor by which the nominal full load current of a CT can be multiplied to determine its absolute maximum measurable primary current. Conversely, the minimum primary current a CT can accurately measure is "light load," or 10% of the nominal current (there are, however, special CTs designed to measure accurately currents as small as 2% of the nominal current). The rating factor of a CT is largely dependent upon ambient temperature. Most CTs have rating factors for 35 degrees Celsius and 55 degrees Celsius. It is important to be mindful of ambient temperatures and resultant rating factors when CTs are installed inside pad-mounted transformers or poorly ventilated mechanical rooms. Recently, manufacturers have been moving towards lower nominal primary currents with greater rating factors. This is made possible by the development of more efficient ferrites and their corresponding hysteresis curves.

Special designs

Specially constructed wideband current transformers are also used (usually with an oscilloscope) to measure waveforms of high frequency or pulsed currents within pulsed power systems. One type of specially constructed wideband transformer provides a voltage output that is proportional to the measured current. Another type (called a Rogowski coil) requires an external integrator in order to provide a voltage output that is proportional to the measured current. Unlike CTs used for power circuitry, wideband CTs are rated in output volts per ampere of primary current.


Depending on the ultimate clients requirement, there are two main standards to which current transformers are designed. IEC 60044-1 (BSEN 60044-1) & IEEE C57.13 (ANSI), although the Canadian & Australian standards are also recognised.

See also


  • Guile, A.; Paterson, W. (1977). Electrical Power Systems, Volume One. Pergamon. p. 331. ISBN 0-08-021729-X. 
  1. ^ Anon, Protective Relays Application Guide Second Edition, The General Electric Company Limited of England, 1975 Section 5.3

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