I recently bought an Agilent U1191A clamp-meter. This is a piece of test equipment that can measure current flowing in a conductor without having to break the circuit (how you would if all you had was a digital multimeter). The jaws physically couple around the conductor in question and by induction you can measure the electrical current flowing in the conductor.
Clamp meters have moved on somewhat since I last had to buy one (a Fluke; sometime in the late nineties). This one is a pretty competent DVM as well as being able to sample and hold min, max and average values across all setting. For most days it could definitely do double duty against my Amprobe 37XR multimeter – EXCEPT the Agilent doesn’t have non-contact voltage detection (the Amprobe does!). Anyhow – how do you get four and a half digits of resolution across multiple ranges on a brand-name test set for less than a hundred quid? Engineers today, don’t know they’re born…!
Today I was called to a customer’s site where they have three canal-barges, each with two or three edit rooms on board. In the bilges of each boat there is room for little half-height equipment cabinet where they have the shared-storage chassis, network switches etc. They’ve been suffering an unusual number of equipment failures (motherboards dieing etc) and since they also seem to have RCDs tripping out as a regular feature my first thought was earth leakage.
Here is a picture of the electrical termination point for each boat – two 32A feeders go into the hull, one for the pumps and one for the mains distribution board. The cables are permanently suspended in the water (and have been for many years!) and the ones I inspected had clearly been submerged for so long there has been lots of water ingress into the rubber jacket of the cables. One felt almost ready to crumble in my hands.
Insulation has both electrical resistance and capacitance – and it conducts current through both paths. Given the high resistance of insulation, very little current should actually leak. But — if the insulation is old or damaged, the resistance is lower and substantial current may flow. Additionally, longer conductors have a higher capacitance, causing more leakage current. Attaching the clamp meter to the incoming earth bond (pre-the consumer unit) measured a massive 100mA of leakage current. This not only risks the equipment being fed off this supply – there is an imbalance between the live and neutral cores and Class-1 equipment is often upset by this, and power supplies can pass this residual current to the earth-plane on PCBs.
More worryingly you’ve also compromised the safety action of any RCD (Residual Current Devices) in the feed.
So – my advice was; replace those 32A feeders with marine-grade power cable as soon as possible.