Electrical Systems

With the highest conductivity of the commercial metals, copper plays a key role in electrical and electronic development.
Copper plays a key role in electrical and electronic development

Copper has the highest conductivity of the commercial metals and it has played a fundamental role in enabling the development of electrical and electronic applications.

In addition to its excellent conductivity, copper has ideal mechanical properties at low, ambient and elevated temperatures, is easily fabricated or cast to shape and can be readily machined. It has excellent strength and is resistant to oxidation and corrosion.

From high voltage transmission to microcircuits, and from gigawatt generators to computers, in every aspect of electricity generation, transmission and use, copper is the vital, energy efficient metal. In addition, there is a wide variety of less-common high conductivity copper alloys with properties tailored for various applications, such as electrical contacts, slip rings, catenaries for railways and tramways, and more.

Distributed Generation and Renewables

Distributed generation (DG) and renewable energy sources (RES) are attracting special attention. Both are seen as important in achieving two key goals: increasing the security of energy supplies by reducing the dependency on imported fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas and coal and reducing the emission of greenhouse gases, specifically carbon dioxide, from the burning of fossil fuels.

The term ‘renewable energy sources’ refers to natural resources such as sunlight, wind and others that are naturally replenished. Renewable energy systems convert these natural energy sources into useful energy. ‘Distributed generation’ refers to the decentralised generation of electricity, which can in some cases include renewable energy systems. DG units are generally connected to the distribution level and have capacities ranging from a few kW to several tens of MW.


Earthing systems are vital to the safety, security and functionality of electrical installations. They provide a safe path for fault current so that over-current protection systems can function, provide a safe path for lightning strikes while containing the voltage rise to a safe value and provide an equipotential surface on which electronic equipment can function without interference.

Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency is becoming extremely important as energy resources become increasingly scarce, difficult to exploit and expensive. Building generators fuelled by renewable resources will help, but decreasing consumption is an easier and more sensible approach.

Energy efficiency improvements are usually technically simple, relatively low cost and quick and easy to implement. Often, it is simply a matter of sensible purchasing decisions, buying the unit with the lowest lifetime cost rather than the one with the lowest purchase price.

Power Quality

Power quality problems lead to unplanned downtime, wasted resources and higher energy costs, yet they can be easily detected in advance by measurement and monitoring, and cured by the application of the most appropriate mitigation techniques. Best of all, the effects can be avoided altogether by good design practices and by choosing the right equipment.  See Power Quality and Utilisation Guide.

For more on these and other issues surrounding copper's deployment in electrical applications, visit Leonardo ENERGY: a global community for sustainable energy professionals.
Related Resources

Here are related resources.  To browse and search all resources, visit the Resource Library.

    Pub TN27 - High Conductivity Coppers: Technical Data
    Electrical systems
    alloys, conductivity , coppers, electrical, property, standards, technical
    These data sheets, originally published in a series from 1968 - 1972, cover all the main coppers and copper alloys. They contain an invaluable summary of data relating to the physical and mechanical properties of the materials at low, ambient and elevated temperatures which is not available elsewhere.
    Pub 223 - Copper for Contacts
    Electrical systems
    alloys, applications, contacts, coppers, electrical
    This publication looks at the properties required for contact materials, and to identify those applications in which copper or copper alloys have special advantages. 1980, revised 2015. 36pp.
    Pub 144 - Harmonics, Transformers and K-Factors
    Energy and renewables, Electrical systems
    electrical, technical, transformer
    Transformers used to supply IT equipment and other non-linear loads need to be de-rated to between 60 and 80% of their nominal capacity. This technical note explains why, and how to determine the correct factor. 2000. 6pp. (Out of print).
    Pub 123 - Electrical Design - A Good Practice Guide
    Energy and renewables, Electrical systems
    building, design, electrical, energy efficiency, installation, power quality
    This book covers the design of electrical installations in buildings, presenting good practice design solutions to reduce the impact of power quality problems and explaining how electrical efficiency can be improved. 1997. 92 pp.
    Pub 119 - Earthing Practice
    Electrical systems
    earthing, electrical, electrical installation, installation
    This publication explains the reasons for earthing systems, legislation and includes chapters on corrosion resistance and the properties of copper. 1997. 108pp.
    Pub 116 - Electrical Energy Efficiency
    Energy and renewables, Electrical systems
    cables, electrical, energy efficiency, installation, low voltage, motors, transformer
    Both financial appraisal and technical consideration of electrical energy efficiency of motors, cables, busbars and transformers, with actual case histories showing savings to be made, can be found in this book. 1997. 120pp.
    Pub 022 - Copper for Busbars - Guidance on Design and Installation
    £ 0.00
    Energy and renewables, Electrical systems
    busbars, coppers, design, electrical, installation
    This 2014 update of a classic, 1936 publication provides the information needed to design efficient, economic and reliable busbar systems.
    Power Quality in Low Voltage Installations - Voltage Dips
    Electrical systems
    electrical, installation, low voltage, power quality
    This presentation looks at the causes and effects of voltage dips, examining typical network performance, equipment performance and the compatibility gap between them. This gap must be covered in practice by good installation design and the right choice of mitigation equipment.
    Power Quality in Low Voltage Installations - Harmonics
    Electrical systems
    electrical, installation, low voltage, power quality
    This presentations describes what harmonic waveforms look like, what kind of loads produce them, what typical harmonic profiles can be expected, what problems they cause and the mitigation measures you can use?
    Power Quality and Utilisation Guide
    Energy and renewables, Electrical systems
    earthing, electrical, energy efficiency, Industry, power quality, renewable energy source
    The Power Quality and Utilisation Guide is a unique 8 section reference source providing background theory and the whole range of solutions from industry, including DG, RES and Energy Efficiency.
    Harmonic Regulation and Compatibility
    Electrical systems
    electrical, regulation, standards
    This webcast explains the need for Harmonic Regulation, such as the UK Recommendation G5/4, and the concept of compatibility on which it is based.
    D12 - K-Factor Calculation Software (Datadisk)
    Energy and renewables, Electrical systems
    electrical, transformer
    This software calculates the K-Factor of a load from the harmonic content according to US and European practice. The results can be used to select transformers or to determine suitable de-rating factors for transformers. 1998.
    D11 - Busbar Design Software (Datadisk)
    Energy and renewables, Electrical systems
    busbars, design, electrical
    This program calculates the current rating, size and working temperature of common configurations of copper busbars. Minimum size, savings and payback periods from the use of larger sizes, up to the most economic, are calculated. The calculations take account of copper price, fabrication cost, load growth, discount rate and increases in energy costs. 1998.
    D10 - Energy Efficient Power Cable Selection (Datadisk)
    Electrical systems
    cables, cost-effective, design, electrical, energy efficiency, installation, performance, power cable
    This program calculates cable size taking account of type of cable, installation method, circuit length, overload protection, ambient temperature and circuit grouping. The economic calculations take account of load growth, discount rate and increases in energy costs. Cable and installation costs can be modified to suit local conditions. D10 Datadisk. 1998.
    Busbar Design Basics
    Energy and renewables, Electrical systems
    busbars, design, electrical
    This webinar provides an introduction to busbar design concepts - choice of material, how to size busbars and how to optimise the lifetime costs, plus a demonstration of the CDA Busbar Design Software.

Functional and Flexible Home Electrical Installations

This series of articles offers a regular update on improvements for home electrical installations, providing an overview of features with a focus on the tangible benefits offered to the homeowner in terms of added comfort, energy efficiency and security.

Dedicated Website

Leonardo ENERGY, the global community for Sustainable Energy Professionals, aims to accelerate the transition to a more sustainable energy economy through education and advocacy.

Conductivity database available for downstream industry decision makers

To ensure that engineers and designers have easy access to the most up to date conductivity performance data, ECI has published a new database available at www.conductivity-app.org.

The neutral, academically endorsed figures support all parts of the value chain, from the suppliers of alloys, through their customers and down to the specifiers in industries such as in automotive, electronics and electricity systems.

The database, which initially contained only copper alloys, has been expanded to cover Electrolytic-Tough-Pitch copper (ETP), the most common type of copper. As a result, decision makers are able to compare directly copper’s performance properties versus those of potential substitute materials. 

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