Ampacity

The ampacity of a conductor, that is, the amount of current it can carry, is related to its electrical resistance: a lower-resistance conductor can carry a larger value of current. The ampacity of a conductor depends on its ability to dissipate heat without damage to the conductor or its insulation. This is a function of the insulation temperature rating, the electrical resistance of the conductor material, the ambient temperature, and the ability of the insulated conductor to dissipate heat to the surrounds.

The resistance, in turn, is determined by the material the conductor is made from (as described above) and the conductor’s size. For a given material, conductors with a larger cross-sectional area have less resistance than conductors with a smaller cross-sectional area. For bare conductors, the ultimate limit is the point at which power lost to resistance causes the conductor to melt. Aside from fuses, most conductors in the real world are operated far below this limit, however. For example, household wiring is usually insulated with PVC insulation that is only rated to operate to about 60 °C, therefore, the current in such wires must be limited so that it never heats the copper conductor above 60 °C, causing a risk of fire. Other, more expensive insulation such as Teflon or fiberglass may allow operation at much higher temperatures.

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