Practical Application of NEC 2017: Page 5 of 5

Callout G: Equipment and System Grounding

In Part V of Article 690, there is a lot of shaded gray text, which the NFPA uses to indicate where the Code has changed. In many of these places, including in 690.43, “Equipment Grounding and Bonding,” the CMP reorganized and clarified existing requirements without making substantial changes. It left other sections, such as 690.45, “Sizing of Equipment Grounding Conductors,” more or less unchanged.

Perhaps the biggest changes are in 690.47, “Grounding Electrode System.” At first glance, the brevity of this section compared to earlier editions is striking. However, this results largely from the fact that the new functional grounded PV system definition eliminates the need to differentiate between various system grounding configurations. On the whole, the revised rules will simplify system design and installation, as well as reduce material costs.

As an example, the 2017 Code cycle removes all requirements related to dc-specific grounding electrode conductors (GECs) for systems that are not solidly grounded. This means that PV system grounding conductors do not have to be continuous and are not sized per 250.166, but rather in accordance with 250.122. Only solidly grounded PV systems, which are increasingly rare, are required to have a dc GEC connected to the grounding electrode system and sized in accordance with 250.166. As described in 690.41(A), the most common PV system grounding configurations are not solidly grounded. This means that the equipment grounding conductor, on the output of the PV system and connected to the associated distribution equipment, provides the connection to ground for ground-fault–protection purposes and bonding. Part VII of Article 250 defines the allowable methods of equipment grounding.

Metal in-ground support structures. One important point of clarification appears in 690.47(A), which requires that both buildings and structures supporting PV arrays have a grounding electrode system. Since Article 100 defines structure as anything that is “built or constructed, excluding equipment,” this extends to PV racks and mounting structures. With this in mind, integrators working on ground-mounted PV systems should take note of a new type of grounding electrode permitted.

A new subsection, 250.52(A)(2), is dedicated to metal in-ground support structures that comprise a metal extension of a building or structure and qualify as grounding electrodes. Many of the foundations used for ground-mounted PV systems—including pilings, ground screws and other metal foundations—can qualify as grounding electrodes provided that the metal is in direct vertical contact with the earth for at least 10 feet. More important, at buildings or structures with multiple metal in-ground supports—as is typically the case with PV ground mounts—installers need to bond only one of these in-ground supports to the grounding electrode system. This last detail is important. Normally, 250.50 requires that all the grounding electrodes at a building or structure be bonded to form a single grounding electrode system. The allowance in 250.52(A)(2) means that installers working on a structure with multiple pilings can use a single bonding jumper to connect one piling to the grounding electrode system.

Additional auxiliary electrodes. NEC 2017 has renumbered the sometimes controversial requirement for additional auxiliary electrodes as 690.47(B) and, significantly, has made it more permissive. The revised version allows— but does not require—installation of electrodes at the location of ground- and roof-mounted arrays, and changes the GEC-sizing requirement. Revised language in 250.66 (which concerns ac grounding electrode sizing) clarifies that the GEC does not need to be sized any larger than the particular maximum for a given type of electrode, provided that the GEC “does not extend on to other types of electrodes that require a larger-size conductor.”

Note that the Code does not require bonding additional auxiliary electrodes to an existing grounding electrode system by means of a bonding jumper. In many cases, however, installing a bonding jumper will provide a superior path for lightning-induced surges as compared to bonding by equipment grounding conductors only.

According to SolarCity’s Fisher, the revised 690.47(B) will reduce system costs and eliminate confusion. He notes: “This section has always been confusing to understand and to comply with. The language that presented real challenges was the directive to locate the auxiliary grounding electrode ‘as close as practicable to the location of roof-mounted PV arrays.’ Frequently this language requires a site-specific discussion with the field inspector prior to installation, especially for complex arrays and buildings. It also presents real challenges to people concerned about the impact of this new grounding electrode system with regard to lightning effects. NEC 2017 clarifies that a grounding electrode system must be in place for a building, but that an existing system that is Code-compliant is satisfactory. The PV system equipment grounding conductors must simply be bonded to this grounding electrode system using traditional methods found in Section 250. This revision helps reduce costs by removing ambiguity around NEC requirements.”

Callout H: Labeling and Marking

While the majority of labeling requirements for PV systems remain unchanged, installers will appreciate the fact that NEC 2017 removed a few, including the 2014 requirements for ground-fault warning labels for both grounded systems [690.5(C)] and ungrounded systems [690.35(F)].

In addition, the CMP simplified the dc PV power-source labeling requirements. To meet 690.53, most PV systems will need a label with only two lines: maximum voltage [per 690.7] and maximum circuit current [per 690.8(A)]. Where charge controllers or dc-to-dc converters are installed, the label must also call out these maximum current values. Installers should place the 690.53 label on dc PV equipment disconnects or dc PV system disconnects in multimode or stand-alone inverter systems. The PV system disconnecting means for interactive systems does not require this label, since this disconnect is on the ac side of the system [see Figure 690.1(b)].

Unfortunately, installers will spend any pennies saved on ground-fault and dc PV power-source labels on new rapid-shutdown labeling: 690.56(C)(1) requires a label identifying the type of rapid shutdown (inside and outside the array boundary or outside only); 690.56(C)(2) requires a roof map for buildings with more than one type of rapid shutdown, as shown in Figure 4; and 690.56(C)(3) requires a label identifying the initiation device. (See “NEC 2017 Updates for PV Systems,SolarPro, May/June 2016, for more information.)

Callout I: Point of Interconnection

The CMP greatly revised the point of interconnection requirements as part of the 2014 revision cycle. The most significant changes are largely intact in NEC 2017, though some of the numbering is revised and the term “power source” replaces “inverter” in many cases. For an in-depth discussion of options for making a Code-compliant interconnection under NEC 2014 or NEC 2017, see Jason Fisher’s recent article “Interactive Inverter Interconnection(SolarPro, January/February 2017).

One notable change in 705.12 bears mentioning, since it will benefit some residential installers: The CMP added a version of the longstanding “120% rule” that applies specifically to center-fed panelboards. A new subsection, 705.12(B)(2)(3)(d), clarifies that installers can make a load-side connection on either end—but not both ends—of a center-fed panelboard, as shown in Figure 5, provided that the sum of 125% of the power-source output current plus the rating of the OCPD protecting the busbar is less than or equal to 120% of the busbar rating.

Practice Makes Perfect

As is the case with each Code cycle, NEC 2017 revisions both reflect the past and look to the future. The CMP seeks to improve on the past by addressing common design and installation mistakes that compromise the safety of fielded PV systems. At the same time, it may also use new Code requirements—such as module-level rapid shutdown—to push manufacturers and industry stakeholders to develop products or features that improve safety. To that end, manufacturers have become increasingly involved in the Code-making process over the last few cycles, in part so that they can implement design changes focused on making installations easier and more affordable while still meeting evolving Code requirements. We recommend that system designers and installers also get involved—and quickly. The deadline for public input for NEC 2020 is September 7, 2017.


Rebekah Hren / Solar Energy International / Winston Salem, NC /

Brian Mehalic / Solar Energy International / Winston Salem, NC /

Article Discussion

Related Articles