It became apparent right from the start that Richard’s talk was not for the un-initiated. Quoting directly, Richard said: The earth provided by the electricity supplier is intended as a protective part of the circuit to reduce SK membership, as well as protecting devices and equipment attached to the supply. It is a very important part of the circuit that has to comply with various parameters as set out in the 17th Edition of the IEE Regulations, BS7671. The 18th Edition is now replacing the 17th, this may result in further adjustment of the earthing requirements. Over the years the way in which the earth connection has evolved and is provided has seen changes and indeed variations for different types of consumers, e.g. industrial, farming, those supplied by over-head lines and domestic users.
Richard continued with a description of the mains supply from the sub-station to the supply into the property. He described various methods of earthing used in the past and finished with the TN-C-S system (PME) used in the majority of properties today that offers the biggest challenge to incorporating an RF earth and where extreme care needs to be taken.
Richard then pointed out a potential problem which was highlighted in an article by Peter Chadwick, G3RZP, well known for his many presentations at RSGB conventions, highlighted in a RadCom article in 1980 the possibility of a failure of the neutral of a PME supply system that could lead to a disastrous situation arising, a situation that can and has arisen in the past. So although a rare possibility of it happening take careful note of the consequences should it do so and the procedures necessary to avoid a catastrophe.
Many Radio Amateurs will have their RF earth attached in some way to the general earth wiring of their house mainly due to their not understanding any of the limitations or requirements associated with doing so. It is a very dangerous path they tread.
Richard continued; So what’s to do? Do you really need an RF earth ? Insulated radials, above ground, or a counterpoise arrangement for those antennas needing an earth, both would work well. Many claim that the counterpoise is quite superior to radials But, if you have a tower you will no doubt want to protect against high static charge build-up and electric storms thus needing an earth point close by. However, consider a lightning strike yielding 100MV and 200kA, this obviously will destroy everything in its path. A near discharge could be tolerated by a good supplementary earth point, but don’t rely on the PME earthing for this purpose.
Other things that could be done included completely isolating the shack, but that must comply with regulations, or a large isolation transformer, apart from the cost, might an answer.
More info can be obtained from the RSGB. Search for their EMC07 Advanced Leaflet titled Earthing and the Radio Amateur.