current transformer

The Current Transformer

The Current TransformerC.T. ), is a type of “instrument transformer” that is designed to produce an alternating current in its secondary winding which is proportional to the current being measured in its primary.

Current transformers reduce high voltage currents to a much lower value and provide a convenient way of safely monitoring the actual electrical current flowing in an AC transmission line using a standard ammeter. The principal of operation of a basic current transformer is slightly different from that of an ordinary voltage transformer.

typical current transformer

Typical Current Transformer

Unlike the voltage or power transformer looked at previously, the current transformer consists of only one or very few turns as its primary winding. This primary winding can be of either a single flat turn, a coil of heavy duty wire wrapped around the core or just a conductor or bus bar placed through a central hole as shown.

Due to this type of arrangement, the current transformer is often referred too as a “series transformer” as the primary winding, which never has more than a very few turns, is in series with the current carrying conductor supplying a load.

The secondary winding however, may have a large number of coil turns wound on a laminated core of low-loss magnetic material. This core has a large cross-sectional area so that the magnetic flux density created is low using much smaller cross-sectional area wire, depending upon how much the current must be stepped down as it tries to output a constant current, independent of the connected load.

The secondary winding will supply a current into either a short circuit, in the form of an ammeter, or into a resistive load until the voltage induced in the secondary is big enough to saturate the core or cause failure from excessive voltage breakdown.

Unlike a voltage transformer, the primary current of a current transformer is not dependent of the secondary load current but instead is controlled by an external load. The secondary current is usually rated at a standard 1 Ampere or 5 Amperes for larger primary current ratings.

There are three basic types of current transformers: wound, toroidal and bar.

  • Wound Current Transformer – The transformers primary winding is physically connected in series with the conductor that carries the measured current flowing in the circuit. The magnitude of the secondary current is dependent on the turns ratio of the transformer.
  • Toroidal Current Transformer – These do not contain a primary winding. Instead, the line that carries the current flowing in the network is threaded through a window or hole in the toroidal transformer. Some current transformers have a “split core” which allows it to be opened, installed, and closed, without disconnecting the circuit to which they are attached.
  • Bar-type Current Transformer – This type of current transformer uses the actual cable or bus-bar of the main circuit as the primary winding, which is equivalent to a single turn. They are fully insulated from the high operating voltage of the system and are usually bolted to the current carrying device.

Current transformers can reduce or “step-down” current levels from thousands of amperes down to a standard output of a known ratio to either 5 Amps or 1 Amp for normal operation. Thus, small and accurate instruments and control devices can be used with CT’s because they are insulated away from any high-voltage power lines. There are a variety of metering applications and uses for current transformers such as with Wattmeter’s, power factor meters, watt-hour meters, protective relays, or as trip coils in magnetic circuit breakers, or MCB’s.

Current Transformer

current transformer


Generally current transformers and ammeters are used together as a matched pair in which the design of the current transformer is such as to provide a maximum secondary current corresponding to a full-scale deflection on the ammeter. In most current transformers an approximate inverse turns ratio exists between the two currents in the primary and secondary windings. This is why calibration of the CT is generally for a specific type of ammeter.

Most current transformers have a the standard secondary rating of 5 amps with the primary and secondary currents being expressed as a ratio such as 100/5. This means that the primary current is 100 times greater than the secondary current so when 100 amps is flowing in the primary conductor it will result in 5 amps flowing in the secondary winding, or one of 500/5 will produce 5 amps in the secondary for 500 amps in the primary conductor, etc.

By increasing the number of secondary windings, N2, the secondary current can be made much smaller than the current in the primary circuit being measured because as N2 increases, I2 goes down by a proportional amount. In other words, the number of turns and the current in the primary and secondary windings are related by an inverse proportion.

A current transformer, like any other transformer, must satisfy the amp-turn equation and we know from our tutorial on double wound voltage transformers that this turns ratio is equal to:

transformer turns ratio

from which we get:

current transformer turns ratio


The current ratio will sets the turns ratio and as the primary usually consists of one or two turns whilst the secondary can have several hundred turns, the ratio between the primary and secondary can be quite large. For example, assume that the current rating of the primary winding is 100A. The secondary winding has the standard rating of 5A. Then the ratio between the primary and the secondary currents is 100A-to-5A, or 20:1. In other words, the primary current is 20 times greater than the secondary current.

It should be noted however, that a current transformer rated as 100/5 is not the same as one rated as 20/1 or subdivisions of 100/5. This is because the ratio of 100/5 expresses the “input/output current rating” and not the actual ratio of the primary to the secondary currents. Also note that the number of turns and the current in the primary and secondary windings are related by an inverse proportion.

But relatively large changes in a current transformers turns ratio can be achieved by modifying the primary turns through the CT’s window where one primary turn is equal to one pass and more than one pass through the window results in the electrical ratio being modified.

So for example, a current transformer with a relationship of say, 300/5A can be converted to another of 150/5A or even 100/5A by passing the main primary conductor through its interior window two or three times as shown. This allows a higher value current transformer to provide the maximum output current for the ammeter when used on smaller primary current lines.

Current Transformer Primary Turns Ratio

current transformer primary turns ratio

Current Transformer Example No1

A bar-type current transformer which has 1 turn on its primary and 160 turns on its secondary is to be used with a standard range of ammeters that have an internal resistance of 0.2Ω’s. The ammeter is required to give a full scale deflection when the primary current is 800 Amps. Calculate the maximum secondary current and secondary voltage across the ammeter.

Secondary Current:

secondary current

Voltage across Ammeter:

voltage across ammeter


We can see above that since the secondary of the current transformer is connected across the ammeter, which has a very small resistance, the voltage drop across the secondary winding is only 1.0 volts at full primary current. If the ammeter was removed, the secondary winding becomes open-circuited and the transformer acts as a step-up transformer due to the very large increase in magnetising flux in the secondary core as there is no opposing current in the secondary winding to prevent this.

The results is a very high voltage induced in the secondary winding equal to the ratio of:  Vp(Ns/Np) being developed across the secondary winding. So for example, assume our current transformer from above is used on a 480 volt three-phase power line. Therefore:

current transformer secondary voltage


For this reason a current transformer should never be left open-circuited or operated with no-load attached when the main primary current is flowing through it just as a voltage transformer should never operate into a short circuit. If the ammeter (or load) is to be removed, a short-circuit should be placed across the secondary terminals first to eliminate the risk of shock.

This high voltage is because when the secondary is open-circuited the iron core of the autotransformer operates at a high degree of saturation and with nothing to stop it, it produces an abnormally large secondary voltage, and in our simple example above, this was calculated at 76.8kV!. This high secondary voltage could damage the insulation or cause electric shock if the CT’s terminals are accidentally touched.

Handheld Current Transformers

clamp type current transformer

There are many specialized types of current transformers now available. A popular and portable type which can be used to measure circuit loading are called “clamp meters” as shown.

Clamp meters open and close around a current carrying conductor and measure its current by determining the magnetic field around it, providing a quick measurement reading usually on a digital display without disconnecting or opening the circuit.

As well as the handheld clamp type CT, split core current transformers are available which has one end removable so that the load conductor or bus bar does not have to be disconnected to install it. These are available for measuring currents from 100 up to 5000 amps, with square window sizes from 1″ to over 12″ (25-to-300mm).

Then to summarise, the Current Transformer, (CT) is a type of instrument transformer used to convert a primary current into a secondary current through a magnetic medium. Its secondary winding then provides a much reduced current which can be used for detecting overcurrent, undercurrent, peak current, or average current conditions.

A current transformers primary coil is always connected in series with the main conductor giving rise to it also being referred to as a series transformer. The nominal secondary current is rated at 1A or 5A for ease of measurement. Construction can be one single primary turn as in Toroidal, Doughnut, or Bar types, or a few wound primary turns, usually for low current ratios.

Current transformers are intended to be used as proportional current devices. Therefore a current transformers secondary winding should never be operated into an open circuit, just as a voltage transformer should never be operated into a short circuit.

Very high voltages will result from open circuiting the secondary circuit of an energized CT so their terminals must be short-circuited if the ammeter is to be removed or when a CT is not in use before powering up the system.

In the next tutorial about Transformers we will look at what happens when we connect together three individual transformers in a star or delta configuration to produce a larger power transformer called a Three Phase Transformer used to supply 3-phase supplies.


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  • T

    Yes, the description is very extensive. But I have a problem that I can’t solve. I used the ammeter for 3 phases 16 Amps. scale to 200 Amps. the current transformer capacity 100/5, volt 0.66 KV connecting with ammeter very correct as drawing described but on the ammeter not showing anything. Could you please advise may the CT is wrong selected or not.
    Thanks in advance
    Best Regards

    • Wayne Storr

      As explained in the tutorial, the ratio of 100/5 means that when 100 amps is flowing through the primary conductor, the secondary coil will produce the required 5 amperes for full scale deflection on the ammeter. If you are using this current transformer on a 16 amp supply, the secondary current will only be less than 1 ampere, then you need an ammeter with a full scale deflection of 1 amp and not one of 200 amps.

  • E
    Eng'r H A Bello

    Want to know more about current transformer

  • S

    “The secondary current is usually rated at a standard 1 Ampere or 5 Amperes for larger primary current ratings”

    Not sure about this, I believe 5A secondary ratings are more of a legacy thing and 1A are suitable for even the highest primary current ratings??

  • i

    Good notes on ct

  • R
    Rahul s

    I like this page but just spelling mistakes ”principles” not a principal

    • Wayne Storr

      In British English grammar, the adjective “Principal” means the main, primary or central role. The noun “Principle” means the basis of, concept of, idea. Then the sentence “The principal of operation of a basic current transformer is”, is correct and not a spelling mistake.

  • m


  • P

    Brilliant comment Rashed! At last!

    I have seen abovementioned formula for CT secondary voltage calculation in several places in internet which of course is completely wrong. Your explanation is absolutely correct.

  • R

    Thank you for the amazing article !
    But I have a question please … and I always had it but didn’t find an answer yet 🙂
    You mentioned that “A current should never be left open-circuited or operated with no-load attached when the main primary current is flowing through it” and after calculations we found out that a very high voltage could be produced due to the high step-up factor of this transformer, and the insulator might get damaged and so on and so forth.
    Okay, but the question is whether this calculation is correct. because normally when we calculate the secondary voltage, we multiply the primary voltage by the transformer ratio.
    You assumed that we have 480 Volts across the primary winding, and you multiplied that by 160 to get 76.8 KV .. clear .. but I believe this is not correct, because the 480V are not applied across the primary windings, but rather between the power line and the neutral (in case of 1-ph transformers) and between 2 phases (in case of 3-ph transformers).
    If we assume that the primary winding is connected in series so the primary current flows through it, the voltage drop across it will be only a few volts if not millivolts, NOT 480 Volts ! Those 480 volts should be dropped across the load !
    Is there anything wrong about my understanding ?
    And Thank you very much 🙂

    • Wayne Storr

      Current transformers ARE NOT voltage transformers, they work differently. 480 volts is the generator/transformer output to ground which supplies lines, cables and load.

      • R

        Thank you for your reply !

        But I still don’t understand … how come this is not a voltage transformer and you’re using voltage transformer law to calculate the secondary voltage?

        Furthermore, and no matter if this is a voltage transformer or not, is 480V applied on the primary winding ?
        * If yes, then has the load (which is in series with primary winding) also 480V across it ? should we ignore Kirchhoff 2 Law ?
        * And if not, then the calculation is incorrect?

        I used Clamp Ammeter many times, and I can really imagine how a basic circuit would look like. But I’m still unable to get your point.

        Thank you very much, and I’d really appreciate any clarification you would like to add.

  • X

    wow! Thank you for feeding me with this information, i will use it foe the best of my career.

  • A

    haha, we produce current transformer, welcome to enquiry.

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