Is swtich mode power supply (SMPS) safely isolated?

Underwater pool lights traditionally use a mains/12v transformer which offers isolation from the earthing system. Older halogen lights were 12V AC powered which also made sense to install a transformer.

Newer LED lights however sometimes need 12V DC supply. Instead of just adding a rectifier (and hence the output would be unregulated 12V*sqr2) I am thinking of replacing the transformer with a regulated SMPS 12V DC like this one. I am puzzled however regarding the safety of this power supply regarding mains isolation even though I know these also employ a transformer at higher frequencies.

Does anyone have any experience?

Earth the output then you don't have to worry.

Typically they are isolated, but there is significant leakage current at the switching frequency (10's of kHz) due to the much lower impedance of stray capacitances at frequencies in that range compared to mains frequencies.

The leakage currents are not dangerous, but definitely give a tingle to wet hands, so you will want to earth the output anyway.

If you require complete isolation including from mains earth, you need a mains frequency transformer with physically separate bobbins, or use AC to low voltage DC converter with output earthed followed by an isolated low voltage DC-DC converter to break the leakage current path (much less leakage at 12V even at 10's of kHz)

Alternatively look for a SMPS designed for low leakage - using inter-winding screening and separate bobbins on the high frequency transformer will have a big effect, but that costs more and is less efficient.

Another thought: with a standard SMPS you could earth the output via a mains-rated capacitor to siphon off the high frequency leakage current without a galvanic connection...

Thanks for the input MarkT.

The chassis of the SMPS is connected to system earth anyway. So any leakage current higher than 100mA will trigger and trip the local RCD protection. If that fails then the central house 300mA RCD will trip.

What I am worried about is the possibility of mains voltage somehow finding its way to the DC output of the power supply and eventually in the pool water giving people an electric shower!

Not too "confident" to also earth the DC output side (ie effectively connecting to the chassis) since I am not sure what effect will this have to the power supply itself.

Your suggestion for mains rated caps across the output and earth sounds interesting. Wonder what would happen if the system earth is temporarily found at a raised potential ie. during a fault elsewhere...

Watcher: The chassis of the SMPS is connected to system earth anyway. So any leakage current higher than 100mA will trigger and trip the local RCD protection. If that fails then the central house 300mA RCD will trip.

What I am worried about is the possibility of mains voltage somehow finding its way to the DC output of the power supply and eventually in the pool water giving people an electric shower!

The SMPS leakage currents I talk about aren't dangerous, but you really don't want them in a wet environment, its diconcerting at best.

Unless everything is isolated from the environment the earthing system is the key safety feature, it should be regularly tested (I'd recommend a local RCD on the pool with a test button). Then everything can be bonded to this earth. So long as the earthing system is intact any fault will trip the RCD or if a hard short probably blow the fuse/trip the breaker too.

[ RCDs normally sense the difference in current through live and neutral, thus see any leakage from live to earth as a discrepancy - choose the most sensitive RCD for the load if you can ]

Hi,

I agree with MarkT's assessment up the point that the leakage in not dangerous. While typically that probably true, when around water I believe things get more dangerous.

If I were putting such lights in my pool I would look for a medical grade power supply. Maybe something like this: https://www.jameco.com/Jameco/Products/ProdDS/2257651.pdf

They don't seem to be too much more expensive and personally the peace of mind is worth a lot more. I would also purchase a supply from a more well known mfg. Keep in mind the danger is really with the failure modes. A medical rated supply is required to have more robust isolation so a failure is very unlikely to cause a safety concern.

You might also need to check your local building codes.

John

If I were putting such lights in my pool I would look for a medical grade power supply. Maybe something like this: https://www.jameco.com/Jameco/Products/ProdDS/2257651.pdf

Interesting approach but…
I havent seen anything in the datasheet about medical applications.
Does it have anything to do with one of the standards it complies with ?

Applications
Industrial automation machinery

Industrial control system

Mechanical and electrical equipment

Electronic instruments, equipments or
apparatus


Household appliance

I will bet your insurance company will require certified equipment installed by a licensed electrician, and that may require electrical permits and inspections.

Paul

I would assume that if anyone, using someone elses pool, got 'tingles' from the electrics, thay would get out of there pronto.

I'm definitely not an expert on this subject but I have seen references to "medical grade" power supplies and with a little help from google I found this:

IEC spec

I believe the key points are the AC leakage and the physical layout of the board and parts, with an eye on failure modes.

Regarding local codes, I believe no two are the same. Here in the US the NEC as a basis with local codes modified by some rules that I've never understood.

Also I've never heard of an insurance company denying a claim because the homeowner did their own work. Now lawyers..... that is a different story. Here in the US we are clearly litigation crazy :(

I am now inclined to raplace the transformer with a higher voltage one, ie 15V instead of 12V and then use a rectifier and a DC-DC back converter.

This way the required mains isolation is maintained by the transformer, but cant avoid transformer losses...

Watcher: I am now inclined to raplace the transformer with a higher voltage one, ie 15V instead of 12V and then use a rectifier and a DC-DC back converter.

If it were only that easy. You must choose a transformer with a split bobbin to insure the windings are separate. A layered constructed transformer could short internally and connect the mains to the output.

Simply google "split bobbin transformer" and you will see numerous examples and offerings. Again, for my pool I would choose a name brand transformer.

I realize this is probably frustrating for you, a seemingly simple task turns complex but I'm sure its worth the extra effort.

John

You must choose a transformer with a split bobbin to insure the windings are separate. A layered constructed transformer could short internally and connect the mains to the output.

Yea..good point there. Interestingly, the existing 12v transformer, installed by the original pool company, is not a split bobbin one!

You need to have approved equipment for this that meets appropriate standards . Whatever was in first ...

hammy: You need to have approved equipment for this that meets appropriate standards . Whatever was in first ...

Anyone knows what exactly these standards are?

It depends where you are.

In the US most local codes include the NEC (National Electrical Code) plus any local special requirements.

I looked at the 2012 NEC and could only find reference to UL 676.

It appeared to me the NEC was counting on a GFI for protection and I could find no mention of the transformer or power supply.

Regulations are Country specific - I’m in the UK

Slightly off-topic but if your house has either 100mA or 300mA RCD protection then it effectively offers no personal protection against electrocution. These currents are far more than required to cause fatality.

jackrae: Slightly off-topic but if your house has either 100mA or 300mA RCD protection then it effectively offers no personal protection against electrocution. These currents are far more than required to cause fatality.

True if these currents were to pass from the body. The 300mA RCD value is calculated based on the touch voltage which corresponds to around 50v if i am not mistaken.

Any use ? The problem will be that any third party inspection is going to look for approved equipment not home made , so he doesn’t have assess it and create personal liability for himself. ( inCourt -“why did you approve this “ A “ it’s marked as suitable and meeting approved standards” Verses.. A” I considered it was safe “ Which is followed by “ I see , what is your experience with x,y,z..are you qualified in designing ABC .”)

Same would apply to yourself , if you kill anyone ... you are responsible for the design and test of whatever you put in, and need to have the correct ( provable ) expertise . There may also be an issue giving advice on forums on such matters , unsure.

https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5544eff8e4b067ba8b4230e6/t/579a17823e00bedf2acb83b2/1469716355553/Electrical-WIRING-SWIMMING-POOLS.pdf

Any use ? The problem will be that any third party inspection is going to look for approved equipment not home made

The curious thing about this topic is I could not find any information that would suggest what that approval might consist of. Suppose the installation used a Medical Grade power supply (or any power supply for that matter) which was UL, CE, etc approved; would that be considered "approved equipment".

The little research I did on this topic (NEC 2012 and UL 676) concentrated on bonding of metal parts and use of GFI / RCD devices.

Also the OP mentioned the original lighting (hopefully "approved") did not even have a split bobbin transformer.