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Capacitor Bank Discharging

Capacitor Bank Discharging

Introduction
The fundamental composition of a capacitor creates its ability to store energy. Lineworkers have grown accustomed to this ability and have learned to take precautions when working on capacitor banks after they have been de-energized. OSHA 1910.269 (w) states the following: Before employees work on capacitors, the capacitors shall be disconnected from energized sources and, after a wait of at least 5 minutes from the time of disconnection, the capacitors shall be short circuited. Before the units are handled, each unit in seriesparallel banks shall be short circuited between all terminals and the capacitor case or its rack. If the cases of the capacitors are on ungrounded racks, the racks shall be bonded to the ground. NESC rule 441-1 also requires the de-energized capacitors to be short circuited and grounded prior to any work being performed. The 5 minute waiting period has been an industry practice for many years. Occasionally students or lineworkers will question why wait five minutes, and why was that time period selected? This paper is intended to answer those questions.

Capacitor Unit Anatomy


A fundamental understanding of the anatomy of a capacitor unit is helpful in comprehending capacitor discharging. The fundamental elements of a capacitor are two metallic plates separated by an insulating medium. When voltage is applied to the capacitor a quantity of electrical energy is stored (figure 1). The amount of energy stored or capacitance increases as the area of the plates increase.

Voltage Source Plates Dielectric

Figure 1 Fundamental capacitor

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Capacitor Bank Discharging

A capacitor unit is made up with a number of individual capacitors that are commonly referred to as packs which are connected together in a series / parallel connection as shown in figure 2. Increasing the number of packs increases the capacitance rating of the unit. The packs are typically composed of aluminum foil as the conductive plates and plastic film as the insulating medium. The packs are housed in the typical stainless steel container that we are familiar with (figure 3).

Pack

Figure 2 Capacitor packs

Capacitor Unit

Bushings

Capacitor Element

Insulation to Container

Stainless Steel Container Layers of Plastic Film Aluminum Foil

Figure 3 Capacitor pack

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Capacitor Bank Discharging

Fusing
Some capacitors are manufactured with internal fusing where each pack has an individual fuse which allows only the faulted pack to be disconnected (figure 4). Some capacitors are designed with no internal fuses but have an individual fuse mounted externally for each unit (figure 5). The choice of whether to use internally-fused or externally-fused capacitors is a company preference which considers the size of the bank, the voltage level, and operational experience.
S

S S S S S S S S S S S S S S S S S S S S S S S S S S S S

Figure 4 Internally-fused capacitor unit diagram

Figure 5 Externally-fused capacitor unit diagram

Discharge Resistors
Both types of capacitor units have discharge resistors which are designed to discharge or bleed off the capacitance charge when the units are deenergized. The externally-fused capacitor units have one discharge resistor (figure 6) while the internally-fused units have several depending upon the number of packs (figure 7). The resistors create heat in a similar manner to a heating element in a portable heater, thereby using up the stored capacitor charge.

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Capacitor Bank Discharging

S
NESC rule 443-1states: The internal resistors shall not be depended on to discharge capacitors.

Discharge Resistor

S S S S S S S S S S S S S S
Discharge Resistors

S S S S S S S S S S S S S S

Figure 6 Externally-fused capacitor

Figure 7 Internally-fused capacitor

Discharge resistor

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Capacitor Bank Discharging

The discharge resistors are of a high ohmic value ( in the meg. ohms range) and are designed to reduce the terminal voltage of the capacitor unit after it has been de-energized to 50 volts or less in five minutes for capacitor units rated higher than 600 volts. The long standing industry practice of waiting five minutes before shorting and grounding is based upon allowing the discharge resistors time to dissipate the stored charge and avoid any arcing when the shorting and grounding is performed.

Conclusion
As indicated in the NESC regulations the discharge resistors should never be relied on to discharge the capacitor units. Capacitor banks should always be short circuited and grounded after waiting the five minutes for the discharge resistors to dissipate the capacitance charge before any work is performed on them.

AED 8-20-2008.
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