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Application of High Power Thyristors

in HVDC and FACTS Systems

Hartmut Huang
, Markus Uder

Siemens AG, Fryerslebenstr. 1, 91056 Erlangen, Germany

Reiner Barthelmess
, Joerg Dorn
Infineon Bipolar GmbH & Co. KG, Max-Planck-Str. 5, 59581 Warstein, Germany


Abstract Both HVDC and FACTS systems use power electronic converters for the power conversion and power
quality control. High power thyristors have been serving as the key component in HVDC and FACTS converters for
several decades now and are still being further developed for higher power rating nowadays. This paper describes the
thyristor technology and its development in application in HVDC and FACTS. The fundamental features and
characteristics of high power thyristors is discussed with particular reference to its application in high voltage and
high current area. Many thyristors connected in series together with specially designed auxiliary mechanical and
electronic systems build so called thyristor valves, which form the HVDC and FACTS converters. An overview of
thyristor valve design is provided. Furthermore, the latest development in the thyristor and thyristor valve technology
and its application in the ultra high voltage DC application (800 kV) is introduced. A summary of technical key
parameters and design features of 6 thyristor valves are provided including the valve design date for the first
UHVDC application.

There is an increasing demand for high efficiency and high
quality of power transmission world wide. In this context the
modern High Voltage DC Transmission (HVDC) and Flexible
AC Transmission Systems (FACTS) gains more importance
and utilization in todays power transmission system. Both
HVDC and FACTS systems use power electronic converters
for the power conversion and power quality control. Therefore
the performance and quality of converter systems depend
much on the key component- high power thyristors. Since its
introduction in the HVDC application late sixties of last
century, thyristor technology has continuously further
developed to higher power rating over last decades (Fig.1).
The first thyristors used had a silicon wafer with a diameter of
33mm. They had a peak blocking voltage of 1600V and
supported a direct current of up to 1000 A. For higher current
ratings, thyristors were connected directly in parallel. Over the
last thirty years, the device ratings were permanently
increased. Today silicon wafers of 6 inch diameter can be
manufactured; the peak blocking voltage per device is 8000V
and a d.c. current of 4500A can be handled without parallel

The increase of thyristors power rating goes hand in hand
with increased demand for larger HVDC power transmission
schemes. Particularly the need to maximize the utilization of
land and space for transmission lines requires higher
transmission voltage, which reduced the transmission losses as
well. During last decades most bulk HVDC transmission
schemes worldwide have been built with 500 kV as rated dc
voltage. Recently years there are several large HVDC
transmission schemes under planning in China, India and
Brazil, which have a transmission distances between 1000 km
and 2000 km. Ultra high dc voltage (UHVDC) in the range
800 kV is the preferred dc voltage level for these applications.
1970 1980 1990 2000 2010

Fig. 1: Development of voltage rating (blue line) in kV and current rating (red
line) in kA of power thyristors

While the first 800 kV HVDC project Yun-Guang has a power
rating of 5000 MW, other 800 kV HVDC projects has a
significant higher dc current. Xiangjiaba-Shanghai Project has
a power rating of 6400 MW (dc current =4 kA) and Jinping
UHVDC Project has the highest bipole rating of 7200 MW
with rated dc current of 4.5 kA. In order to provide an
optimized converter design to cover these high dc current and
voltage application, new thyristors with larger diameters have
been developed.


In 1960 the development of thyristors (also called SCRs =
silicon controlled rectifier) was started; since that time many
development steps followed in order to increase the power
capability of the devices and to improve the reliability.

Power thyristors are manufactured from highly pure
monocrystaline silicon. They are so called NPNP
semiconductors. This means that they consist of four layers
which are doped alternately with P and N (Fig. 2). The outer,
highly doped zones are the emitting zones; the weakly doped,
inner layers are the base zones. The control connection G is
located on the P base; J1-J3 designate the junctions between
individual zones. The off-state voltage in the reverse direction
is blocked at junction J1 between P-emitter and N-base. The
off-state voltage in the forward direction is blocked at junction
J2 between P-base and N-base.

Fig. 2: Schematic cross section illustration of a high power thyristor

Thyristors are fast but not ideal switches. Several of the
imperfections of the thyristor in comparison with the ideal
switch can be recognized in the static V/I-characteristic of the
thyristor. In the presence of off-state voltage, an off-state
current (several mA) flows both in the forward direction and
in the reverse direction.
Also a non-ideal static behaviour of the thyristor is the on-
state voltage during conduction. The entire voltage drop of an
HVDC thyristor is of the order of two to three volts. This
means that for typical currents several kA, considerable power
losses must be dissipated.
Thyristors in press pack housings are ideal for both,
efficient cooling of the device and stacking for series

Fig. 3: Schematic illustration of stresses on press pack power thyristor

Next to the static non-ideal behaviour, thyristors have also
dynamic restrictions:
Limited di/dt-capability after turning on, as well as the
reverse recovery behaviour including turn-off time has to be
considered in the design of the powers stack.

Fig. 4: High power thyristors made of 4, 5 and 6 silicon wafer

Fig. 5: Photgraph of a 6 inch thyristor

There is a trend towards higher transmission current
capability of long-distance HVDC systems. With this trend,
the requirements for higher current capabilities arise. On the
other hand, the blocking voltage of about 8kV per thyristor
was derived as an optimum of overall operational losses.
As a consequence, a 6 inch thyristor with a blocking
voltage of 8 kV (repetitive blocking voltage) was developed.
This thyristor is capable to be utilized for dc transmission with
currents up to 4500 A. Due to the joining of the silicon wafer
with a molybdenum carrier disc, the required surge current
capability could be reached with an excellent high safety
margin. These immense current capabilities make the thyristor
also interesting for other applications with high current
requirements and high blocking voltage needs.


Since the first commercial use of high voltage thyristor
valves in HVDC-transmission systems in the early seventies,
there has been a constant enhancement of performance
concerning the thyristors blocking as well as current carrying

That improvement of the thyristor characteristics results in
a drastic decrease of components in a thyristor valve: to
transmit the same amount of power as in the beginning of the
thyristor-era in HVDC-technique, only about 5% of the
thyristors (and snubber circuits) are necessary today.

Thus the reliability of the valves was considerably
increased and the way was pathed to the advantageous design
of modern thyristor valves resulting in a clear structured and
compact valve setup comprising easy assembly, easy
accessibility and easy maintainability

Despite the high blocking capability of modern thyristors
still a series connection of thyristors is necessary to compose a
valve with the required high voltage withstand capability.

The number of thyristors that have to be connected in series
varies depending on the application- between e.g. 10
thyristors per valve rated 8kV in a typical SVC application
and up to 120 thyristors in a typical HVDC valve in an 800kV

A. Electrical valve components

Due to the fact that a thyristor is not an ideal switch and to
properly perform their function in the series connection under
all steady state and transient conditions, the thyristors need to
be complemented by auxiliary components: snubber
capacitors, snubber resistors, non linear reactors, d.c. grading
resistors, and grading capacitors.

thyristor level
grading capacitor

Figure 6: Main circuit components and their circuit arrangement in HVDC
thyristor valves; valve used as a dc switch
thyristor level

Figure 7: Main circuit components and their circuit arrangement in SVC
thyristor valves; valve used as an ac switch

1) Snubber capacitors C

Snubber capacitors are required in parallel to each thyristor
to handle the voltage overshoot during turn off. In a modern
thyristor valve, they are single, SF6 filled units rated for the
full blocking capability of the thyristor.
2) Snubber resistors RS
To damp oscillations caused by the combination of snubber
capacitor and circuit inductance, a resistor is connected in
series to the capacitor. The resistor is subjected to the full
snubber capacitor current. Therefore, it has to be designed for
high losses.
To dissipate these losses the deionized water available in
the valve is used due to its good heat removal capability. The
resistive material is directly placed into the water (wire-in-
water technology). A resistor of this type can dissipate from
4.5 kW to 7 kW at moderate flow rate.
3) DC grading resistors RDC
When the valve is blocked and is subjected to d.c. voltage,
the voltage distribution along the series connection is
determined by the leakage current of the thyristors which is
subject to manufacturing tolerances. With an appropriate
valve cooling design (see below) part of the d.c. grading is
achieved by the water circuit. In addition, a self cooled
resistor of about 0.5M is connected in parallel to each

Due to huge dimensions of high voltages resp. ultra high
voltage HVDC thyristor valves additional components are
necessary to limit the impact of the large -converter inherent-
stray capacitances on the thyristors.
4) Valve reactors LVD
To limit the di/dt stress of the thyristors at turn on and the
dv/dt during transients in the off state, reactors are connected
in series with the thyristor string which have to meet
conflicting requirements: a high inductance at the beginning
of current flow but a low inductance as soon as the thyristor is
turned on safely, so as not increase the commutating reactance.
The valve reactors are therefore designed with a saturating
iron core.
Without further provisions, the valve reactor would form
an oscillating circuit of low damping with the stray
capacitances of the converter. This can result in a high
oscillating discharge current that extinguishes the turn on
current in the thyristor. The reactor is therefore provided with
a damping resistor that is coupled via a secondary winding
and thus is not effective when the reactor core has saturated.
5) Grading capacitors CK
The various components in the valve, being at different
electrical potentials and at different distances with respect to
ground and to other components, represent a complex network
of stray capacitances. For steep voltage transients, an uneven
voltage distribution between thyristor levels would result. To
control this unbalance, grading capacitors of a few nF are
connected in shunt to the series connection of thyristor levels
and valve reactors. They are not required (and only little
stressed) at low frequency phenomena but linearize the
voltage distribution for high frequency (steep) wave shapes.
They are filled with SF6 gas to achieve a high voltage
withstand without the use of oil as a dielectric.

B. Thyristor Gating and monitoring
Because of the high voltage environment of the thyristors,
it is absolutely necessary to electrically separate the triggering
and monitoring unit at ground potential (referred to as valve
base electronics VBE) from the thyristor at high voltage
potential. Therefore, the trigger command for the thyristor is
transmitted as a light pulse via a fibre optic cable irrespectible
of the thyristor type used: electrically triggered thyristors
(ETT) or direct light triggered thyristors (LTT).

Figure 8: gating and monitoring of light triggered thyristors (LTT) and
electrical triggered thyristors (ETT).

Associated to each thyristor a printed circuit board
monitors the state of the thyristor and generates check back
signals also transmitted via fibre optical cables to the VBE.
The check back signals of all thyristor levels are processed
in the VBE and communicated to the converter control unit.
The main task of that valve monitoring system is to check the
availability of the thyristor valve resp. the converter.
To enhance the reliability of the thyristor valves redundant
thyristor levels are incorporated in the series string of levels.
Due to the fact that even a defective press pack thyristor is
able to handle the full load current, the valve could remain in
operation without restriction as long as the number of
defective levels in one valve does not exceed the number of
redundant levels.

C. Valve cooling
In HVDC thyristor valves, more than 95% of the heat
losses are produced in the thyristors, snubber resistors, and
valve reactors, requiring forced cooling. Due to its good
thermal capability water is used as cooling medium in
thyristor valves. To serve as an effective insulating medium,
and to limit electrolytic currents, the conductivity of the water
is maintained at or below about 0.2S/cm at maximum water
inlet temperature. Also, the cross-section of all piping is kept
as small as possible to provide for a high effective resistance.
By choosing a proper geometry of the physical layout (fig.
11) and by placing electrodes at strategic locations, the water
pipes connecting to the thyristor heat sinks can be made to
have the same electrical potential throughout avoiding
electrolytic currents between the water cooled components of
a thyristor stack.
water in
water out
grading electrode

Figure 9: piping configuration for the cooling circuit of a thyristor stack.

On the other hand, due to the conductivity of the water, the
piping of the cooling circuit in a thyristor valve functions as a
resistive network. By appropriate layout of the pipe work such
as the parallel circuit in fig.9 this effect is used to advantage to
provide resistive voltage grading of the thyristor levels and
valve sections, assuming part of the duty of the d.c. grading

D. Valve mechanical design
To easily adapt the thyristor valves to the HVDC or
FACTS application and to standardize the valve design a
strictly modular design is used to compose a customized
thyristor valve resulting in a cost optimized design.

The thyristor modules (Figs. 10, 11) are self-supporting
units with a frame of aluminium profiles, which mechanically
supports all components within the modules.

In HVDC thyristor modules the frame also serves as a
corona shield; its electrical potential is that of the centre cross
beam so that the module is divided into two symmetrical areas.
Each area accommodates a complete valve section, consisting
of thyristor stack, snubber circuits, valve reactors, monitoring
boards, grading capacitor, water circuit and the routing of the
optical fibres.

Figure 10: modular unit used in SVC applications

Figure 11: modular unit used in HVDC applications

The arrangement of the thyristors and heat sinks in the
stack and their associated equipment is a straightforward
image of the electric circuit diagram. A uniform voltage
grading and ease of testing are advantages of this design.

The mechanical arrangement of a valve depends on the
application and the number of series connected thyristor levels.
A typical valve design used in a Static VAR Compensator
consists of three modular units -each one associated to a phase
in a three-phase system- arranged on top of each other thus
forming a three-phase ac switch.
The tower stands on the valve hall floor. The fibre optical
cables and the cooling water tubes are supplied from the
bottom side of the tower

Figure12: 3phase SVC thyristor valve tower
The mechanical design of an HVDC converter is based on
an arrangement of multiple valve towers for one twelve pulse
group. In a typical 500kV converter each valve twin-tower
comprises four valves, each valve is made up of three thyristor
modules. These twelve modules are arranged in six tiers
within the suspended twin structure of the tower. The high
voltage end is at the bottom and includes separate corona
shields (fig. 14 ).

quadruple valve
twelve pulse group

Figure 13: single line diagram of one 500kV HVDC pole

Figure 14: 500kV HVDC pole consisting of 3 twin towers each
containing one quadruple valve

The modules are suspended from the valve hall roof. This
design is very flexible and reduces seismic forces acting on
the modules.
Water circuit connections and optical fiber routing to the
valve tower is done at its top (ground potential).

A. Technology of 6 Thyristors

In power transmission and distribution applications, such
as HVDC systems of FACTS, highest reliability of the
thyristors is required. On the other hand economic
considerations ask for high power thyristors with high
continuous current, surge current capability and optimized
blocking voltage capability. The maximum diameter of the
silicon wafer of an HVDC thyristor is currently six inch. The
thickness of a wafer with a blocking capability of 8000 Volts
is about 1.5 millimetre.

Stable manufacturing processes and outstanding
technologies are the key for an economic production of high
power thyristors. Different measures, processes and
technologies have been introduced in these mature power
semiconductors achieving an unrivalled performance and

High purity diffusion processes, i.e. a low amount of
undesired atoms within the silicon wafer are the basis for the
production of high power thyristors, resulting in sufficient
high charge carrier lifetimes and homogeneous charge carrier
distributions on the wafer.
The optimization of the trade-off between on-state voltage
on the one hand and reverse recovery charge and turn-off time
on the other hand is achieved by electron irradiation,
dependent on the application specific requirements.

In many applications a high-efficient thermal coupling of a
thermal capacity to the silicon wafer is desired in order to
achieve a high surge current capability on the one hand and
reasonable and manageable clamping forces for the thyristor
on the other hand. A technology which is called low-
temperature sintering allows joining of a molybdenum carrier
disc to the silicon wafer even in case of large diameters like
six inch wafers. The sintering process is performed at a
process temperature of about 220C. This results in a good
thermal coupling between the molybdenum disc and the whole
diameter of the silicon wafer. Thus also the edge of the
thyristor has an effective cooling, which is important for high
voltage devices utilized with high junction temperatures and
high blocking requirements. Therefore an excellent high
temperature high voltage blocking stability and high surge
current capability with reasonable clamping forces are
achieved by applying this technique.

A stable passivation of the bevelled edge region of the
silicon device is necessary to realise a long-term stability for
device life time requirements up to forty years. Semi-
insulating amorphous hydrogenated carbon layers are the key
to achieve high reliable blocking stability of the device.
Due to the high density of states (DOS) of the semi-
insulating electroactive passivation layer, surface charges are
compensated effectivly by induction of mirror charges at the
interface of the semi-insulating layer to the reverse biased
silicon substrate. With an appropriate adjustment of the DOS-
distribution the induced charges at the interface of passivation
layer to the silicon effectively reduces the electrical field
strength at the surface of the blocking junction. On the other
hand this electroactive passivation layer shields the device
against surface charges and guarantees long-term stability of
the potential distribution at the semiconductors surface and
thus avoids a long-term drift of blocking characteristics of the

The experience from the field applications shows, that the
failure rate of thyristors in HVDC and FACTS converters is
below 10 fit (1 fit = 1 failure per 10
hours). This shows that
devices manufactured by the above mentioned technology
have excelent long term stability and high reliability of
electrical and thermal properties.

B. Application of 6 Thyristors in UHVDC Project

The first application of 6 thyristors is the 6400 MW
UHVDC transmission scheme connecting hydropower station
Xianjiaba and the metropolitan area of Shanghai. Due to the
extra high voltage and power rating the converter is arranged
with two valve groups in series for each pole. Each valve
group is consisting of 6 double valve MVUs side by side
forming a 12-pulse group for the 1600 MW valve group and
3200 MW per pole.

The converter valve at sending station Fulong has
following design parameters:

Converter Station Fulong
Thyristor type 6 ETT
No. of thyristors per valve 60
No. of redundant thyristors 2
No. of thyristors per valve section 15
No. of reactors per valve 8
No. of reactors per valve section 2
No. of valve sections per valve 4
Tower arrangement single
MVU arrangement double valves
Insulation levels across single valve
(switching impulse/lightning impulse)
456/456 kV
Insulation level across MVU structure
(switching impulse/lightning impulse)
1600/1800 kV

Figure 15 : schematic diagram of an 800kV UHVDC pole made up of two
series connected 400kV twelve pulse bridges

The converter will be composed using 200kV twin valve
towers. Each valve will be equipped with 60 series connected
6 thyristors and 8 valve reactor units physically arranged in
two modular units per valve.
Thus one twin valve tower is made up of 4 modular units
suspended from the valve hall ceiling.

Figure 16: drawing of a twin valve tower related to a 600kV valve base

Figure 17 : drawing of a thyristor modular unit designed to contain 6-
thyristors and the associated equipment

n = 2 n = 15
n = 1
valve section
snubber circuit
valve reactor
grading capacitor
Figure 18: Schematic diagram of a thyristor modular unit consisting of two
identical valve sections with 15 thyristor levels and 2 valve reactor units each.

One thyristor level consists of a 6/8kV press pack
thyristor, a single snubber resistor and capacitor as well as the
dc grading resistors and the thyristor monitoring boards. The
latter comprises the electronic logic for individual thyristor
monitoring as well as for the conversion of optical control
signals received via fiber optics from the valve base
electronics (VBE).


Modern power electronics gain increased importance for
the power transmission and distribution applications.
Particularly the power thyristors play a key role in the modern
HVDC and FACTS systems. During last decades the
technology of thyristors has been contentiously developing
both in performance and rating. The design of converter
valves shall fully utilize the capability of thyristors on one
side and meet various challenging requirements of
transmission systems on other side. Long time design and
manufacturing experience ensure the high quality of these
important products. Increased power rating, especially in
connection with ultra high transmission voltage of 800 kV,
requires new type of thyristors with larger diameter. Therefore
new thyristors based on 6 Si-wafer have been successfully
developed. Thyristor valves using this new type 6 thyristor
will be used for the 6400 MW UHDVC Project XiangJiaBa
Shanghai in China.