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The Design and Analysis of a 5-Level Cascaded

Voltage Source Inverter with Low THD
Ilhami Colak*, Member IEEE, Ersan Kabalci**, Ramazan Bayindir, Member IEEE and Seref Sagiroglu, Member IEEE
Gazi Electrical Machines and Energy Control (GEMEC) Group
* Department of Electrical Education, Faculty of Technical Education, Gazi University, Besevler, Ankara 06500, Turkey
** Department of Technical Programs, Vocational Collage of Haci Bektas, Nevsehir University, Hacibektas, Nevsehir-Turkey,,,
Abstract-Multilevel inverters have been important devices
developed in recent years, owing to their capability to increase the
voltage and power delivered to the load. Researches done based
on basic inverter topologies show that, multilevel inverters have
many advantages such as low power dissipation on power
switches, low harmonic and low electromagnetic interference
(EMI) outputs. A modified Sinusoidal Pulse Width Modulation
(SPWM) modulator that reduces output harmonics is presented in
this paper. The proposed modulation technique can be easily
applied to any multilevel inverter topology carrying out the
necessary calculations. The most common multilevel inverter
topologies have been studied to define the best topology for
SPWM modulation strategy. It is seen that cascaded H-bridges
are the most convenient solution. The cascaded H-bridge cells
have been constituted by IGBT semiconductors, and switched by
the proposed 24-channel SPWM modulator to obtain 5-level
output at the back-end of the 3-phase voltage source inverter
(VSI). The designed H-bridge cells have a strong switching
bandwidth up to 40 KHz, owing to its robustly designed
modulator block. The proposed VSI in this paper also has a Total
Harmonic Distortion ratio of output current (THDi) around at
0.1% without requiring any filtering circuit. The harmonic
analysis of proposed design has been executed under several
working conditions such as various switching frequencies and
modulation indexes. The detailed comparisons have been
performed to determine the best working conditions of VSI and
presented in this paper.



have a wide popularity in motor drive applications. However, it

would be a limitation of complexity and number of clamping
diodes for the diode clamped inverters, when the level exceeds
the three [6]-[9].
Table I summarizes the THD ratio of output voltage, the
required switching elements, clamping diodes, number of DC
bus capacitor. Required total material for a 5-level inverter is
given as an example for three main multilevel topologies. It is
also seen the control disadvantages of diode clamped topology
due to its requirements from the list. In addition to this, diode
clamped inverters THD ratio is higher than other topologies.
The flying capacitor inverters are based on balancing
capacitors on phase buses. This property will cause to increase
number of required capacitor in high level inverter structures
and complexity of considering DC-link balancing. Among the
three types of multilevel inverters, the cascade inverter has the
least components for a given number of levels. Cascade
multilevel inverters consists of a series of H-bridge cells to
synthesize a desired voltage from several separate DC sources
(SDCSs) which may be obtained from batteries or fuel cells.
All these properties of cascade inverters allow using various
pulse width modulation (PWM) strategies to control the
inverter accurately [9]-[14]. Different types of feed-forward
and feed-back PWM control schemes have been developed to
control the Voltage Source Inverters (VSIs).

Multilevel inverters have gained much attention in the field

of medium voltage and high power applications due to their
many advantages, such as low voltage stress on power
electromagnetic compatibility, reduced switching losses and
improved reliability on fault tolerance. Comparing with twolevel inverter topologies at the same power ratings, multilevel
inverters have the advantages that the harmonic components of
line-to-line voltages fed to load are reduced owing to its
switching frequencies. Therefore, the multilevel inverters also
have lower dv/dt ratios to prevent induction or discharge
failures on the loads. The multilevel inverter topologies are
classified into three categories up to now: Diode Clamped
Inverters, Flying Capacitor Inverters, and Cascaded Inverters
Based on research on several multilevel inverter topologies,
diode clamped inverters, particularly the three-level structure,

978-1-4244-2291-3/09/$25.00 2009 IEEE


Single Phase Topologies
Half Bridge

Full Bridge

THDV (%)



Main power
switches per
diodes per

DC bus
capacitor per
Total material
for m=5

Three Phase Topologies


Flying Capacitor Cascaded




















Motor drive,

Motor drive.,

PV, Motor


Lisbon, Portugal, March 18-20, 2009

SPWM technique is one of the most popular modulation

techniques among the others applied in power switching
inverters. In SPWM, a sinusoidal reference voltage waveform
is compared with a triangular carrier waveform to generate
gate signals for the switches of inverter [15]-[19].
The objective of this paper is to develop a robustly designed
inverter block with mathematical model for SPWM modulator
to minimize THD ratios and compare to other conventional
models. The inverter output values will be discussed for
several switching frequencies and modulation indexes applied
to modulator. The results obtained from simulation of MatlabSimulink shows that the harmonic contents are greatly reduced
by using mathematically well designed SPWM modulator.

to obtain expanded phase voltage levels and therefore, the total

output level is the synthesize of cells output. By assuming the
number of inverters DC sources as n, the output levels of
each phase and each line voltage will be as shown in (2) and
(3) respectively [19]-[23].

Fig. 2 illustrates the power circuit for three phase of an nlevel inverter with n cells in each phase. The resulting phase
voltages are synthesized by the addition of the voltages
generated by the different cells as in (4)-(6).


A. Basic Principle of Multilevel Inverter and Application to Design
Fig. 1 shows the main H-bridge cell of one inverter used for
implementation of the multilevel inverter. The full bridge
inverter module includes four power switches and four
clamping diodes to form an H-bridge. A multilevel cascade
inverter consists a number of H-bridge cells that connected
series per phase, and each module requires a separate DC
source to generate voltage levels at the output of inverter. The
switching inputs shown as In1..4 in the Fig. 1 will allow
obtaining output voltages of each H-bridge as follows;
+V dc

V out = 0V dc

In 1, In 4
In 1, In 3


In 2, In 3



The ratio of DC voltage source naturally affects the output

levels of a cascade multilevel inverter. The considered full
bridge module generates 3-level output voltage itself as seen in
(1). The H-bridge cells are serially connected over AC outputs


Van = Vab1+ Vab2++ Vabn

Vbn = Vbc1+ Vbc2++ Vbcn
Vcn = Vca1+ Vca2++ Vcan


Each cell, shown in Fig. 2, mostly operates with SPWM

signals, comparing a sinusoidal control voltage with a
triangular carrier signal. SPWM technique has many inherent
advantages including low switching losses and relatively low
B. Modulation Strategy of Multilevel Inverter
All the PWM methods create load voltage harmonics, which
produce current harmonics and additional harmonic losses. To
minimize the harmonic contents of the output voltage of a
cascaded inverter, the switching angle for each H-bridge
inverter needs to be calculated accurately. A traditional five Hbridge cascaded inverter can produce an 11-level output
voltage which can be almost sinusoidal. Each switching angle
(Ssw(t)) of the inverter is calculated by Fourier series to
eliminate selected harmonics as in (7);

Fig. 1. Three-level full bridge module

S sw (t ) =

+ (an cos(nt ) +bn sin(nt ))
2 n =1

Fig. 2. Three-phase multilevel inverter topology




Lisbon, Portugal, March 18-20, 2009

where a0 is the average dc value of the switching signal. The

Fourier coefficients a0, an, and bn are given by (8)-(10):

a0 =

an =

bn =




(t )dt

(t ) cos(nt )dt

(t ) sin(n t )dt




The coefficient cn of the nth harmonic component of the signal

Ssw(t) is given by (11);

cn = an + jbn


Fig. 3(a) shows a triangular carrier signal pattern and a

sinusoidal modulating signal which relatively has a lower
frequency compared to carrier at 50 Hz. The typically
modulated unipolar SPWM waveform is given in Fig. 3(b).
The unipolar modulation technique has a significant advantage
compared to bipolar equivalent due to preventing harmonic
orders of m2 and 3m2 at the high fundamental voltages. In
addition to this, the unipolar technique allows to decrease
switching losses up to 30% according to optimized PWM
methods. The function of switching algorithm in (7) is used to
find out the switching angles for the inverter cells and then
switching angles are transformed into switching reference
voltages. If any change occurs in the input DC voltage, the
algorithm will take into account the recent values since it is
depended on a0 parameter and adjust the switching reference
voltages to reduce output voltage harmonics [9]-[11],[24]-[26].
It is difficult to accurately control the switching angles of
inverter switches, thus results in the reduction of response
speed and the increase of harmonic contents in traditional
designs. Most of controllers are based on the use of FFT
analysis enabled processors; therefore a complex method is
required to compensate errors by using iterative calculations
and approximations of discrete data.


The main objective of static power inverters is to produce an
AC output waveform from a DC power supply. The obtained
AC type waveforms are appropriate for different applications
such as uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), static var
compensators, active filters, motor drives, flexible AC
transmission systems (FACTS), and voltage compensators. For
sinusoidal AC outputs of inverters, the magnitude, frequency,
and the phase should be controllable.
The proposed VSI design is based on the topology of Fig. 2
which includes dual H-bridge cells as shown in Fig. 1 per
phase to generate a 5-level output voltage. The main
topological calculations which are performed initially indicate
the requirements of modulator and inverter blocks, and allow
obtaining a well prepared modulation algorithm to increase the
performance of inverter. The proposed inverter includes 6 Hbridges and 4 SPWM switching signals to control each bridge
respectively. The modulation algorithm which is based on (8)(10) is performed in SPWM modulator to generate 24 separate
SPWM pulses to H-bridges as shown in Fig. 4.
A. The Designed Model for SPWM Modulator
The most well known SPWM which can be applied to
cascaded multilevel inverters is phase shifted SPWM and is
same as that of the conventional SPWM technique as seen in
Fig. 3. The output voltage level increment of inverter requires
increased modulating signals and moreover, in order to verify
the operation behavior and examine the harmonic content of
the multilevel inverter, these modulating signals are phase
shifted with respect to each other by an angle  equal to:

where, n is number of switching signal. The additional
important point to be considered in the modulator design is
amplitude distortion. The amplitude distortion is caused by the
input DC voltage source variation and has the most significant
impact on the on-off spectral errors. For a voltage source
SPWM controlled DC-AC inverter, the amplitude distortion of
the PWM waveforms will decline the amplitude of the
fundamental component and introduce unexpected low order
harmonic contents as shown in (13) [21],[24]-[26].

VO (t ) =


cos(r t )

k =1

k .ma sin k . cos(k .c t )

2 2


Jn k .ma

sin ( k + l ). cos(k .c t + l.r t )
+ dc
k =1 l =1

Fig. 3. The SPWM signal representation (a) triangular carrier signal and
sinusoidal modulating patterns and (b) the generated unipolar SPWM
switching signals



Lisbon, Portugal, March 18-20, 2009

Fig. 4. The Simulink design of cascaded multilevel inverter containing SPWM modulator and Y-wired RL load

ma= amplitude of modulation ratio,
VDC= dc supply voltage,
r= sinusoidal reference frequency,
c= triangular reference frequency,
J 0 , J n = Bessel function.
The output periodic voltage waveform, V0(t), consists of three
major terms to eliminate possible harmonic contents in
generated AC output. The first term of (13) gives the amplitude
of fundamental component, which is directly proportional to
VDC and the amplitude of modulation ratio, ma, which is
defined as in (14).

ma =

switched by the proposed 24-channel SPWM modulator to

obtain 5-level output at the back-end of the 3-phase voltage
source inverter. The H-bridge cells have 3 different switching
options as shown in (1) and the switching orders form a 5-level
voltage output as seen in Fig. 6(b). The line-to-line voltage
rates of inverter are determined according to modulation
indexes (mi), and working areas are defined as linear
modulation (mi 1) or over-modulation (mi>1) ranges. The
line-to-line voltages are limited to ( 3Vd 2 ) of dc line in linear
modulation range and to (4/).( 3Vd 2 ) in over- modulation

V ref
V tri


The second term of (13) depicts the amplitude of the

harmonics at the carrier frequency and the multiples of carrier.
The last term indicates the amplitudes of the harmonics in the
sidebands around each multiples of the carrier frequency. The
SPWM modulator in Fig. 4 contains 12 separate phase shifted
sinusoidal modulating signal unit and the second block as
carrier generator and comparator units. The commutation dead
time and switching rise-fall time intervals are designed
according to (7)-(14). The control signals of H-bridge cells are
shown in Fig. 5 as phase shifted as discussed before.
B. H-Bridge Inverter Block
Fig. 6(a) shows the proposed inverter block which consists
of dual H-bridge cells per phase as generating A, B and C
voltage outputs. The cascaded H-bridge cells have been
constituted by IGBT semiconductors as seen in Fig. 1 and

Fig. 5. Generated SPWM switching signals



Lisbon, Portugal, March 18-20, 2009

switching frequency in linear modulation range as shown in

Fig. 8 (a) and Fig. 8 (b) respectively. The output current and
voltage values have been increased in over-modulation range
since mi is over 1, but the THD rates have been changed
nonlinearly. The lowest THD for current has been measured as
0.1% during 10 KHz switching frequency and mi= 0.8
conditions. The THD for voltage has been measured as 0.66%
under same conditions as shown in Fig. 8 (b). Fig. 9 (a)
represents a pattern of FFT analyses, which have been
performed to constitute the Fig. 8 (a) and (b), for current THD
at 10 KHz switching frequency. Fig. 9 (b), as another example,
shows the THD for current at 1 KHz switching frequency, and
the modulation index is 1 for both. The lower switching
frequency in linear modulation range has caused to higher
THD for current and voltage at the inverter output.

Fig. 6. Inverter block of design (a) block diagram of H-bridges shown in

Fig.1 (b) 5-level line-to-line output voltage of inverter obtained at 1 KHz
switching frequency


The mathematical model of SPWM modulator has been
developed in Simulink and the success on harmonic preventing
has been compared to the conventional models as given in
The SPWM modulator has a switching bandwidth between
0- 40 KHz to control H-bridges and Fig. 7 shows the values
which are obtained at 5 KHz switching conditions while mi= 1.
Fig. 7(a) and Fig. 7(b) represent the FFT analysis of the current
THD (THDi) and voltage THD (THDv) ratios in Simulink. The
switching frequency of SPWM modulator has been limited to
1-10 KHz, and modulation indexes are selected in 0.6 mi 1.4
range to analyze the effect of fsw and mi on THD of inverter. It
has been observed by the performed tests that reducing the
THD of current and voltage is depended on increasing the

Fig. 8. THD analysis of inverter at various switching frequencies and

modulation indexes (a) THD for current in % (b) THD for phase voltages in %

Fig. 7. THD analysis of inverter while fsw= 5 KHz and mi=1 (a) THD for
current is 1.34% (b) THD for phase voltage is 23.59%

Fig. 9. THD current analysis while mi=1 (a) THD for current is 0.73% at 10
KHz switching (b) THD for current is 9.80 % at 1 KHz switching



Lisbon, Portugal, March 18-20, 2009

In this paper, a three-phase 5-level cascaded multilevel
inverter with SPWM control has been presented, achieving
output signals with high quality and very low THD owing to
robustly designed mathematical model of modulator. The
spectral errors, such as switching fall and rise times and the
amplitude distortions of the SPWM waveforms which cause
distortions at output signals have been reduced by using
unipolar SPWM. The switching actions have been modeled in
Simulink by using interpolation processes to obtain properly
queued modulation signals. The phase shift orders of
modulating signals are another important point of design to
reduce THD of line current and voltages due to transferring
switching signals to semiconductors appropriately and also
preventing DC bus short circuit. The inverter block has been
designed by using dual H-bridges per phase. The DC level of
H-bridges has been intended to construct output levels and dual
DC supply at each phases have been constituted 5-level output
voltage as order of +2VDC, 0.VDC and -2VDC. The proposed
model has been tested and compared to its precedent
conventional models for THD rates and switching bandwidth.
The measurement results have presented perfect outcomes on
THD analysis. The modulation indexes in over modulation
range have caused non linear changes in THD values of output
current and voltages but on the other hand, the THD of output
current and voltages have seen extremely low in linear
modulation range according to IEEE 519-1992 (THD<5%). It
is also seen that the switching frequency is directly effective on
THD. The increment in switching frequency has showed its
reducer effect on THD of output current and voltages. In
addition, the measured harmonic contents have seen as
fundamental (50 Hz, 1st), 96th and 98th harmonics in 5 KHz and
10 KHz switching conditions of linear modulation area (mi1).
The harmonic contents of current, which have measured by
using modulation at 2 KHz and over, have seen as lower order
harmonics and magnitudes have measured lower than 0.2 A.
The THD of output voltage has been measured lower than 24%
in linear modulation band, and the most effective harmonic
contents except fundamental wave have seen at 96th and 98th as
in analysis of output current. The accuracy of design will be
verified with the results of continuing experimental studies.
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