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J. D. F. McDonald, M. Darveniza, T. K. Saha

Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering

The University of Queensland



Reliable operation of electrical overstress protection devices is critical to maintain proper function
of power transmission systems. This paper details the methodology employed and results obtained
in a diagnostic testing procedure used to determine the condition of a number of silicon carbide
surge arresters removed from service on high voltage networks. The arresters were all shown to be
in satisfactory condition, highlighting the comparative durability of high voltage arresters. The
investigation also showed that both partial discharge and radio interference voltage measurements
provide a more sensitive measure of arrester degradation than traditional diagnostic procedures.

Keywords: diagnostic testing, surge arrester, silicon carbide, partial discharge

1. INTRODUCTION to fail explosively also presents a hazard to both

adjacent equipment and personnel.
A fundamental constraint on the reliability of an
electrical power transmission system is the The goal of this preliminary investigation then was the
effectiveness of its protective network. The role of development of a diagnostic testing procedure that
the protective network is to safeguard system could determine the condition of high voltage (rated
components from the effects of electrical overstress. 33 kV and above) silicon carbide surge arresters. The
It is therefore of great importance that effective testing programme should be able to be completed
techniques are developed to accurately assess the quickly, and preferably in field without need the to
condition of the components used to provide this remove the arrester from service.
To facilitate this several silicon carbide arresters
The first truly effective overstress protection for high removed from service were subjected to an exhaustive
voltage networks was provided by the silicon carbide diagnostic testing programme. Although a number of
(SiC) surge arrester. Developed in the 1930s, it was investigations of this nature have been performed on
used almost exclusively on both transmission and distribution level arresters [1,2] the results of this
distribution systems until the development of the study are intended for high voltage arresters. From
metal oxide surge arrester in the 1970s. Since then the results obtained the effectiveness of the specific
the silicon carbide arrester has been all but replaced on testing procedures could be assessed and the most
distribution systems but it is estimated that there are effective methods selected for further development
tens of thousand of these arresters still in service today and application.
[1] on sub-transmission and transmission systems.
Although the rugged construction of high voltage
arresters makes them resistant to degradation, the The basic construction of surge arresters governs their
majority of silicon carbide surge arresters still response to diagnostic test procedures. A thorough
operating have been in service at least 10 years and in understanding of the construction and unique features
some cases as long as 30 years [1] so its is likely that a of high voltage silicon carbide surge arresters will
number are somewhat degraded. Darveniza et al [1] facilitate appropriate diagnostic test selection and
suggested that as many as 75% of distribution level allow more effective interpretation of the results
silicon carbide surge arrester in service for over 13 obtained.
years exhibit some form of degradation. Not only do
these degraded arresters present a threat to system 2.1 Arrester construction
reliability, but the tendency of silicon carbide arresters
Silicon carbide arresters consist of one or more silicon
carbide non-linear resistive blocks connected in series
with multiple spark gaps [3]. These components are The lightning impulse spark-over voltage test, power
placed in a porcelain casing preventing moisture frequency spark-over voltage test and power
ingress and providing strength to the entire structure. frequency withstand test were used to test spark gap
performance when the arresters were subjected to
Figure 1 Silicon Carbide Surge Arrester either high frequency impulses or sustained power
frequency overvoltages.

A non-standard current impulse test was included to

check the integrity of the silicon carbide blocks
themselves, with comparison of the waveforms
produced by the arresters under test of more use than
actual quantitative measurements.

The inclusion of both AC/DC leakage current

measurements served a twofold purpose. The DC
leakage current measurements, used to complement
that traditional 5kV insulation test, provided an
assessment of the condition of the gap grading
resistors. Together with the AC leakage current
measurements these tests also provided a gross
assessment of overall arrester condition.

The partial discharge and radio interference voltage

High voltage gapped silicon carbide surge arresters are measurements required the arresters to be energized at
usually constructed by connecting a number of low rated voltage and provided an assessment of arrester
voltage arresters in series, increasing the voltage condition in a standard operational situation.
rating of the total arrester. The applied voltages
however are often unevenly distributed across the unit Finally, a visual inspection of the arresters internal
arresters of a multi-unit arrester, with the line-end components was completed to check for the presence
arresters more severely stressed, leading to spark-over of degradation, which should have been detected
at voltages lower than expected. This can be during the proceeding testing process.
prevented by placing large resistors in parallel with
2.3 Failure Criteria
the spark gaps. The flow of power frequency current
through these gap grading resistors will produce the As the results of this investigation were highly
desired voltages across the spark gaps. dependent upon the standards used to assess
satisfactory arrester behaviour, three main criteria
2.2 Test Selection
were used to evaluate arrester performance. Arresters
A testing programme was selected that would were considered failed if their measured behaviour
adequately assess not only the condition of the whole did not:
arresters but also the condition of their major
a) meet the required performance measures
constituents including the:
outlined in the relevant industry standards [3]
spark gaps b) satisfy the performance levels guaranteed in
manufacturers data [6]
non-linear resistive blocks
c) show consistency with test results obtained
gap grading resistors on similar arresters, a technique used in [1]
Rather than developing entirely new tests with When using non-standard testing procedures, this last
unproven performance and no comparative results, the criterion was the only method available for classifying
tests selected were chosen after a review of arrester performance. Any arrester that could not meet
appropriate literature. The majority of testing all these criteria when applicable was considered to
procedures used are detailed in [3], but references have failed.
such as [4], [5] also provided a number of alternative
testing techniques.

The testing regime completed in this investigation

consisted of the following tests.
3. EXPERIMENTAL RESULTS 3.2 Impulse Testing

3.1 Test Samples The function of an arrester is to limit the amount that
the voltage across the device it is protecting rises
The test sample consisted of six XAA station class when subjected to voltage overstress. Thus superior
arresters manufactured in 1978 by ASEA. Described arrester performance is characterised by consistent
as self-supporting, the arresters had 110mm diameter impulse spark-over at lower impulse voltage levels.
active parts and their general construction is shown in
figure 2. Arresters A-C were tested in direct accordance with
clause 5.2.2 of [3]. In all cases the arresters performed
Figure 2 XAA station class arrester satisfactorily, sparkingover on each of five
consecutive applications of a 1.2/50s voltage impulse
with prospective peak of 106kV.

Rather than adhering directly to standard procedure

when testing arresters D-F, experimental procedure
was modified slightly to determine the minimum
standard lightning impulse spark-over voltage. This
was defined as the lowest voltage at which the arrester

a) sparked over on 5 consecutive impulses or

b) sparked over on 4 out 5 consecutive impulses then

sparked over on 10 consecutive impulses.

This measurement offers a more effective comparison

with the maximum standard lightning impulse spark-
over voltage defined in [3] and the 100% guaranteed
impulse spark-over voltage level detailed in [6].

All impulse tests on arresters D-F were performed

The total test sample consisted of with a grading ring attached to the top of the arrester
as required for normal operation. The grading ring
3 arresters rated at 36kV taken from an significantly affects the value of impulse spark-over
electricity utility. voltage and measurements taken without the ring in
place would be invalid.
3 multi-unit arresters, each made up of 3
unit arresters with total rating of 121 kV, Figure 3 Impulse Spark-over of arresters D-F
supplied by a transmission company.

The investigation focused predominantly on these Lightning Impulse Sparkover of

arresters whose parameters are detailed in the
121 kV Arresters
following table.
Table 1 Arrester Designations 300
Rating Date of
Arrester Class 200
[kV] assembly
10 kA 150
A 36 1978
50-60 Hz 100
10 kA
B 36 1978 50
50-60 Hz
10 kA 0
C 36 1978 Arrester D Arrester E Arrester F
50-60 Hz
10 kA
D 121 1978 Measured minimum impulse sparkover voltage
50 Hz
10 kA Guaranteed 100% impulse sparkover voltage
E 121 1978
50 Hz Maximum impulse sparkover voltage
10 kA
F 121 1978
50 Hz
As can be seen in figure 3, the measured minimum Table 2 AC/DC leakage current measurements
spark-over voltage for each arrester is lower than both
the level guaranteed by the manufacturer and that
required by the relevant standards [3], demonstrating 5 kV insulation test AC leakage
satisfactory arrester behaviour. current at
Arrester rated
3.3 Power Frequency Spark-over Testing DC DC leakage voltage
resistance current [A]
Experimental procedure used in this test followed that [G] [A]
outlined in clause 5.12 of AS1307.1 [3] irrespective of
the test object used. A 12.1 0.42 851
B 11.3 0.46 848
C 9.5 0.54 827
Figure 4 Power Frequency Spark-over Voltage
D 0.25 20 677
E 0.25 20 669
F 0.25 20.2 695
Power Frequency Sparkover
3.4.1 5 kV Insulation Test
200 To determine whether the performance of an arrester
in this test was satisfactory a minimum acceptable
150 value of internal resistance was required. Although
figures as high as 10G have been recommended in
100 the past, the figure of merit used in recent
investigations [1] was 2 G, which suggests that
50 arresters A-C are all in satisfactory condition.
0 The measured resistance of arresters D-F however was
A B C D E F much lower than expected, indicating either severe
Arrester internal corrosion, or that the gap-grading resistors
dominate the measure of DC resistance. Given the
Measured sparkover voltage consistency of measurements between the arresters, it
Guaranteed minimum sparkover voltage was felt the grading resistors were dominating the
Standard minimum sparkover voltage arresters internal impedance. This was later
confirmed through visual inspection.

3.4.2 AC Leakage current test

Direct comparison was possible with measured values
and the minimum power frequency voltage specified AC leakage current measurements are more
by the relevant standards and the performance level commonly used as a diagnostic tool for metal oxide
guaranteed by the manufacturers. The measured surge arresters where an accurate measure of the
performance of each of the arresters exceeded both resistive component of leakage current is required. As
these requirements; highlighting that under normal it was expected that the total leakage current through a
operating conditions the arrester should remain an silicon carbide surge arrester would be fairly small, in
open circuit. Thus these arresters all demonstrated the order of 600A [2], the magnitude of the total
satisfactory experimental behaviour. leakage current, both capacitive and resistive, was
measured. The experimental set-up used is shown in
3.4 Leakage Current Measurements figure 5.
This test is a commonly used and often effective Rather than testing all arresters at a common voltage
measure of the integrity of an arresters internal level, in a similar fashion to the 5 kV insulation test,
components. It is particularly useful for determining the AC leakage current was measured when the
the condition of arresters that do not contain arresters were energized at their respective rated
resistively graded gaps, as the only connection voltage levels.
between spark gap electrodes is insulation. A low
value of resistance would indicate significant internal
Figure 5 AC leakage current measurement Figure 6 Partial Discharge Measurements

The ERA Discharge detector superimposes the

Although the measured AC leakage current was larger measured discharges on an ellipse representing the
than 600A, the consistency between measurements 50Hz time base. From the two traces shown below, it
from arresters of the same type would suggest that the is possible to compare both the magnitude and
arresters were all in satisfactory condition. frequency of the discharges. In this case far more and
much larger discharges were produced by arrester A,
3.5 Current Impulse Test suggesting that it is more degraded than arrester C.

This test assessed the integrity of the silicon carbide Figure 7 Partial Discharges at rated voltage
blocks themselves. The arresters were subjected to
1.2/50s voltage impulses with prospective peaks well
above the measured minimum lightning impulse
spark-over voltage and the waveforms of both the
current through and voltage across the arresters were
measured. A sudden drop in voltage coincident with a
sharp rise in current would indicate a block failure.
Again all arresters were found to perform
satisfactorily with no block flashovers detected.

3.6 Partial Discharge/Radio Interference Tests

Partial discharges within an insulating material are Radio interference voltage measurements were taken
both symptomatic of and an accelerator of degradation in a similar manner, using a PO Engineering Dept
of its internal condition. For the majority of their D1061 Radio Interference Meter. The meter was
service life silicon carbide surge arresters behave as placed in series with the blocking capacitor rather than
insulators making the partial discharge test an in series with the test object as specified in [5].
applicable measure of arrester condition. Circuit noise at high voltage operation prevented RIV
measurements from being taken from arresters D-F.
Partial discharges can be measured using a number of
different techniques. In this study however, direct
measurement of the current impulses produced or Table 3 Partial discharge / RIV measurements
traditional partial discharge testing was used along
Discharge level at rated voltage
with radio interference voltage (RIV) measurement,
Arrester Partial Discharge RIV Test
which measures the noise produced by the discharges
in the radio frequency (150kHz 30 MHz) range. Test [pC] [V x 10-6]
A 142 891
In this study the partial discharges were measured by B 64 200
an ERA Discharge detector model 3, configured for C 40 5
straight detection, as shown in figure 6. The device D 3.2 -
under test is represented as Ca, while the discharge
E 2.5 -
detector is designated as Zm and Ck is a 2000pF
blocking capacitor. The experimental technique used F 12.6 -
was similar to that in [4], including pre-stressing of
the arresters.
The magnitude of discharges measured when the
arresters were energized with rated voltage was used
as the measure of comparison because this is
indicative of normal arrester behaviour. Although it is Although the majority of tests produced very
difficult to specify the exact level of discharges consistent results within groups of similar arresters,
demonstrating significant arrester degradation, the the results of the partial discharge and radio
comparative results provide a more sensitive measure interference voltage measurements suggest that these
of arrester condition. For example, it would seem that tests are far more sensitive than other more standard
arrester A has suffered the most internal degradation, diagnostic techniques. These tests detected internal
and that the 121kV arresters were in better condition arrester degradation even before it appeared to affect
than the 33kV arresters. arrester performance. The results were confirmed by
visual inspection of the arresters that found
3.7 Visual Inspection conspicuous degradation in only arresters A and B,
both of which displayed heightened partial discharge
A complete visual inspection of internal arrester and radio interference measurements.
components supported the satisfactory test results
obtained. The arresters appear to have remained well It would therefore seem that the partial discharge and
sealed and all internal components are relatively free radio interference voltage tests are sensitive and
from degradation. Arresters A and B are the only accurate measures of the internal condition of high
arresters with noticeable internal degradation and that voltage silicon carbide surge arresters. A true measure
is confined to rusting on the steel end caps of some of the performance of these tests however will be
silicon carbide blocks as shown below. The presence obtained only when the next stage of the investigation,
this degradation is consistent with the results obtained in which further testing will be conducted using a
from partial discharge tests and RIV tests. more extensive sample containing both failed and
satisfactory arresters, has been completed.
Figure 8 Arrester component degradation

The authors would like to acknowledge the great

assistance and helpful advice provided by S. Wright in
the completion of the required experimental work.


[1] M. Darveniza, D. R. Mercer, and R. M.

Watson, An assessment of the reliability of
in-service gapped silicon-carbide distribution
surge arresters, IEEE-Transactions-on-
4. CONCLUSIONS Power-Delivery, vol. Vol.11, pp. p.1789-97,
The results of this investigation show that all arresters
appear to be in satisfactory condition. In all standard [2] J. H. Shaw and N. V. Holmgren, A surge-
tests, the performance of the arresters exceeded that arrester tester developed for EPRI,
required by the relevant Australian standards, the Transmission and Distribution, vol. 37, pp.
manufacturers performance standards where they 50-2, 1985.
existed, and in all but the partial discharge and radio
[3] Australian Standard AS 1307.1 - 1986, Surge
interference voltage tests, results obtained were
Arresters (Diverters) Part 1 - Silicon Carbide
consistent within the groups of common arresters.
Type for A.C. Systems. Sydney, 1986.
Even the results obtained in the final two tests showed
that arrester performance did not exceed the standard [4] Australian Standard AS 1018 - 1985, Partial
criteria for acceptable discharge magnitudes defined in Discharge Measurements. Sydney, 1985.
[4, 5].
[5] Australian Standard AS 2650 - 1986, High
The limited internal degradation after 20 years of Voltage A.C. Switchgear and Control Gear -
service suggest that high voltage arresters may be far Common Requirements. Sydney, 1986.
more durable than originally expected, with the
majority of arresters still able to perform acceptably in [6] TYPE XAA Surge Arresters, Catalogue
operation. FMK No.7: 10 E (Cat E 594), . Sweden:
ASEA, 1965.