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Vol. V, No. I, February 2018

Conventional & Reduced Switch Multilevel Inverter

Topologies: A Survey
Pushpendra Kumar Bhatt, S. K. Soni

Abstract— Multilevel converters have been evolving for a long A multilevel inverter is basically a power electronic interface
time, however it is still under continuous development, and many that produces a desired output voltage by connecting various
new topologies have emerged in the recent researches. This paper DC sources and switches in an appropriate manner. Multilevel
presents a review of these recent contributions to ascertain the inverters are nowadays becoming a key solution for DC power
trends in this area so as to provide present standing of multilevel
utilization (batteries, solar panels or fuel cells) [1-2], high
converter technology. Initially a brief overview of the established
multilevel converters is presented and then the new promising dynamic performance and power-quality constrained
topologies are discussed. While the classical topologies have applications covering a power range from 1 to 30 MW [3].
proved to be an alternative, there has been an active interest in The basic concept of an MLI to achieve higher power is to
the evolution of newer topologies. Reduction in overall part count use power semiconductor switches like IGBTs, MOSFETs, etc.
as compared to the conventional topologies has been an along with appropriate DC voltage sources to perform the
important objective in the recently introduced topologies. In this power conversion by synthesizing a staircase voltage
paper, some of the recently proposed multilevel inverter waveform. This paper reviews recent as well as conventional
topologies with reduced power switches are reviewed. The topologies of multilevel inverters to seek a MLI with reduced
comparison of the different topologies presented in this paper
may help readers to seek an appropriate multilevel solution for a
number of switches for higher step count in the output. Though
given application. Recent advances made in modulation and multilevel inverter is a proven technology yet it has lot of
control of multilevel converters is also addressed. The paper challenges and possibilities. Researchers are trying to further
emphasises on applications of multilevel converters in non improve efficiency, reliability, power density, simplicity and
conventional application areas. Finally, some future trends and cost of classical multilevel inverter topologies like the Neutral
challenges in the further development of this technology are Point Clamped (NPC), Cascaded H-bridge (CHB) and the
discussed. Flying Capacitor (FC), and their modulation methods.
Keywords: Multilevel Inverter (MLI), Cascaded Half bridge (CHB),
Neutral point clamp (NPC), Flying Capacitor (FC). II. CLASSIC MULTILEVEL TOPOLOGY OVERVIEW
The classic topologies are those that have been extensively
addressed and have been in applications for more than a
Multilevel inverters are finding increased attention as one of decade. Multilevel technology started with the multilevel
the preferred choices for electronic power conversion and stepped waveform concept with Series Connected Half Bridges
today are considered a mature and proven technology. (CHB) inverter. This was followed by development of a flying
Presently they are widely used in blast furnace blowers, capacitor (FC) topology the same year [4].
conveyors, crushers, compressors, pumps, fans, rolling mills,
hoists, HVDC transmission, hydro pumped storage, wind
energy conversion, solar photovoltaic systems, and railway
traction systems to name a few [1]. With the advent of recent
power sensors, digital controllers and electronics devices, the
role of power inverters has become critical for futuristic smart
grids having greater penetration and integration of renewable
energy sources based power generation [9].

Manuscript received on February, 2018.

Pushpendra Kumar Bhatt, M.Tech Scholar, Department of Electrical
Engineering, Millennium Institute of Technology & Science, Bhopal, M.P., Fig. 1: Classic MLI topologies: (a) Three-level NPC (b) Three-level Flying
India. Capacitor (FC) and (c) Five-level CH Bridge
Prof. S. K. Soni, Asst. Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering, And in late 70s, the diode clamped topology [5] was
Millennium Institute of Technology & Science, Bhopal, M.P., India.
introduced. The Diode Clamped topology evolved as three-

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level Neutral Point Clamped inverter, which was the first real same voltage level and start-up. Switch utilization and
multilevel inverter for medium voltage rating and so did the FC efficiency are poor. The capacitors are both more expensive
topology. These three multilevel converter topologies are and bulky and packaging is difficult with higher number of
nowadays considered as the classic multilevel inverters. The levels. Even though FCMLI is modular in structure, higher
power circuits of a single-phase leg of these three topologies switching frequencies are necessary to keep capacitors properly
are shown in Fig. 1. These multilevel voltage source converter balanced.
topologies belong to the medium-voltage-high-power converter
C. Cascaded H-Bridge Multilevel Inverters(CHBMI):
family (2.3 to 6.6kV, 1MW to 50MW), with classification
The CHBMLI requires separate DC sources and is well suited
shown in Fig. 2.
for various renewable energy sources such as photovoltaic [3].
It also suits high power applications because of the modular
structure that enables higher voltage operation with low rating
switches. A single-phase configuration of such inverter is
shown in Fig. 1(c). The terminal voltage of each module is
connected in series to form output voltage Vout. The number of
module (m) equal to the number of DC sources required,
depends on the number of levels (n being odd), which gives an
integral number of output phase voltage levels [m=(n-1)/2] .
Moreover isolated dc sources have to be fed from phase
shifting isolation transformers, which are expensive and bulky.
D. Other Multilevel Inverter Structures:
Besides the three basic MLI topologies discussed, other
multilevel converter topologies are also available, with most
Fig. 2: Multilevel converter classification being “hybrid” circuits derived from two of the classical
A. Neutral Point Clamped Multilevel Inverters (NPCMI): multilevel topologies with slight variations. The combination
The NPCMLI uses capacitors in series to divide up the DC bus of multilevel power topologis can be designed to match
voltage into a set of voltage levels and is shown in Fig. 1(a). To applications.
produce n-levels of voltage, an n-level NPCMLI needs (n-1) (i) Generalized Multilevel Topology:
capacitors on the DC bus. For a Vdc DC bus voltage, each The generalized converter topology called P2 topology [6], is
capacitor has a voltage of Vdc/3, limiting stress for each power illustrated in Fig. 3. The basic 2P cell is connected in cascade
device through clamping diodes. This advantages is that a to develop an n-level P2 inverter. The topology can balance
common DC bus is shared, minimizing the capacitance each voltage level on its own regardless of load characteristic
requirements of the inverter which can be pre-charged as a and active or reactive power conversion, for any number of
group, allowing series implementation for high-voltage inter- levels thus providing a complete multilevel topology that
connection furnishing simplicity and lower device count when embraces existing multilevel inverters.
considering both inverter and rectifier with lesser number of
capacitors. The drawback of this topology is difficulty in real-
power flow as intermediate DC levels tend to
overcharge/discharge without precise monitoring and control.
The number of clamping diodes required is proportional to
number of levels, which can be cumbersome with higher levels
and they also have higher losses.
B. Flying Capacitor Multilevel Inverter (FCMI):
The structure of this inverter is similar to that of diode-clamped
inverter difference being that capacitors are used in place of
clamping diodes shown in Fig. 1(b). This topology has DC
capacitor ladder structure, where voltage on each capacitor
differs from next capacitor. An advantage of flying-capacitor-
based inverter is that two or more valid switching combinations
can synthesize an output voltage moreover the real and reactive
power flow can equally be controlled. Large number of
capacitors provide ride through for short duration outages and
deep voltage sags in addition it requires single isolated dc
voltage source. While the disadvantage lies in complex control Fig. 3: Generalized P2 multilevel converter topology
for tracking voltage levels for all capacitors, pre-charging to

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(ii) Mixed Hybrid Multilevel Inverter:
The configuration has mixed hybrid multilevel units which use
cascaded multilevel cells as basic building block. To reduce the
number of separate DC sources for high-voltage, high-power
applications diode or capacitor-clamped inverters could be
used to replace the full-bridge cell in a cascaded inverter. Fig. 4
shows a nine level cascade inverter based on a 3-level diode-
clamped inverter as basic cell [7]. The original CHBMLI
requires four separate DC sources for one phase leg. The
advantage of the topology is reduced separate DC sources
requirement, while the disadvantage of this topology is the
complexity in its control strategy due to its hybrid structure.

Fig. 5: CHB based Multilevel DC Link (MLDCL) Inverter.

B. Switched Series/Parallel Sources (SSPS) based MLI:

A single-phase multilevel inverter consisting of an H-bridge
and DC sources which can be switched in series and in parallel
has been presented [10]. This topology with four input DC
sources is shown in Fig.6, consisting of two parts: level-
generation part which consists of the switched sources and
Fig. 4: Mixed hybrid topology (a) NPC-HB topology (b) ANPC-FC synthesizes a bus voltage vbus(t) and the polarity generation part
which synthesizes positive and negative cycles of voltage
Comparison reveals that CMLI requires lesser components
than the other two topologies and is therefore a preferred
topology in most of the cases. However, researchers are still
exploring the opportunities for further reducing the
components count of MLI. One such attempt is to use only a
single H-bridge while the DC input voltage is made variable
by switching in different combinations of multiple DC voltage
sources. A recent topology for minimizing the switch count
uses various number of DC sources arranged alternately with
opposite polarity and connected through power switches to
generate various levels [8]. This topology has been termed as
MLI based on switched DC sources, which can be applied in
applications having multiple DC voltages available, such as,
PV modules or multiple renewable sources such as wind plus
solar. These topologies proposed claims reduction in number
Fig. 6: Switched Series/Parallel Sources based MLI
of switching devices for a given number of voltage levels and
are referred as RDC-MLI topologies. Following are the C. Series Connected Switched Sources based MLI:
various reduced device count multilevel inverter topologies: This topology with sources connected in series through power
A. CHB Multilevel DC Link (MLIDCL) Inverter: switches [11] consists of four input DC sources Vdc,j (1 < j <
A multilevel inverter named “Cascaded Half-Bridge based 4). The low potential terminals of the sources are all
Multilevel DC Link (MLDCL) Inverter” with four DC levels connected through power switches being also connected to the
[9] is shown in Fig.5. It comprises of cascaded half-bridge higher potential terminal of the preceding source through
cells, with each cell having its own DC source. Various valid power switches illustrated in Fig.7 with Sj (1 < j < 8). This
switching combinations that can be used to obtain the interconnection is capable of synthesizing a multilevel
multilevel DC link voltage vbus(t). rectified waveform vbus(t).

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Fig. 7: Series Connected Switched Sources (SCSS) based MLI Fig. 9: Reversing Voltage (RV) Topology

D. Multi-level Module (MLM) MLI: F. Two-Switch Enabled Level Generation (TSELG) MLI
A MLM MLI topology is formed by using a “level- A two-switch enabled level generation based MLI [12]
generation” and a “polarity generation” section [12] with topology has separate level-generation and polarity-generation
level-generation section containing input DC sources and parts and requires a mix of unidirectional and bidirectional
bidirectional controlled switches. The switches in the polarity- switches.
generation part are bidirectional semi controlled switches that
can withstand the maximum voltage generated by the level
generation part as shown in Fig. 8.

Fig. 10: Two-Switch Enabled Level-Generation based MLI

The specialty of this topology is that the level-generation part
requires only two conducting switches to synthesize any valid
Fig. 8: Multilevel Module (MLM) MLI voltage level, irrespective of the number of input sources.
Therefore, this topology is referred to as “two-switch enabled
E. Reversing Voltage (RV) Topology: level generation based MLI” as shown in Fig.10.
A Reversing Voltage MLI topology [39] with four input DC
sources for single phase, Vdc,j (1 < j < 4), is shown in Fig.9. IV. COMPARISON OF MLI TOPOLOGIES
The level generation part comprising of the input DC sources
A comparison of the number of components required by
and switches Sj (1 < j < 8),. The polarity generation part
conventional MLI’s is shown in Table I, it can clearly be seen
consists of switches Qj (1 < j < 8), operating at the line
that the number of components required is comparatively low
frequency. To overcome the issue of voltage balancing
in the Cascaded H-bridge Inverter. But the sources required is
separate DC sources are used.
high while the other two topologies share single DC bus
making the number sources required very low [15]. The
controlling of Diode clamped and Cascaded Inverters are
easier than Flying Capacitor Inverter, but construction wise

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selection of clamping diode makes it a complex topology [13]. possible amongst input
Also determining pre-charging and discharging time of DC sources
SCSS-MLI i) Simple structure i)Symmetric source
capacitors in Flying Capacitor Inverter is difficult. In view of ii) Highest rating configuration is mandatory
this comparison, the Cascaded H-Bridge Inverter topology is switches can be operated
best among all other classical MLI topologies for any at fundamental switching
application. freq.
MLM-MLI i) Requires non-isolated i) Equal load sharing is not
MLI Number Number Number Number of Total ii) Simple structure ii) Asymmetric source
(m=7) of DC of of Active component configuration not possible
sources/ clamping balancing devices and count (for RV-MLI i) Requires non-isolated i) Equal load sharing is not
Capacitors diodes capacitor freewheeling m=7) DC sources possible
diodes ii) Single DC link feeds ii) Asymmetric source
NPC m-1 (m-1)(m- x 2(m-1) 48 all the three phases configuration is not
MLI 2) possible
FC m-1 x (m-1)(m- 2(m-1) 33 SELG-MLI i) Requires non-isolated i) Equal load sharing is not
MLI 2)/2 input DC levels possible
CHB (m-1)/2 x x 2(m-1) 15 ii) Low conduction losses ii)Asymmetric sources
MLI cannot be employed
RS (m-1)/2 x x (m+2) 12
MLI Nevertheless, an effort should be made to present results with
more realistic values. Switching losses are very important, in
V. FUTURE TRENDS & CHALLENGES part because they depend on the modulation scheme for a
The evolution of multilevel converters over the last three given topology. On the other side, conduction losses are
decades has resulted in several commercial and proven substantially higher, but once the topology is chosen not much
topologies and modulation methods. From this well can be done to change them. In this respect, conduction losses
established technology, summarized in this paper, some are extremely important at the stage in which the converter is
straightforward and other more arguable trends can be conceived, designed or selected. This happens because in
extracted. In addition, despite the industrial presence and multilevel topologies there is presence of series connected
recognizable maturity, there are still several challenges for the devices compared to simpler converter structures as the load
further development of this technology. Most of the commutated inverter or current source inverter. Hence,
manufacturers offer multilevel converter products that are attractive multilevel converter topologies will be those that are
operated with average device switching frequencies from 500 capable of sharing among the semiconductors the total
to 700Hz [8]. The main reason is to improve efficiency, to voltage, but minimize the number of components connected in
extend the device limits, and to have a practically feasible series for a given switching state. A comparison of switching
cooling system. Operating at lower switching frequencies and conduction losses in classic multilevel converter
usually introduces lower order harmonics, so matching topologies is presented in [13], [14]. The switching loss in
efficiency with high performance is still one of the major CHB and NPC converters depends on the modulation method.
challenges in multilevel converter development. This tradeoff In addition to conduction and switching losses, the
can be relaxed if higher number of levels is used, due to an harmonics generated by the converter also affect negatively
intrinsic improvement in the multilevel waveforms. This is the efficiency, and therefore also need to be taken into
why many of the newer topologies discussed in this paper are consideration. The harmonic losses at motor and grid side
able to generate more voltage levels. This is a trend expected depend both on the topology and the modulation scheme. In
to continue in the next years. It is worth noticing that great relation to the topology, more output voltage levels will
part of the contributions made related to multilevel converter always have a positive impact on the harmonics reduction.
technology are obtained with unrealistic device average Reliability is also a key ingredient in the future development
switching frequencies (of even several kHz), mainly because of multilevel converters. Some multilevel converter topologies
they are tested in low power prototypes where higher have sufficient degrees of freedom to operate under internal
frequencies are admissible. fault condition, with few added hardware. Beside the
TABLE II: ADVANTAGES AND LIMITATIONS OF RDC- MLI straightforward parameters used for reliability analysis such as
TOPOLOGIES switch and passive component count, there are other aspects
Topology Advantages Disadvantages that also affect reliability and need to be considered, for
MLDCL- MLI i) Highly modular and i) Requires isolated input example: power and usage distribution of the semiconductors,
simple DC levels.
voltage stress, thermal distribution, circuit structure during
ii) Requires only ii) Trinary source
unidirectional switches configuration can’t be open or short circuit fault, to name a few.
employed. Another aspect that also will motivate further
SSPS-MLI i) Input DC sources can i) Highest voltage rated developments in multilevel technology is size and weight
be combined in both switches cannot be reduction. The transformer-less operation is still a desirable
series and parallel operated at fundamental
ii) Equal load sharing is switching freq. feature and at the same time a challenge for further research in

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the upcoming years. The elimination of the transformer implies [7] S. Khomfoi and L. M. Tolbert, Multilevel Power Converters, ch.
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