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Power Cable Insulation Design

General design criteria Differences between cables and overhead transmission lines Different types of cables Electric stress distribution in coaxial cable Electrical insulation design Future developments in power cables

General design criteria of power cables

The following factors govern the design of power cables: The cross-sectional area of the conductors chosen should be of the optimum size to carry the specific load current or short-circuit short-term current without overheating and should be within the required limits for voltage drop. The insulation applied to the cable must be adequate for continuous operation at the specific working voltage with a high degree of thermal stability, safety and reliability.

All materials used in the construction must be carefully selected in order to ensure a high level of chemical and physical stability throughout the life of the cable in the selected environment. The cable must be mechanically strong and sufficiently flexible to withstand the re-drumming operations in the manufacturers works, handing during transport or when the cable is installed by direct burial, in trenches pulled into ducts or laid on cable racks. Adequate external mechanical and/or chemical protection must be applied to the insulation and metal or outer sheathing to enable it to withstand the required environmental service conditions.

A typical XLPE power cable

Cable Components
Conductor (Copper and aluminium) Maximising the current carrying capacity by minimising the ac effect (skin and proximity effects) Preventing distortion of the conductor during the bending operation on the cable Semiconducting screens (Carbon paper and carbon loaded polymer) To ensure a smooth interface between conducting and insulating area

Insulation (Paper, PVC, XLPE and EPR) Isolate high voltage conductor from the earth Metallic sheath (Lead, lead alloy and corrugated aluminium alloy ) Pressure retaining in the case of SCOF cable Preventing the ingress of moisture into the cable (XLPE) Other protection (PVC and HDPE) To prevent metal sheath against corrosion

Differences between cables and overhead transmission lines

Overhead lines
Cheap (air is a good insulation) Easy to maintain
Audible noise emission

Expensive (insulating materials) High repair cost
Less space required

Radio and TV interference Emission of ozone and oxides of nitrogen Safety and comfort problems caused by electrostatic fields Suitable for rural area

Well screened Environmental clean No direct safety threat Suitable for urban

Different types of cables

Conventional ac cables -- High-pressure oil-filled (pipe-type) system -- Self-contained low-pressure oil-filled system -- Extruded dielectric cables (polymeric) Conventional dc cables Compressed gas insulated (CGI) cables Cryogenic cables and superconducting cables.

Electric stress distribution in coaxial cable

Under ac and impulse conditions, the stress distribution in a concentric cable is capacitance-determined. Let the charge per metre length be Q coulombs. The stress at radius x, Ex is given by

Ex =

Q 2x r o

The voltage between conductor and outer dielectric screens or sheath is

R R Q 2x r o

V = E x dx =
r r

dx =

Q 2 r o

ln( R r)
F /m

since Q = CVand


2 r o ln( R ) r


Ex =

V xln(R ) r


Er =

V r ln(R ) r

V /m

The stress shows its maximum value at the surface of the conductor The minimum value of Er is found from dEr/dr=0, and occurs when ln(R/r)=1, i.e. R=2.718r, when Er=V/r. This optimum relationship is often overridden by other considerations for conductor radius.

Ea =

V Rr

V Rm ln( R / r )

where Rm is defined as

Rm =

R r ln( R / r )

Insulation Life
Factors affecting the life of an insulation system: -- Temperature which changes electrical properties such dielectric loss tan and also mechanical and chemical properties. -- Mechanical, due to differential expansions between the insulation and the surrounding sheath and also the conductor; due to forces set up on the conductor during short-circuit conditions. -- Presence of partial discharges. -- Oxidation. -- Treeing.

Experience over many years on samples and real cables has indicated that the life of a cable at constant temperature is governed by the empirical equation

tE = k


This law is utilised by maintaining constant stress on the dielectric and measuring time to failure. Life under service conditions is obtained by extrapolating the straight line resulting from the plot of Log(E) against log(t). This assumes that the same mechanism which has operated at high stresses operates at the service stress.

Life-temperature relationships
Insulation life (time to failure) and temperature are related by the equation

ln( L) = A +


L=life in hours T=absolute temperature (K) A and B are constants for a material.

Insulation thickness
Impulse Voltage:



= insulation thickness (mm) BIL= Basic insulation voltage level (kV) Eai= average impulse breakdown stress (kV/mm) = impulse ageing coefficient (=1.2 for XLPE) = temperature coefficient (=1.3 for XLPE)

AC Voltage:

U i Ea

Ui= ac testing voltage (~3U0) (kV) Ea= long term average ac breakdown stress (kV/mm) =ac ageing coefficient (=4 for XLPE n=9)

Main steps in power cable manufacture

The design of cables is to a large extent regulated by a number of industry, national and international standards and guides
Medium voltage up to 33 kV Lapped paper, dried and impregnated with viscous or non-draining compound BS 6480[2], EA TS 09-12, IEC 60055 Extruded PVC Extruded vulcanised (EP) rubbers BS 6622, IEC 60502 Extruded crosslinked polyethylene BS 6622, IEC 60502 High voltage 33 to 400 kV Lapped paper, dried and impregnated with low viscous fluid (oil) Eng. Recom C47, NGTS 3:5.1, IEC 60141-1 Extruded vulcanised (EP) rubbers Extruded crosslinked polyethylene TPS 2/12, IEC 60840, HD 632

Example: 500 kV XLPE Cable

(Jcable 99 paper A1.1)
Insulation design

t AC

( E0 / 3 )k1k 2 k3 = EL ( AC )

where tAC: Insulation thickness required for AC withstand voltage (24.1mm), E0: Maximum line-to-line voltage (550kV), k1: Deterioration coefficient (2.3), k2: Temperature coefficient (1.2), k3: Allowance for uncertain factors (1.1), EL(AC) : AC design stress (40kV/mm)


LIWV k k k = EL (Im p )

' ' ' 1 2 3

where timp: Insulation thickness required for lightning impulse withstand voltage (26.7mm) LIWV: Lightning impulse withstand voltage (1550kV) k1: Allowance for repetitive application of lightning impulse (1.0), k2: Temperature coefficient (1.25), k3: Allowance for uncertain factors (1.1),
EL(Imp): Lightning impulse design stress (80kV/mm)

Structure of 500kV XLPE Cable

Nominal voltage Number of core Conductor Nominal cross section Outer diameter Thickness of conductor screen
Minimum thickness of insulation

kV mm2 mm mm

500 1 800 38.0 Approx. 2.0


Outer diameter of insulation Thickness of insulation screen Thickness of cushion layer Thickness of aluminium sheath Thickness of PVC covering Overall diameter Net weight

mm mm mm mm mm mm kg/m

102 Approx. 1.0 Approx. 3.0 2.8 6.0 Approx. 133 Approx. 21.5

Future developments in power cables

High voltage extruded cables 500kV -- improve electrical performance of insulating materials High voltage DC power cables -- low loss, long distance and submarine cable Superconducting cables -- low dielectric loss (tan), higher electrical breakdown strength, less partial discharges, higher electrical treeing resistance and less thermal and chemical deterioration