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UPEC2010

31st Aug - 3rd Sept 2010

A Study of UHF Partial Discharge Signal Propagation


in Power Transformers using FDTD Modelling
A. M. Ishak
University of Strathclyde
asnor.ishak@eee.strath.ac.uk

M. D. Judd
University of Strathclyde
m.judd@eee.strath.ac.uk

Abstract-The UHF method for locating partial discharge


(PD) sources in power transformers has become increasingly
important in recent research. In order to strengthen our
understanding of what is required to locate PD by this method,
it is important to study the propagation of electromagnetic
waves from PD in transformers. This paper is concerned with
ultra-high frequency (UHF) PD signal propagation in power
transformers in the presence of conducting obstacles, which may
represent the core, winding or other internal structures. The
approach is to use the FDTD (Finite-Difference Time-Domain)
method which can model the propagation of electromagnetic
waves and their interactions with the structure of materials.
FDTD is a technique widely used in microwave and radio
frequency applications. Being a time domain method, it is
particularly suitable for modelling the time-of-flight PD location
problem. A 3D geometry has been created to represent a simple
oil-filled tank containing a PD source, UHF sensor and an
obstacle to line-of-sight UHF signal propagation. The effect of
obstacles in delaying the arrival time and attenuating the leading
edge of the signal is assessed. Implications of the results for
accurate PD location by the UHF method are discussed and
further improvements to the modelling study are proposed.
Index Terms-FDTD, Partial Discharge, transformer, UHF
signal.

I.

INTRODUCTION

The insulation system of power transformers is an


important aspect for the reliable and safe operation of
electrical power networks. Partial discharge (PD) within
power transformers often indicates weaknesses in the
insulation [1]. It can be valuable to locate PD sources in
power transformers in order to determine what remedial
action is necessary. PD pulses usually involve rise times of
less than 1 ns, which will excite a signal in the UHF range
(300-3000 MHz) [2]. The PD location can be estimated by
timing the arrival of UHF signals at several sensors on a
transformer tank, as shown in Figure 1. The algorithm to
locate PD sources in power transformers by using three or
more sensors has been outlined in [3]. It can estimate the
shortest propagation path of UHF signals using a numerical
procedure to account for obstacles. If the signals are noisy,
they could first be denoised, as elaborated in [4] [5] [6].
This paper reports a study of the propagation of UHF PD
signals in power transformers using the FDTD method.
Example applications of FDTD can be found in the literature
[7] [8] [9]. This paper deals with the propagation of a
wavefront from a PD source to a sensor with an obstacle at
the centre of the tank. The effect on PD location is studied by

W. H. Siew
University of Strathclyde
w.siew@eee.strath.ac.uk

observing the differential time delay for a tank with and


without an obstacle.

Fig. 1. Example of UHF PD location in a small power transformer,


following the technique outlined in [1]. S1 - S4 are UHF sensors and the
lines to them approximate the propagation path of signals from the PD source
to each sensor.

II. DESCRIPTION OF THE MODEL


Two kinds of obstacles (conducting cylinder and cuboid)
have been positioned in turn at the centre of a tank. The grid
system has been defined on an FDTD cell size of 0.01 m for
all axes.
The dimensions of the tank are 4 m 2 m 3 m, which
represents a small oil-filled power transformer. The thickness
of the tank wall is 0.02 m and it is defined as a perfect electric
conductor (PEC). One obstacle is a cylinder of size 3 m 1 m
(height diameter), as shown in Figure 2. The second
obstacle tested was a cuboid of dimensions 1 m 1 m 3 m.
Table I summarises the material parameters used in the
simulation. The coordinates of the electric field point sensor
are {0.5 m, 1.0 m, 1.5 m} and a Gaussian PD current source
of 0.28 ns pulse width has been applied. This pulse width is
the default value selected by the software for this particular
mesh spacing, which ensures a broadband response and is
also in the appropriate range for a PD pulse. Three orthogonal
directions of PD current have been simulated in turn, which

flows over a 1 cm path from the coordinates {3.50 m, 1.00 m,


1.50 m} to the points {3.51 m, 1.00 m, 1.50 m}, {3.50 m,
1.01 m, 1.50 m} and {3.50 m, 1.00 m, 1.51 m} respectively.
These directions represent the positive x-direction, y-direction
and z-direction of PD current sources.

y
(a)

III. SIMULATION AND ANALYSIS


For each obstacle, six simulations were carried out using
the XFdtd 7.0 software, comprising each of the three
orthogonal PD current directions with and without the
obstacle. The simulation period of was 96.27 ns,
corresponding to 5000 time steps of 19.254 ps each. The
simulation time was typically 78 minutes on a powerful PC
workstation. Without the obstacle, the simulation took a few
seconds longer to complete because the volume within which
fields have to be computed is slightly larger.
A key parameter of interest in the output data is the
estimated differential time delay of PD signal that is
introduced by the addition of the obstacle.
The absolute distances between the sensor and PD source
were calculated based on simple geometry. The geometrical
minimum distances which the PD signals would have to
propagate with the two conducting obstacles are calculated as
illustrated in Figure 3. The differences in geometrical
minimum distances with and without obstacles will be used
as reference values to assess the differential time delays
resulting from the FDTD simulations. The theoretical values
for the differential time delay were calculated using the speed
of light in oil transformer, which equals 2 108 m/s [10].
Table II lists the expected differential time delays.

z
(b)

(a)

Fig. 2. The tank and centrally-located cylindrical obstacle in the model


viewed (a) in the x-y plane, and (b) in the x-z plane.

TABLE I
THE MATERIALS OF THE MODEL TANK AND INTERNAL OBSTACLES
Parameter

Relative
Permeability

Relative
Permittivity

Conductivity
(S/m)

Mineral Oil

2.2

Conducting
Cylinder/Cuboid

5.8 107

Geometry

(b)
Fig. 3. The calculation of geometrical minimum distances for (a)
cylindrical obstacle, and (b) cuboid obstacle

TABLE II
PROPAGATION TIME DELAY BASED ON GEOMETRIC CALCULATION

Obstacle
Cylinder
Cuboid

Obstacle
Configuration

Geometric
Distance
(m)

Without
With
Without
With

3.000
3.162
3.000
3.236

Absolute
Propagation
Time
(ns)
15.00
15.81
15.00
16.18

Expected
Differential
Time Delay
(ns)
0.81
1.18

The electric field sensor included in the modelling software


delivers the absolute magnitude of electric field as a function
of time. The total electric field results from the vector sum of
the Cartesian components, which can also be exported
separately. By way of example, Figure 4 shows the variation
of total electric field magnitude E with time and that of the x,
y and z components of E (with and without obstacles) for an
x-directed PD current source. Note that the dominant electric
field component of the radiated PD signal is in the direction
of PD current flow.
As is evident from Figure 4, only the initial part of the
UHF signal response to PD is available from the simulation.
Much more time would be needed to simulate the whole UHF
resonance. The signals will still be reflecting and refracting
inside the oil-filled tank long after 100 ns of propagation
time, but in this study we are only interested in the initial
response.
Enlarged views of the PD signals from Figure 4 are shown
in Figure 5. Their amplitude is very small at the leading edges
but it is noticeable from Figure 5 that the signals without the
cylindrical obstacle arrive about 0.8 ns before the signals with
the cylinder present, which is in line with expectation.
Examination of the orthogonal components of the electric
field indicates that the x-component is the dominant
contributor to the overall electric field magnitude at the
sensor. In this regard, it is interesting to observe that the
initial peak of the electric field is actually larger in amplitude
when the cylinder is present (despite the delayed arrival).
This touches on some of the issues of the complexity of
propagation around conducting obstacles, which provide
much scope for future detailed investigation. For example, if
we consider the radiation pattern of the x-directed PD source
to be similar to that of a small dipole then the PD sensor
would lie on a projection of the line over which the current
flows. The radiation pattern suggests that the field component
parallel to the current flow will be large but that on the axis of
current flow will be negligible. Since the boundary conditions
on a conducting cylinder require that the electric field is
perpendicular to its surface, it is likely that the presence of the
cylinder assists with steering a surface wave around its
surface. By considering the shortest path shown in Figure
3(a), it is apparent that the angle of the radiated field leaving
the PD source along this path will one for which the xcomponent ought to be larger.

Signal arrival times were calculated based on the total


electric field magnitude according to the following procedure:
The electric field data is squared and then a threshold is
defined as a certain percentage of the peak value of this
squared data. The first time at which the squared E-field data
crosses the threshold is taken as the absolute value of arrival
time. The absolute arrival time is of little value in itself, but
subtracting pairs of arrival times between data sets allows the
necessary differential arrival times to be obtained. Figure 6
shows the differential time delays for the obstacles, including
the effects of the three different PD current source directions
and the different threshold levels used to calculate signal
arrival times. The differential time delay for the simulated
electric field has been compared with the expected
differential time delay from Table II, revealing the potential
for several ns of timing error.

Fig. 4. Absolute total and three absolute components of PD signals with


and without cylinder (Positive x-directions of PD current source)

Practical experience has led us to conclude that, even for


relatively noise-free signals, a threshold of about 1% is about
the minimum that can give repeatable results with UHF
signals from power transformers. In these simulations, we
have been able to apply thresholds several orders of
magnitude smaller, since the output data is noise-free. Even
so, the levels of differential timing error evident in Figure 6
are still greater than might have been expected for such
impractically low thresholds. Further studies are needed to
see if this may be a consequence of the very simple model
perhaps the structure is too simple and symmetrical to allow
for the conversion between orthogonal field components that

may be possible with many more conductors are present at


varying angles to the radiated electric field.
Note also that the effect of the response of UHF sensors (as
reported in [11]) has not been taken into account in this work,
and will be a further contributory factor to the timing
accuracy.

Differential Time Delay (ns)

(a)

Threshold
Level
(%)

Differential Time Delay (ns)

(b)

Threshold
Level
(%)

Fig. 6. Differential time delay for simulated PD signals with (a)


cylindrical obstacle, theoretical delay = 0.81 ns, and (b) cuboid obstacle,
theoretical delay = 1.18 ns.
Fig. 5. Expanded views of the total E-field and its components with and
without cylinder for PD current source in the positive x-directions. Labels
show the magnitude of the first peak in the signal received at the sensor.

IV. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS


Accurate onset time determination for UHF signals is
important for locating PD sources in power transformers. A
study of the propagation of UHF signals excited by PD in a
simple power transformer model has been carried out using
FDTD simulation software.
Since there is no noise present in the output of this
simulation, the threshold method for computing the
propagation time can be set to very small values (e.g.,
0.00001%). When comparing differences in signal arrival
times for obstacles that block line-of-sight propagation of
electromagnetic waves, it was found that several nanoseconds of timing error may occur in the differential time
delay compared with expected changes that were only about 1
ns. This raises issues concerning the accuracy of PD location
by the method of assuming the minimal delay signal path,
which require further investigation though the evaluation of
results from more detailed and realistic models.

The direction of flow of PD current plays a significant role


that can affect the observed differential time delay by 1 or 2
ns when all other parameters are kept constant. The total
electric field at the sensor seems to be predominantly
composed of the component corresponding to the direction of
PD current flow.
In a real transformer, with a much more complicated
structure and arrangement of conductors, the situation may be
different in that the electric fields radiated by the PD source
may not be able to retain such ideal polarisation. This may in
fact lead to more accurate observation of the expected
differential arrival times, and is a topic that will be
investigated in future work.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
A. M. Ishak would like to acknowledge the support of
colleagues in the High Voltage Technologies Group. He also
wishes to thank Ministry of Higher Education, Malaysia and
National Defence University of Malaysia for their funding.

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