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Performance Characteristics

of XLPE Versus EPR as Insulation

for High Voltage Cables
J . C. Chan, M . D.Havtley and L. J . Hiivala
Alcatel Canada W i r e Inc.

Two dielectrics, namely X L P E and EPR, are
n any underground high voltage transmission net- the choices for insulation in high voi'tage
I work, system reliability arising from long-life and
trouble-free cable performance is of extreme impor-
tance to electrical utilities and other industrial users.
extruded cables rated to 230 k V
The key electrical properties of the two are
Power outages caused by premature cable failures can investigated.
result not only in severe economic losses such as high
repair costs and loss of revenue, but also in customer
dissatisfaction, negative publicity and litigation.
In reviewing the history of the development of fault data are available for medium voltage L nder-
power cables, it can be seen that conventional, oil-im- ground distribution cables. Since the insulating com-
pregnated paper cables have served the power industry pounds used in medium voltage cables are generally
well, accumulating a service record of almost 80 years the same or very similar to the ones used in high voltage
with proven reliability. Although they are reliable, oil- cables , it is considered appropriate to include these
impregnated paper cables suffer from high dielectric fault data for engineering information. Fig. 1shows the
losses, high operating costs and the potential for con- failure rate data for 20 kV cables from 1980 to 1936 [l].
tamination of the environment. As a result of these As can be seen, EPR is not superior to XLPE in terms of
concerns, extruded dielectric power cables have gained cable performance reliability. This contradicts (Iaims
in popularity among utilities and are claiming an in- made by EPR cable and material suppliers that EPR is
creasingly greater market share in the transmission superior to XLPE as insulation for underground distri-
voltage class cable business, especially in Europe and bution cables [2,3,4].
Today, two dielectrics, namely XLPE (crosslinked I 61
polyethylene) and EPR (ethylene propylene rubber) are
the choices for insulation in high voltage extruded cables
rated up to 230 kV. The relative merits for using XLPE
over EPR (or vice versa) in transmission class cables will
be reviewed and discussed in terms of electrical per-
formance, system requirements and economic viability.
The investigation focused on the key electrical proper-
ties of the two insulations with emphasis on the ac and 1 1 1 / I n
impulse strengths and the dielectric loss properties. 1-

Cable Fault Statistics - XLPE vs. EPR

1982 1983
1985 1986

A review of the literature reveals that there are few Year

or no fault statistics available for XLPE or EPR cables in XLPE UEPR
the transmission class voltage range. However, some Fig. 1.Failure Rate of 20 kV XLPE and EPR Cables


8 May/June 1993-Vo1.9,No.3 IEEE Electrical Insulation Magazine

Compound Formulation - XLPE vs. EPR Table I1
Crosslinked polyethylene (XLPE) insulation was Dielectric Losses in Power Cables
first introduced in the late 1950s as an insulation for
medium voltage cables up to 35 kV, and today it is in
use in Europe and Japan up to 500 kV. The most com-
mon method for crosslinking polyethylene is by the
, 507 mm2 (1000
peroxide system. The resultant XLPE insulation con- kcmil) Cu,
tains at least 98% polyethylene. 69 kV cable with
EPR compounds may be based on the copolymer, 16.5mm wall
ethylene-prop ylene or on the terpolymer, ethylene-pro- 507 mm2 (1000 52 I
pylene-hexadiene or ethylidene norbornene (EPDM). kcmil) Cu,
Unlike XLPE, EPR compounds contain only about 50% 138 kV cable with
22mm wall
of the base polymer and are complex formulations in-
corporating as many as ten ingredients with clay fillers
being the next largest component. EPR formulations
vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. According to
507 m m 2 (1000
kcmil) Cu,

26mm wall


the literature, EPR has been in commercial use in high I

voltage cables rated 150 kV since the late 1970s [5,6].

There is also a record of an installation of a 220 kV EPR losses present a serious drawback, as they limit the
cable for field testing in a network in Switzerland [5]. power transmission capability of the cable and increase
operating costs.
Typical Properties - XLPE vs. EPR
Typical dielectric losses for XLPE and EPR-insulated
cables rated 69 kV through 230 kV are shown in Table
The physical and electrical properties of XLPE and 11. The losses for the EPR cables are considered to be
EPR are compared in Table I. A range of values are given conservative, since the calculations were based on the
for EPR to cover the various formulations that are com- best EPR formulations available on the market.
mercially available. A key difference between these two
materials is in the dissipation factor, which is a measure Electrical Properties - XLPE vs. EPR
of dielectric losses in a cable. The dielectric losses of any
high voltage cable are directly proportional to the In any power cable, the dielectric requirements are
square of the operating voltage, to the dielectric con- of greater importance than the mechanical require-
stant and to the dissipation factor of the insulation. Such ments in design considerations for a long-life, trouble-
free cable. In light of this, attention is focused on the
Table I electrical properties of the insulation, in particular the
_ - Properties of XLPE vs. EPR [4,7,8] ac and impulse strength and the dielectric loss proper-
Physical ties. The insulating materials of interest are XLPI , and
EPR extruded on full-size cables.
Density, 1.2 - 1.4
Tensile Strength, MPa 9-12 High Voltage AC Test
Elongation, 'lo 250 - 350 The purpose of the ac high voltage test is to T erify
Modulus of Elasticity, MPa 121 5 - 14 the ability of the cable to withstand over-voltage condi-
tions arising from ground faults and system distur-
r ~

bances. Also, it is important to gain knowledge into the

Thermal Conductivity, 0.27 0.27 - 0.35
w / m " C at 90°C failure mechanism of the insulation when the cable is
ultimately taken to breakdown.
For the XLPE cable, the ac withstand and breakdown
Dielectric Constant 2.3 2.5 - 3.0 data were obtained on a 507 mm2 (1000 kcmil) copper,
138 kV cable that was subjected to a high voltage time
at 23°C <0.03 0.16 - 0.30 test in accordance with AEIC CS7-87 [lo]*. Prior to the
I 90°C <0.03 0.30 - 1.0 high voltage time test, the cable was subjected to the
1 Volume Resistivity, Rm following cyclic ageing schedule:
~ at23"C 1016
7 cycles (8h heating, 16h cooling)
Short-term AC Breakdown 48 30 - 40
on Miniature Cable,
at 1.5 Uo, 40°C cond. temp.
' kV/mm [8] 14 cycles (8h heating, 16h cooling)
at 2.0 Uo, 90°C cond. temp.

IEEE Electrical Insulation Magazine MayIJune 1993-Vo1.9,N0.3 9

14 cycles (8h heating, 16h cooling) sure cable reliability in service. The waveform for the
at 1.5 Uo, 130°C cond. temp. impulse test is generally specified in industry specifica-
U. = Rated phase-to-ground voltage tions as 1.2 x 50 ps.
*Note:AEIC CS7-87 is currently under revision The impulse data for the 138 kV XLPE cable ar d the
150 kV EPR cable are compared in Fig. 3. The YLPE
The ac high voltage time test results for the 138 kV cable with the designation "aged" indicates that the
XLPE cable are presented in Fig. 2 along with data for cable had undergone the AEIC cyclic ageing test men-
150 kV EPR cable reported by Occhini et al. [9,6]. Be- tioned previously.
cause of equipment limitations, it was not possible to Again, it can be seen that XLPE shows superior per-
break down the 138 kV cable (three samples) at up to formance over EPR in terms of impulse behav or at
572 kV, equivalent to a maximum conductor stress of 42 130°C conductor temperature. The results for XLPE far
kV/mm. On the other hand, the 150 kV EPR cable is exceed the AEIC requirements.
reported to have a nominal breakdown strength of 33
kV/mm. T h s clearly shows superiority of XLPE over Dielectric Losses
EPR insulation.
As mentioned earlier, the dielectric losses in a nate-
Impulse Test rial are dependent on the loss factor, i.e., the product of
the dielectric constant and the dissipation factor of the
Power cables in service are often subjected to over- insulation for a cable of a particular voltage class. For
voltages of a transient nature which arise from the most insulating materials, the dielectric constmt is
electrical power systems. The dielectrics of these cables practically independent of temperature and electric
are required to withstand these voltage surges. For this stress. However, the temperature and stress effects on
reason, impulse strength is considered to be one of the the dissipation factor are quite significant for some
most critical parameters that must be measured to en materials, requiring careful considerations for OF timal
50 cable design.
The dissipation factor versus temperature and stress
characteristics of XLPE and EPR insulated power c ables
have been compared in Figs. 4 and 5 respective y. As
expected, the dissipation factor of XLPE is significantly
e 30 lower than that of EPR and appears to be viriually
f 20
independent of electrical stress and temperatun, (i.e.,
no adverse effect) over the range studied.

10 Discussion

0 AC and Impulse Strength

138kV XLPE 150kV EPR
Comparative ac and impulse breakdown strength
1Yin Requirements Steps to Breakdown
data obtained on full-size extruded dielectric c,ables
Fig. 2. Breakdown of High Voltage XLPE & EPR Cables

140 132
120 1
100 5U
s: 80

f 60 m
40 0.01

/ I I I I 1 I t
n 0.00:
I 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 1 0 0 1 1 0 1 2 0 1 3 0 1 ~ 0
138kV XLPE 138kV XLPE 150kV EPR
(Una .d) (AgW Temperature,"C
I M l n Requirements U S t e p s to Breakdown
Fig. 4. Dissipation Factor vs Temperature of XLPE 8: EPR
Fig. 3. Impulse Strength at 130" C Conductor Temperature Cables

10 May/June 1993-Vo1.9,N0.3 IEEE Electrical Insulation Macazine

Dielectric Losses
It is generally recognized that the dielectric losscs in
EPR- insulated power cables are hgher than thos- of
XLPE cables, especially at the higher transmission 1 olt-
ages. However, at the lower transmission voltages (69-

L 0.2

0.1 -
i l
138 kV), most often cable engineers assume that the
dielectric losses are insignificant because they are only
a small fraction of the conductor losses, thus justiflring
the use of EPR cables. In Table 111, an attempt has been
made to show that the dielectric losses can be significant
in 69 - 138 kV EPR cables, representing 3-470 of the
138 kV XLPE conductor losses for a 69 kV system and 9-13% for a
138kV system. Thus, with XLPE cable, the yearly entirgy
savings can be in the order of 15 MWh/ for a 69
kV system and 52 Mwh/ for a 138 kV system.
Fig. 5. Dissipation Factor us Stress of XLPE & EPR Cables Another disadvantage arising from the use of EPR
cable is the large variability of dissipation factor from one
production length to another. For instance, Parvopassu et
confirm the superiority of XLPE over EPR insulation.
al. [6] reported dissipation factor variation ranging from
The results for the 138 kV XLPE cable manufactured by
0.27% to 0.40% for the production lengths of 150 kV EPR
the MDCV process far exceed the AEIC CS7-87 require-
cable, even when tested at ambient temperature.
ments. It should be noted that the AEIC specification is
considered to be the most stringent industry standard
in North America, if not the world. The positive ac and Conclusions
impulse results indicate that the present AEIC design
stress level of 6 kV/mm for a 138 kV XLPE cable can be The 138 kV XLPE cable displayed ac u-ith-
extended to 9 kV/mm, which is comparable to that of stand/breakdown strength at least 25% hgher than the
oil-impregnated paper cables. 150 kV EPR cable.

Table I11
Conductor Losses vs. Dielectric Losses of XLPE and EPR Aluminum-Sheathed Cables
69 kV Cables i
Cond. Size Copper
I Cond. Losses
per Cct.
Diel. Losses (kW/ Diel. Loss as 1'' of Cond. L'XS

(kcmil)2 (Ohm/km) (Amps) (kW/km) EPR XLPE EPR
1000 0.3542 ' 830 73.2 185 0.09 3 0
1 1500 0.02358 1000 70.7 2.21 0.11 3 0
2000 0.01768 1120 66.5 2.46 0.12 4 0

2500 0.01430 1370 ~~~
80.5 2.68 0.13 3 0
3000 i 0.01191 1470 77.2 2.88 0.14 4 0

1000 0.03542 820 7 6.18 0.31 9 0

, 1500 0.02358 1000 i 70.7 7.30 0.36 10 1
I 2000 10.01768 1 1120 1 66.5 i 8.07 1 0.40 112 1 1
~ 2500 10.01430 1 1340 1 77.0 1 8.75 1 0.43 I 11 11 I
~ 3000 ' 0.01191 1440 74.1 9.37 0.46 13 1 J

IEEE Electrical Insulation Magazine May/June 1993-Vo1.9,No.3 11

The XLPE cable exhibited about 70% higher impulse accessories from 300V to 345 kV. Currently he is director,
strength than the EPR cable. High Voltage Cable Engineering.
The loss factor of the XLPE cable is at least 20 times
lower than that of EPR cable. Thus with XLPE cables,
the yearly energy savings can be in the order of 15
MWh/ for a 69 kV system, 52 MWh/ for 1. UNIPEDE-DISCAB, “International Cable Fault Statistics on
a 138 kV system and 127 MWh/ for a 230 kV Synthetically Insulated MV-Cables,” CIRED 1989,IEE Conf. Publ. No.
system. 305.
2. R.B. Blodgett et al., ”Performance of Extruded Dielectric Power
Cables in Simulated Underground Environment,” IEEE,
John C. Chan holds a B.Sc. degree in physics and a
Underground Transmission and Distribution Conference, 1976.
M. Phil. in materials science from the University of 3. P. Metra and A. Lombardi, “Discussion on the Behaliour of
London (U.K.).He joined Alcatel Canada Wire in 1973 Extruded Cables in Water,” IEEE, Underground Transmission and
and has since been involved in all aspects of electrical Distribution Conference, 1976.
insulation studies, including dielectric testing, failure 4. M. Brown, “Performance of Ethylene-Propylene Rubber Indation
analysis, and materials evaluation for high voltage in Medium and High Voltage Power Cable,“ IEEE/ICC, PES Summer
Meeting, San Francisco, CA, July 1982.
power cables. Currently he is supervisor of the Physical 5. M. Laurent, ”15 Years of Experience with EPR Cables Ratt,d 10 to
and Mechanical Tests Laboratory at Alcatel Canada 150 kV,” Nordic Wire and Cable Event, Gotenburg, S Meden,
Wire Materials Laboratory. September 1989.
Mark D. Hartley received a B.A. Sc. in chemical 6. P.Parvopassu et al., ”150 kV EPM Cable Connections Petween
engineering, University of Toronto in 1972. Following Transformers and SFs lnsulated Switchgear for 5 Substations in
Rome,” IEEE Trans. on Pomer Apparatus and System, PAS-96 No. 1,
employment at Goodyear Tire and Rubber, he returned January 1977.
to the University of Toronto, receiving a M.A. Sc. and a 7. R.M. Eichhorn, “A Critical Comparison of XLPE and EPR for Use
Ph.D. in chemical engineering, specializing in polymer as Insulation on Underground Power Cables,” I E E E Tr,gns.on 1 kctrical
science. Dr. Hartley joined Alcatel Canada Wire Materi- Insulation, EI-16, No. 6, Dec. 1981.
als Laboratory in 1979 to carry out polymeric com- 8. J.C. Chan and L.J. Hiivala, “Comparative Performance ot EPDM
Versus XLPE as Insulation for Distribution Cables,” IrCABLF 7987 t?
pound development. Currently he is director of the Revue GenPval de L‘Electvicite, No. 3, March 1988, France.
Materials Laboratory and Product Engineering. 9. E. Occhini et al., ”Thermal, Mechanical and Electrical Propides of
Lauri J. Hiivala received his B. Sc. in electrical engi- EPR Insulations in Power Cables,” IEEE/PES Winter Meeting, New
neering from the University of Toronto in 1965. Since York, January 1983.
graduation he has been with Alcatel Canada Wire in 10. M.D. Hartley and EW. Hintze, ”Recent High Voltage XLI’E Cable
Developments,” IEEE/PES, ICC Fall 1992 Meeting, St. Pettdmrg,
Toronto, Canada. He has held various positions involv- Florida, November 1992.
ing the design and development of power cables and

12 May/June 1993-Vo1.9,N0.3 IEEE Electrical Insulation Maljazine