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11/6/2014 motorsanddrives.

com - Unbalanced Currents

Motor users and installers get concerned when they HOW MUCH UNBALANCE CAN BE TOLERATED?
detect unbalanced phase currents on a 3-phase
motor. The question is frequently asked: “Is there In general, this depends on the conditions that are
something wrong with the motor?” The other question found. If the motor is driving the load and the highest
is: “How much current unbalance can be tolerated?” amperage of the three legs is below the nameplate Full
This paper will attempt to answer those questions. Load rating, then generally it is safe to operate. If the
high leg is above the nameplate rating, but within the
HISTORY normal service factor amps (for a motor with a service
factor, normally 1.15) then it is probably still safe to
In the “Good Old Days” about the only sources of operate the motor. Also, it is not unusual to find
unbalanced phase currents was either a problem in currents more unbalanced at no load than they will be
the motor, such as an unbalanced number of turns in under load, so the loaded amps should be used.
the windings, an uneven air gap or unbalanced phase Finally, in general, if the high leg is not more than 10%
voltages. Winding or air gap problems are definitely above the average of the three legs, determined as
motor related. On the other hand unbalanced phase shown in the example, it is probably safe to operate the
voltages are a power system problem. Unbalanced motor.
voltages will generally produce unbalanced currents
that are many times greater than the percentage of EXAMPLE
voltage unbalance. The ratio used is close to 8:1. In
other words, a voltage unbalance of 1% could create Motor Nameplate FLA = 10.0
unbalanced phase currents of as much as 8%. Service Factor 1.15

A very unscientific way of looking at the problem is Phase Loaded Amps

as follows: Suppose a motor has a nameplate full A 10.6
load current of 10 amps. At full load the amps on
B 9.8
each leg of the 3 phases added together would be 10
+ 10 + 10 or 30. However, if the load is the same but C 10.2
the phase currents are unbalanced, the total of the 3
legs added together will always be more than the total Determine the Average
of the balanced currents. In this case the currents
might be 10.5, 11.3 and 12.1 for a total of 33.9. This (10.6 + 9.8 = 10.2)/3 = 10.2 amps
is a very unscientific way of looking at it, but it is
accurate in describing the effect. What this means is Determine the % Difference
that high current on one leg doesn’t mean that the
other two legs will be reduced by an equal amount. It (Highest Phase – Average)/Average x 100
can be said that unbalanced currents always result in
higher operating temperature, shortened motor life (10.6 – 10.2)/10.2 x 100 = (.4/10.2) x 100 = .039 x 100
and efficiency reduction. = 3.9%

The next question is “What creates unbalanced The following table shows some of the sources of
currents?” In years past, if the motor was not the unbalanced voltages and currents along with possible
problem — the source of unbalanced currents was remedies.
unbalanced phase voltages. When measuring line to
line voltages from phase A to B, B to C, and C to A,
detectable differences in the voltages would show up.
The voltage differences would account for the PROBLEM SOLUTION
unbalanced currents. Blown fuse on a
Search, find and replace blown
power factor
In today’s world there are other problems that are correction capacitor
frequently not detectable with simple voltage tests. bank
One problem of growing concern, is voltage distortion Uneven single phase Locate single phase loads and
caused by harmonics in the power system currents. loading of the 3 distribute them more evenly on
This can happen if there are loads in the general area phase system the 3 phase circuit.
that draw non-linear (harmonic rich) currents from the If the incoming voltages are
Utility unbalanced
power system, they can create voltage distortion in substantially unbalanced,
the normal voltage sine-wave that, in turn, can cause especially at lightly loaded or no
unbalanced currents in motors even when phase load periods, contact the utility
voltage differences are not detectable with a company and ask them to 1/2
11/6/2014 - Unbalanced Currents

voltmeter. For example, if you were to detect correct the problem.

unbalanced motor currents and took measurements Locate the sources of the
with a digital voltmeter on the three phases, they Harmonic distortion harmonics and use harmonic
might be very close to one another. The natural filters to control or reduce
tendency under these conditions, would be to blame harmonics. Install line reactors
the motor for the problem. When this happens it is on existing and new variable
necessary to go a step further to identify or dismiss frequency controls.
the motor as the source of the problem. The test is to
rotate all 3 phases. If the power phases are labeled SUMMARY
A, B and C and the motor leads connected to them
are labeled 1, 2, and 3, motor lead #1 might be
Unbalanced currents on 3 phase motors are
reconnected to power supply lead B; motor lead #2
undesirable but a small amount can generally be
would be reconnected to power supply lead C, motor
tolerated. Excessive unbalanced currents can shorten
lead #3 would be reconnected to power supply lead A.
motor life and increase energy consumption.
Moving all three legs will keep the motor rotating in
the same direction. The currents are recorded on
each power line leg before and after the connections
are changed. If the high current leg stays with the
power line phase (for example, B), then the problem
is a power supply problem rather than a motor
problem. If, however, it moves with the motor leg,
then it is a motor problem. This test will pinpoint the
problem to be either power supply or motor.

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