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Metal-Oxide Surge Arresters in High-Voltage Transmission and Distribution Systems

Effective and reliable devices increasing system availability and reducing maintenance costs Volker Hinrichsen, Siemens PTD, Berlin/Germany

Abstract Surge arresters protect equipment of transmission and distribution systems, worth several magnitudes more than the arresters themselves, from the effects of lightning and switching overvoltages. If properly designed and configured, they are extremely reliable devices, able to offer decades of service without causing any problems. This paper presents information about the basic electrical characteristics and designs of modern metal-oxide surge arresters. In addition to the standard application protection of power transformers examples are provided, in which arresters help to reduce investment, repair and maintenance costs. This benefit can be augmented when arresters are combined with other equipment such as post insulators, disconnectors or earthing switches. Fundamentals Surge arresters constitute an indispensable aid to insulation coordination in electrical power systems. Figure 1 makes this clear. There the voltages which may appear in an electrical power system are given in per-unit of the peak value of the highest continuous line-to-earth voltage, depending on the duration of their appearance. The voltage or overvoltage which can be reached without the use of arresters, is a value of several p.u. If instead, one considers the curve of the withstand voltage of equipment insulation (here equipment means electrical devices such as
1200 1100 1000 Peak value of voltage / kV 900 800 700 600 500 400 300 200 100 0
10 -5 10 -4 10 -3 10 -2 10 -1

Magnitude of (over-)voltage / p.u.

Possible voltages without arresters


Withstand voltage of equipment

Voltages limited by arresters


Lightning overvoltages (Microseconds)

Switching overvoltages (Milliseconds)

Temporary overvoltages (Seconds)

Highest voltage of equipment (Continuously)

Time duration of (over-)voltage

Figure 1: Voltages and overvoltages in high-voltage electrical power systems

power transformers) one notices that starting in the range of switching overvoltages, and especially for lightning overvoltages, the equipment insulation cannot withstand the occurring dielectric stresses. At this point, the arresters intervene. When in operation, it is certain that the voltage that occurs at the terminal of the device while maintaining an adequate safety margin will stay below the withstand voltage. Arresters effect, therefore, involves lightning and switching overvoltages. Arresters installed today are all metal-oxide (MO) arresters without gaps. The distinctive feature of a MO-arrester is its extremely nonlinear voltage-current- or U-I-characteristic, rendering unnecessary the disconnection of the

Lightning impulse protection level = 823 kV

Peak value of rated voltage: 475 kV

Peak value of continuous operating voltage: 379 kV Peak value of line-to-earth voltage: 343 kV Leakage current: 100 A 1 Nominal discharge current: 10 kA 10 1 10 2 10 3 10 4 10 5

Peak value of current / A

Figure 2: U-I-characteristic of a typical MO arrester in a system of Um = 420 kV

arrester from the line through serial spark-gaps, as is found in the former gapped arresters with SiC-resistors. In Figure 2, an example is shown of the U-I-characteristic of a typical MO-arrester connected between the conductor and the ground in an effectively grounded 420-kVsystem. This arrester has a continuous operating voltage (Uc) of 268 kV and a rated voltage (Ur) which characterizes the capability of the arrester to deal with temporary overvoltages in the system and can only be applied for a time period of 10 seconds to 100 seconds of 336 kV (these values are r.m.s. values, while the U-Icharacteristic depicts them as peak values). While a leakage current of about 100 A flows when the normal line-to-earth voltage is applied, this arrester has a residual voltage of only 823 kV when a lightning impulse current of 10 kA the so-called nominal discharge current is impressed. This voltage is called the lightning impulse protection level of the arrester. Equipment in the 420-kV-system normally has a standard lightning impulse withstand level (known as "BIL" in the IEEE standards) of 1425 kV. This (test voltage) value is not allowed to ever be attained in practice. In accordance with the IEC standards on insulation coordination [2] [3], the highest occurring voltage in the case of a non-self-restoring-insulation in operation should stay below this value by a factor of 1.15, that is, not exceed 1239 kV. Nevertheless, the lightning impulse protection level of 823 kV offers more than enough protection. It should, however, be noted that this value represents a voltage across the arrester terminals, caused by the flow of an ideal standardized test current at the same level as the arresters nominal discharge current. Three significant causes can allow the voltage at the terminals of the equipment to be protected to take on a considerably higher value: a) inductive voltage drops; b) discharge currents higher than the nominal discharge current; c) separation effects by traveling wave processes between the terminals of the arrester and of the equipment to be protected. Especially the latter phenomenon has to be taken into account when planning the optimal location of an arrester (for detailed information see [4]). It is the main reason for the limited protection zone of arresters, which is in the range of 5 m (Um = 24 kV, compensated neutral) to 60 m (Um = 420 kV, effectively earthed). Arresters should therefore be installed as close as possible to the equipment to be protected. As a rule of thumb, an arrester of a lightning impulse protection level equal to the standard lightning impulse

withstand voltage of the equipment to be protected, divided by 1.4, results in comfortable safety margins if at the same time the aforementioned distances are not exceeded. Such an arrester will act as an extremely reliable and economical device for protecting precious equipment like the big power transformer shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Generator transformer (VEAG, Germany, Um = 420 kV) protected by three surge arresters

Construction of modern MO surge arresters During the past twenty years surge arrester design and application has been dominated by two major changes in technology. The first one, introduction of the gapless metal-oxide arresters in the late seventies and early eighties of the last century, has considerably improved the protection characteristics and the reliability (reported failure rates of metal-oxide arresters in transmission systems are close to zero), while at the same time the construction, compared with that of gapped SiC-arresters, has become less complicated and less prone to mechanical or dielectric defects. The next major step involved using polymeric materials for the housings, starting in the late eighties. For no other device within the high-voltage transmission and distribution than for surge arresters has the change to polymer housings been so consistently carried out, and in the distribution systems, for instance, porcelain housed arresters are virtually no longer being installed. In the case of the conventional porcelain housing, different properties such as protection from environmental impact and provision of sufficient creepage distance on the one hand and mechanical strength on the other are united in a single component. In an arrester with polymer housing, however, these properties are apportioned to two different components. Mechanical strength is almost always achieved with fiberglass-reinforced plastic (FRP) materials. In the example shown in Figure 4, several rods serve

this purpose. They are strained in the aluminum end fittings and enclose the MO-resistor stack. This is how a mechanical high-strength unit out of MO-resistors, end fittings and the FRP structure are created. This module is inserted in a mold, in which silicone rubber is directly injected. Thus it is possible to obtain a perfect bond of the silicone rubber with the other components, voidfree and permanent. Similarly, in case of an arrester overload, which is an extremely rare event but nevertheless has to be considered, a pressure buildup and the related risk of violent housing breakage has been avoided.

Flange with vent Seal Pressure relief diaphragm Compression spring Metal oxide resistors Composite hollow insulator (FRP tube / silicone rubber sheds)

Figure 5: Modern high-voltage arrester with housing made of a composite hollow insulator

important being the possibility to design highvoltage arresters which are so mechanically strong, that they can endure the strongest earthquakes intact and at the same time be used as a post insulator in a substation (Figure 6).

Figure 4: Modern distribution arrester with directly molded silicone rubber housing (left: complete arrester, right: internal design)

An advantage of the applied silicone rubber in this case, in comparison to cheaper materials, are the excellent long-term properties. Another advantage is the characteristic unique to silicone rubber, hydrophobicity: even if the silicone surface is very dirty, water simply drips off. This suppresses the formation of conductive layers and advantageously affects the operational performance of the arrester in polluted conditions. While this design principle constitutes the most economical way to produce an arrester for distribution or lower transmission voltages, it has its technical limitations for higher system voltages. The possible length of the individual units is limited to about one meter and the achievable mechanical cantilever strength to values of about 5 kNm. Here another concept, as shown in Figure 5, has proven to be advantageous. In principle, this has the same design as a conventional porcelain housed arrester. Indeed, essentially only the porcelain insulator has been replaced with a composite-hollow insulator. The composite-hollow insulator is made up of an FRPtube on which the silicone rubber sheds are directly molded on. This design principle offers some considerable advantages for applications up to the highest voltage levels, one of the most

Figure 6: Polymer housed arrester (Um = 550 kV) during seismic testing on a shaking table

Another property is only found in this design: in the case of an arrester overload it is certain that with this construction a housing breakage will never occur, not even any of the inner parts are ejected. The tube will remain almost completely intact, and as a result it offers the best possible safety for the whole switchgear. It must be mentioned, however, that at these system voltage levels the conventional porcelain housed MO arresters, not explained here in further detail, are still pre-dominant. Another principal design of arresters, metalenclosed gas-insulated arresters, which are of

great importance in protecting GIS, cannot be dealt with here either. Application examples Protection of transformers is without a doubt the most common application of surge arresters. There are, however, many other fields where arresters protect different kind of equipment from the effect of overvoltages and thus help to improve power supply quality and reduce maintenance costs in the networks. It should always be kept in mind here that in most cases the purchase price of the arresters is in the range of only 1% or less of the equipment they protect. Some more selected application examples are given below. Partly they have become possible only after introducing polymeric housings, which allow arresters to operate even in areas of public access (safety aspect!) and in any mounted position (such as horizontal or suspended). - Protection of cables: cables are exposed to lightning overvoltages if they are directly connected to overhead lines. This is the case particularly in distribution systems. Distribution overhead lines are normally not protected by shield wires, so direct lightning strikes into the phase conductors are quite common. Protection of the cables directly at the cable terminations is therefore a must. Figure 7 shows that this is, however, not limited to distribution voltages.

breaking porcelain housing in case of an arrester overload has prevented application of surge arresters on locomotives for a long time. Modern breaking resistant designs of polymer housed arresters have overcome this problem and offer economical protection against damages to the expensive locomotives (Figure 8).

Figure 8: Polymer housed arrester for protection of electric locomotives (High speed train "ICE", Deutsche Bahn, 15 kV/16.7 Hz)

- Protection of series capacitors: long a.c. transmission lines require capacitive compensation of the line inductance. Series capacitor banks installed along the line at distances of several hundred kilometers are an effective means of improving system stability and transmission capacity. To protect the series capacitors from the effect of a.c. overvoltage in case of a line fault current, arrester banks are connected in parallel, which carry most parts of the fault current while limiting the voltage across the capacitors to undangerous values. By connecting many (up to 100) MO-columns in parallel, distributed to several housings (Figure 9), it is possible to increase the energy

Figure 9: Arrester bank for protection of a series capacitor (Um = 550 kV, Eletronorte, Brazil) Figure 7: 161-kV-tower with 6 cable terminations, protected by suspended polymer housed surge arresters (IEC, Israel)

- Protection of traction systems: damages of electric locomotives frequently occur if no overvoltage protection is provided. The risk of a

absorption capability of the arrester bank to extreme values [5] [6]. Compared with other alternatives, this has turned out to be a good compromise between necessary investment and the achievable degree of availability of the line. - Protection of thyristors in HVDC applications: HVDC transmission lines and back-to-back

stations are gaining importance worldwide to exchange electric energy over long distances by overhead lines or (sea-) cables, to interconnect different grids or to supply concentrated load centers. The main components of the converters are thyristors, which have achieved a high degree of technical performance and reliability, but are nevertheless expensive devices. Among the different other locations within an HVDC converter station where surge arresters are indispensable [7] the valve protection arresters, which protect the thyristors from overvoltages, play an outstanding role. The maximum blocking voltage of modern thyristors is about 8 kV, thus requiring many of them to be connected in series in order to handle transmission voltages up to 500 kV. Arresters of extremely reduced protection levels parallel to the valve towers allow the number of thyristors in series to be reduced and thereby help to considerably decrease the overall cost of the converter (Figure 10).

Figure 10: Suspended valve tower with polymer housed valve protection arresters (LADWP, California/USA, 500 kV dc)

- Line arresters: distribution lines are normally unshielded lines, thus making direct lightning strikes with consequential power supply interruptions a comparatively likely event. But even shielded transmission lines may be affected by lightning, either by direct strikes to the line conductors in case of shielding failures, or by back flashovers after a lightning strike into the tower or the overhead ground wire. In an increasingly competitive environment due to deregulation there is growing interest in reducing outage time and improving power supply quality. However, later installation of (additional) overhead ground wires, improvement of the footing resistance of the towers in order to decrease the probability of back flashovers, or other means, are not possible in many cases for technical reasons,

and besides this, they are always very expensive. Here installation of surge arresters parallel to the line insulators has turned out to be a costeffective alternative. There are many options for optimizing the necessary investment against power supply quality by protecting only part of the towers, part of the phases, or by choosing inexpensive arresters of low energy absorption capability based on an arrester failure risk analysis [8] [9]. Improved benefit by combined arresters As mentioned before, arresters comparatively cheap devices within the electric power supply system are able to reliably protect equipment worth several magnitudes more than the arresters themselves. They can, however, be used even more effectively when combined with other devices. Two examples are given below. - Arresters as post insulators: Normally surge arresters are not used as post insulators. In the very rare (but nevertheless possible) event of an arrester failure the arrester housing may break and completely lose its mechanical integrity. On the other hand, achieving this additional function is a favorable goal for economical as well as for technical reasons. A post insulator, including a pedestal and the required foundation work, can easily create costs of several thousand Euros. A simple calculation can show that drastic cost reductions may be achieved when using arresters as post insulators. Saving space is another economical point. From a technical point of view, omitting post insulators helps to reduce the length of lines and bus bars in a substation, which may improve the lightning overvoltage protection of the equipment, as distances between the arrester and the equipment to be protected become shorter. The extremely low failure rates of MO resistors over the past twenty years, together with the availability of mechanical highstrength, breaking resistant polymer housed arresters as depicted in Figure 5, have made

Figure 11: Polymer housed arresters used as post insulators (EnBW, Germany, Um = 420 kV)

application of surge arresters as post insulators possible [10]. An example is shown in Figure 11. - Arresters integrated into disconnectors and earthing switches: Arresters installed at the line entrance of a substation can effectively protect circuit breakers and instrument transformers from the effects of nearby direct lightning strikes into the overhead line conductors. While even for new substations the additional space requirements are a serious problem, later installation of surge arresters at the line entrance of already existing substations is nearly impossible in most cases. This problem can be overcome by integrating the arresters into the line side disconnectors, as shown in the left part of Figure 12.

The introduction of gapless MO arresters in the late seventies and early eighties of the last century has remarkably improved the protection characteristics, reliability and the ease of application in general. The use of polymer housings, beginning in the late eighties, have contributed to safety, thus opening new fields of application, for instance in areas of public access, or where there are extreme requirements on mechanical strength. Countless applications exist in which modern arresters help to reduce investment, repair and maintenance costs in systems of electric power supply. This benefit can be further increased if arresters are combined with other devices, such as post insulators, disconnectors or earthing switches solutions which have been supported by the users' increasing confidence in arrester performance and the possibilities offered by modern arrester technology.
[1] IEC 60099-4, Edition 1.1, 1998-08 Surge arresters Part 4: Metal-oxide surge arresters without gaps for a.c. systems [2] IEC 60071-1, Seventh edition, 1993-12 Insulation co-ordination Part 1: Definitions, principles and rules [3] IEC 60071-2, Third edition, 1996-12 Insulation co-ordination Part 2: Application guide [4] IEC 60099-5, First edition, 1996-02 Surge arresters Part 5: Selection and application recommendations [5] Renz, Hinrichsen Quite at Home at 50 C EV Report 1/95, pp. 10 13 [6] Mainville, Riffon, Rollin, Hinrichsen Pressure Relief Tests on Varistors for the Series Compensation Banks installed at the Montagnais Substation IEEE/PES 1993 Summer Meeting, Vancouver/Canada, paper 93 SM 385-5 PWRD [7] IEC 28/139/CDV 2001-02-09 IEC 60071-5: Insulation co-ordination Part 5: Procedures for HVDC Converter Stations [8] CIGR Working Group 33.11 Task Force 03 Application of Metal Oxide Surge Arresters to Overhead Lines lectra No. 186, October 1999, pp. 83 - 112 [9] Tarasiewicz, Rimmer, Morched Transmission Line Arrester Energy, Cost, and Risk of Failure Analysis for Partially Shielded Transmission Lines IEEE Transactions on Power Delivery, Vol.15, No.3, July 2000, pp. 919 - 924 [10] Hinrichsen, Fien, Solbach, Priebe Metal Oxide Surge Arresters with Composite Hollow Insulators for High-Voltage Systems CIGR conference Paris 1994, paper 33-203 [11] Hinrichsen, Ghler, Lipken, Breilmann Economical Overvoltage Protection by Metal-Oxide Surge Arresters Integrated in High-Voltage AIS Disconnectors Substation Integration, Design and Test Experience CIGR conference Paris 2000, paper 33-104

Figure 12: Arrester integrated in a 420-kV-disconnector (left) and in a 245-kV-earthing switch (right) (RWE Net, Germany)

One column of a two-column rotating disconnector has been replaced by a surge arrester, requiring only a modification of the arrester's grading ring. This solution has been realized for Um = 420 kV and 245 kV and is incidentally a good example of an installation of surge arresters which has not only been the most economical but in fact virtually the only possible way to solve existing problems with switchgear failure caused by lightning overvoltage phenomena [11]. The picture on the right in Figure 12 shows a similar arrangement of an earthing switch in which the insulator column has been replaced by an arrester. Conclusion Surge arresters protect equipment of transmission and distribution systems, worth several magnitudes more than the arresters themselves, from the effects of lightning and switching overvoltages. If properly designed and configured, they are extremely reliable devices, offering decades of service without causing any problems.