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Corona ions (air ionisation)

Corona ions (air ionisation)

The intense electric field on the surface of powerline cables is sufficient to ionise the air, producing corona ions. This process is the cause of the characteristic buzzing or crackling of powerlines. Corona ions are routinely emitted from high voltage powerlines, especially in wet conditions. Corona ion effects have been measured up to 7 kilometres from powerlines both in the UK and in Germany. Corona ions are small electrically-charged particles which, when emitted from powerlines attach themselves to particles of air pollution, making these particles more likely to be trapped in the lung when inhaled. This phenomenon is sufficiently well recognised that pharmaceutical companies making inhalers are developing methods of charging up those aerosols to improve their effectiveness.

In this way people living near powerlines may be exposed to increased levels of air pollution. Crucially, corona ions can be carried several hundred metres from powerlines by the wind, so effects may be felt much further away than for magnetic fields. Fews and Henshaw, and colleagues at Bristol University (see refs) have estimated that corona ion effects, significant to adversely affect human health, extend to at least 400 metres from powerlines.

Bristol University found similar levels of corona ion pollution from 132kV lines as well as the much higher voltage lines studied in the Draper report (see refs). 132kV lines are much more common and straddle many houses and housing estates around the UK. Because of the quantity of research pointing towards serious health problems as a result of exposure to EMFs from power lines, etc., Powerwatch believes the Government should issue clear guidance to

  • prevent any new building, especially homes, schools, nurseries, etc. within 250 metres of high-voltage powerlines
  • enable the industry to start remedial work, such as undergrounding powerlines.

The regulator, OFGEM, should allow the industry to increase electricity prices slightly to fund this necessary work.

Although research has shown there is an increased risk of illness in high fields, most people, including most children, will not be seriously affected by them. It is important not to panic, but to take reasonable precautions.


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Transformer Oil Diagnostics

Transformer Oil Diagnostics

In addition to dissipating heat due to losses in a transformer, insulating oil provides a medium with high dielectric strength in which the coils and core are submerged. This allows the transformers to be more compact, which reduces costs. Insulating oil in good condition will withstand far more voltage across connections inside the transformer tank than will air. An arc would jump across the same spacing of internal energized components at a much lower voltage if the tank had only air. In addition, oil conducts heat away from energized components much better than air.

Over time, oil degrades from normal operations, due to heat and contaminants. Oil cannot retain high dielectric strength when exposed to air or moisture. Dielectric strength declines with absorption of moisture and oxygen. These contaminants also deteriorate the paper insulation. For this reason, efforts are made to prevent insulating oil from contacting air, especially on larger power transformers. Using a tightly sealed transformer tank is impractical, due to pressure variations resulting from thermal expansion and contraction of insulating oil. Common systems of sealing oil-filled transformers are the conservator with a flexible diaphragm or bladder or a positivepressure inert-gas (nitrogen) system. Reclamation GSU transformers are generally purchased with conservators, while smaller station service transformers have a pressurized nitrogen blanket on top of oil. Some station service transformers are dry-type, self-cooled or forcedair cooled.

Conservator System

A conservator is connected by piping to the main transformer tank that is completely filled with oil. The conservator also is filled with oil and contains an expandable bladder or diaphragm between the oil and air to prevent air from contacting the oil. Figure 1 is a schematic representation of a conservator system (figure 1 is an actual photo of a conservator).

Figure 1: Conservator with Bladder

Figure 1: Conservator with Bladder

Air enters and exits the space above the bladder/diaphragm as the oil level in the main tank goes up and down with temperature. Air typically enters and exits through a desiccant-type air dryer that must have the desiccant replaced periodically. The main parts of the system are the expansion tank, bladder or diaphragm, breather, vent valves, liquid-level gauge and alarm switch. Vent valves are used to vent air from the system when filling the unit with oil. A liquid-level gauge indicates the need for adding or removing transformer oil to maintain the proper oil level and permit flexing of the diaphragm.

Oil-Filled, Inert-Gas System

A positive seal of the transformer oil may be provided by an inert-gas system. Here, the tank is slightly pressurized by an inert gas such as nitrogen. The main tank gas space above the oil is provided with a pressure gauge (figure 12. Since the entire system is designed to exclude air, it must operate with a positive pressure in the gas space above the oil; otherwise, air will be admitted in the event of a leak. Smaller station service units do not have nitrogen tanks attached to automatically add gas, and it is common practice to add nitrogen yearly each fall as the tank starts to draw partial vacuum, due to cooler weather. The excess gas is expelled each summer as loads and temperatures increase. Some systems are designed to add nitrogen automatically (figure 2) from pressurized tanks when the pressure drops below a set level. A positive pressure of approximately 0.5 to 5 pounds per square inch (psi) is maintained in the gas space above the oil to prevent ingress of air. This system includes a nitrogen gas cylinder; three-stage, pressure-reducing valve; high-and low-pressure gauges; high-and low-pressure alarm switch; an oil/condensate sump drain valve; an automatic pressure-relief valve; and necessary piping.

Figure 2: Typical Transformer Nitrogen System

Figure 2: Typical Transformer Nitrogen System

The function of the three-stage, automatic pressure-reducing valves is to reduce the pressure of the nitrogen cylinder to supply the space above the oil at a maintained pressure of 0.5 to 5 psi. The high-pressure gauge normally has a range of 0 to 4,000 psi and indicates nitrogen cylinder pressure. The low-pressure gauge normally has a range of about -5 to +10 psi and indicates nitrogen pressure above the transformer oil. In some systems, the gauge is equipped with high- and low-pressure alarm switches to alarm when gas pressure reaches an abnormal value; the high-pressure gauge may be equipped with a pressure switch to sound an alarm when the supply cylinder pressure is running low. A sump and drain valve provide a means for collecting and removing condensate and oil from the gas. A pressure-relief valve opens and closes to release the gas from the transformer and, thus, limit the pressure in the transformer to a safe maximum value.

As temperature of a transformer rises, oil expands, and internal pressure increases, which may have to be relieved. When temperature drops, pressure drops, and nitrogen may have to be added, depending on the extent of the temperature change and pressure limits of the system.


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Maintenance Of Meduim Voltage Circuit Breakers

Maintenance Of Meduim Voltage Circuit Breakers

Medium-voltage circuit breakers rated between 1 and 72 kV may be assembled into metal-enclosed switchgear line ups for indoor use, or may be individual components installed outdoors in a substation. Air-break circuit breakers replaced oil-filled units for indoor applications, but are now themselves being replaced by vacuum circuit breakers (up to about 35 kV).

Medium voltage circuit breakers which operate in the range of 600 to 15,000 volts should be inspected and maintained annually or after every 2,000 operations, whichever comes first.

The above maintenance schedule is recommended by the applicable standards to achieve required performance from the breakers.

Safety Practices

Maintenance procedures include the safety practices indicated in the ROMSS (Reclamation Operation & Maintenance Safety Standards) and following points that require special attention.

  • Be sure the circuit breaker and its mechanism are disconnected from all electric power, both high voltage and control voltage, before it is inspected or repaired.
  • Exhaust the pressure from air receiver of any compressed air circuit breaker before it is inspected or re­paired.
  • After the circuit breaker has been disconnected from the electrical power, attach the grounding leads properly before touching any of the circuit breaker parts.
  • Do no lay tools down on the equipment while working on it as they may be forgotten when the equipment is placed back in service.

Maintenance Procedures For Medium Voltage Air Circuit Breakers

The following suggestions are for use in conjunction with manufacturer’s instruction books for the maintenance of medium voltage air circuit breakers:

  1. Clean the insulating parts including the bushings.
  2. Check the alignment and condition of movable and stationary contacts and adjust them per the manufacturer’s data.
  3. See that bolts, nuts, washers, cotter pins, and all terminal connections are in place and tight.
  4. Check arc chutes for damage and replace damaged parts.
  5. Clean and lubricate the operating mechanism and adjust it as described in the instruction book. If the operat­ing mechanism cannot be brought into specified tolerances, it will usually indicate excessive wear and the need for a complete overhaul.
  6. Check, after servicing, circuit breaker to verify that contacts move to the fully opened and fully closed positions, that there is an absence of friction or binding, and that electrical operation is functional.

Maintenance Procedures For Medium Voltage Oil Circuit Breakers

The following suggestions are for use in conjunction with the manufacturer’s instruction books for the maintenance of medium-voltage oil circuit breakers:

  1. Check the condition, alignment, and adjustment of the contacts.
  2. Thoroughly clean the tank and other parts which have been in con­ tact with the oil.
  3. Test the dielectric strength of the oil and filter or replace the oil if the dielectric strength is less than 22 kV. The oil should be filtered or replaced whenever a visual inspection shows an excessive amount of carbon, even if the dielectric strength is satisfactory.
  4. Check breaker and operating mechanisms for loose hardware and missing or broken cotter pins, retain­ ing rings, etc.
  5. Adjust breaker as indicated in instruction book.
  6. Clean and lubricate operating mechanism.
  7. Before replacing the tank, check to see there is no friction or binding that would hinder the breaker’s operation. Also check the electrical operation. Avoid operating the breaker any more than necessary without oil in the tank as it is designed to operate in oil and mechanical damage can result from excessive operation without it.
  8. When replacing the tank and refilling it with oil, be sure the gaskets are undamaged and all nuts and valves are tightened properly to prevent leak­ age.

Maintenance Procedures For Medium Voltage Vacuum Circuit Breakers

Direct inspection of the primary contacts is not possible as they are enclosed in vacuum containers. The operating mechanisms are similar to the breakers discussed earlier and may be maintained in the same manner. The following two maintenance checks are suggested for the primary contacts:

  1. Measuring the change in external shaft position after a period of use can indicate extent of contact erosion. Consult the manufacturer’s instruction book.
  2. Condition of the vacuum can be checked by a hipot test. Consult the manufacturer’s instruction book.



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Maintenance Of Low Voltage Circuit Breakers

Maintenance Of Low Voltage Circuit Breakers

The deterioration of low voltage circuit breaker is normal and  this process begins as soon as the circuit breaker is installed. If  deterioration is not checked, it can cause failures and malfunctions. The purpose of an electrical preventive maintenance and testing program should be to recognize these factors and provide means for correcting them.

A good organized maintenance program can minimize accidents, reduce unplanned shutdowns and lenghten the mean time between failures of electrical equipment.

Benefits of good electrical equipment maintenance can be reduced cost of process shutdown (caused by circuit breaker failure), reduced cost of repairs, reduced downtime of equipment, improved safety of personnel and property.

Frequency Of Maintenance

Low-voltage circuit breakers operating at 600 volts alternating current and below should be inspected and maintained very 1 to 3 years, depending on their service and operating conditions. Conditions that make frequency maintenance and inspection necessary are:

  1. High humidity and high ambient temperature.
  2. Dusty or dirty atmosphere.
  3. Corrosive atmosphere.
  4. Frequent switching operations.
  5. Frequent fault operations.
  6. Older equipment.

A breaker should be inspected and maintained if necessary whenever it has interrupted current at or near its rated capacity.

Maintenance Procedures

Manufacturer’s instructions for each cir­ cuit breaker should be carefully read and followed. The following are general pro­ cedures that should be followed in the maintenance of low-voltage air circuit breakers:

  1. An initial check of the breaker should be made in the TEST position prior to withdrawing it from to enclo­sure.
  2. Insulating parts, including bushings, should be wiped clean of dust and smoke.
  3. The alignment and condition of the movable and stationary contacts should be checked and adjusted ac­cording to the manufacturer’s instruction book.
  4. Check arc chutes and replaces any damaged parts.
  5. Inspect breaker operating mechanism for loose hardware and missing or broken cotter pins, etc. Examine cam, latch, and roller surfaces for damage or wear.
  6. Clean and relubricate operating mechanism with a light machine oil (SAE-20 or 30) for pins and bearings and with a nonhardening grease for the wearing surfaces of cams, rollers, etc.
  7. Set breaker operating mechanism adjustments as described in the manufacturer’s instruction book. If these adjustments cannot be made within the specified tolerances, it may indicate excessive wear and the need for a complete overhaul.
  8. Replace contacts if badly worn or burned and check control device for freedom of operation.
  9. Inspect wiring connections for tightness.
  10. Check after servicing circuit breaker to verify the contacts move to the fully opened and fully closed positions, that there is an absence of friction or binding, and that electrical operation is functional.

Much of the essence of effective electrical equipment preventive maintenance can be sumarrized by four rules:

  • Keep it DRY
  • Keep it CLEAN
  • Keep it COOL
  • Keep it TIGHT




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Transformator shot with thermovision camera

Transformator shot with thermovision camera

Substation ventilation is generally required to dissipate the heat produced by transformers and to allow drying after particularly wet or humid periods. However, a number of studies have shown that excessive ventilation can drastically increase condensation. Ventilation should therefore be kept to the minimum level required. Furthermore, ventilation should never generate sudden temperature variations that can cause the dew point to be reached. For this reason: Natural ventilation should be used whenever possible. If forced ventilation is necessary, the fans should operate continuously to avoid temperature fluctuations. Guidelines for sizing the air entry and exit openings of substations are presented hereafter.

Calculation methods
Natural ventilation

Natural ventilation

A number of calculation methods are available to estimate the required size of substation ventilation openings, either for the design of new substations or the adaptation of existing substations for which condensation problems have occurred.

The basic method is based on transformer dissipation. The required ventilation opening surface areas S and S’ can be estimated using the following formulas:


S = Lower (air entry) ventilation opening area [m2] (grid surface deducted)
S’= Upper (air exit) ventilation opening area [m2] (grid surface deducted)
P = Total dissipated power [W]
P is the sum of the power dissipated by:

  • The transformer (dissipation at no load and due to load)
  • The LV switchgear
  • The MV switchgear

H = Height between ventilation opening mid-points [m]

This formula is valid for a yearly average temperature of 20 °C and a maximum altitude of 1,000 m.
It must be noted that these formulas are able to determine only one order of magnitude of the sections S and S’, which are qualified as thermal section, i.e. fully open and just necessary to evacuate the thermal energy generated inside the MV/LV substation. The pratical sections are of course larger according ot the adopted technological solution.

Indeed, the real air flow is strongly dependant:

  • on the openings shape and solutions adopted to ensure the cubicle protection index (IP): metal grid, stamped holes, chevron louvers,…
  • on internal components size and their position compared to the openings: transformer and/or retention oil box position and dimensions, flow channel between the components, …
  • and on some physical and environmental parameters: outside ambient temperature, altitude, magnitude of the resulting temperature rise.

The understanding and the optimization of the attached physical phenomena are subject to precise flow studies, based on the fluid dynamics laws, and realized with specific analytic software.


Transformer dissipation = 7,970 W LV switchgear dissipation = 750 W MV switchgear dissipation = 300 W The height between ventilation opening mid-points is 1.5 m.


Dissipated Power P = 7,970 + 750 + 300 = 9,020 W

Ventilation opening locations

To favour evacuation of the heat produced by the transformer via natural convection, ventilation openings should be located at the top and bottom of the wall near the transformer. The heat dissipated by the MV switchboard is negligible. To avoid condensation problems, the substation ventilation openings should be located as far as possible from the switchboard.

«Over» ventilated MV/LV Substation

«Over» ventilated MV/LV Substation. The MV cubicle is subjected to sudden temperature variations.

Substation with adapted ventilation

Substation with adapted ventilation. The MV cubicle is no longer subjected to sudden temperature variations.

If the MV switchboard is separated from the transformer, the room containing the switchboard requires only minimal ventilation to allow drying of any humidity that may enter the room.

Type of ventilation openings

To reduce the entry of dust, pollution, mist, etc., the substation ventilation openings should be equipped with chevron-blade baffles. Always make sure the baffles are oriented in the right direction.

MV cubicle ventilation

Any need for natural ventilation is taken into account by the manufacturer in the design of MV cubicles. Ventilation openings should never be added to the original design.

Instruction: Medium Voltage equipment on sites exposed to high humidity and/or heavy pollution by Schneider Electric


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