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ABB is a major transformer manufacturer throughout the world. ABB power transformers are built and designed to meet the individual customer’s needs. This experienced attendance to details lies behind the success of ABB’s transformers.

This approach is carried throughout the manufacturing process: design, core, winding, drying, tank, quality assurance, assembly, testing, transport and installation and support.


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1.1 Background

Visual inspection of the transformer exterior reveals important condition information. For example, valves positioned incorrectly, plugged radiators, stuck temperature indicators and level gauges, and noisy oil pumps or fans. Oil leaks can often be seen which indicate a potential for oil contamination, loss of insulation, or environmental problems. Physical inspection requires staff experienced in these techniques.

1.2 Temperature Indicators Online
Winding temperature indicator

Winding temperature indicator

Check all temperature indicators while the transformer is online. The winding temperature indicator should be reading approximately 15 degrees above the top oil temperature. If this is not the case, one or both temperature indicators are malfunctioning. Check the top oil temperature next to the top oil indicator’s thermowell with an infrared camera.

Compare the readings with the top oil indicator. Reset all maximum indicator hands on the temperatures indicating devices after recording the old maximum temperature readings.

High temperature may mean overloading, cooling problems, or problems with windings, core, or connections.

1.3 Temperature Indicators Offline

When the transformer is offline and has cooled to ambient temperature, check the top oil and winding temperature indicators; both should be reading the same. If not, one or both temperature indicators are malfunctioning. Check the calibration according to the proper procedure. Also compare these readings with the indicated temperature on the conservator oil level indicator; all three should agree.

1.4 Conservator
Figure 1.—Conservator Oil Level

Figure 1.—Conservator Oil Level

Check the oil level gauge on the conservator. See figure 1 at right. This gauge indicates oil level by displaying a temperature. Compare the indicated temperature on the conservator level gauge with the top oil temperature indicator. They should be approximately the same.

Calibrate or replace the conservator oil level indicator if needed, but only after checking the top oil temperature indicator as shown in the above section. Reference also IEEE 62-1995™ [11], section 6.6.2. If atmospheric gases (nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide) and perhaps moisture increase suddenly in the DGA, a leak may have developed in the conservator diaphragm or bladder. With the transformer offline and under clearance, open the inspection port on top of the conservator and look inside with a flashlight. If there is a leak, oil will be visible on top of the diaphragm or inside the bladder. Reclose the conservator and replace the bladder or diaphragm at the first opportunity by scheduling an outage. If there is no gas inside the Buchholz Relay, the transformer may be re-energized after bleeding the air out of the bladder failure relay.

A DGA should be taken immediately to check for O2, N2, and moisture. However, the transformer may be operated until a new bladder is installed, keeping a close eye on the DGAs. It is recommended that DGAs be performed every 3 months until the new bladder is installed. After the bladder installation, the oil may need to be de-gassed if O2 exceeds 10,000 ppm. Also, carefully check the moisture level in the DGAs to ensure it is below recommended levels for the particular transformer voltage. Check the desiccant in the breather often; never let more than two-thirds become discolored before renewing the desiccant. All efforts should be made to keep the oxygen level below 2,000 ppm and moisture as low as possible.

1.5 Conservator Breather
Figure 2.—Conservator Breather

Figure 2.—Conservator Breather

Check the dehydrating (desiccant) breather for proper oil level if it is an oil type unit. Check the color of the desiccant and replace it when approximately one-third remains with the proper color. See figure 2 for a modern oil type desiccant breather. Notice the pink desiccant at the bottom of the blue indicating that this portion is water saturated. Notice also that oil is visible in the very bottom 1-inch or so of the unit.

Many times, the oil is clear, and the oil level will not be readily apparent. Normally, there is a thin line around the breather near the bottom of the glass; this indicates where the oil level should be.

Compare the oil level with the level indicator line and refill, if necessary. Note the 1¼-inch pipe going from the breather to the conservator. Small tubing (½ inch or so) is not large enough to admit air quickly when the transformer is de-energized in winter. A transformer can cool so quickly that a vacuum can be created from oil shrinkage with enough force to puncture a bladder. When this happens, the bladder is destroyed; and air is pulled into the conservator making a large bubble.

1.6 Nitrogen

If the transformer has a nitrogen blanket, check the pressure gauge for proper pressure. Look at the operators recording of pressures from the pressure gauge. If this does not change, the gauge is probably defective. Check the nitrogen bottle to insure the nitrogen is the proper quality (see PEB No. 5 [20]). Check for any increased usage of nitrogen which indicates a leak. Smaller transformers such as station service or smaller generator-step-up transformers may not have nitrogen bottles attached to replace lost nitrogen. Be especially watchful of the pressure gauge and the operator’s records of pressures with these.

The pressure gauge can be defective for years, and no one will notice. The gauge will read nearly the same and will not vary much over winter and summer or night and day. Meanwhile, a nitrogen leak can develop; and all the N2 will be lost. This allows air with oxygen and moisture to enter and deteriorate the oil and insulation. Watch for increased oxygen and moisture in the DGA. An ultrasonic and sonic leak detection instrument (P-2000) is used for locating N2 leaks.

1.7 Oil Leaks
Oil Leaks

Oil Leaks

Check the entire transformer for oil leaks. Leaks develop due to gaskets wearing out, ultraviolet exposure, taking a “set,” or from expansion and contraction, especially after transformers have cooled, due to thermal shrinkage of gaskets and flanges. Many leaks can be repaired by applying an epoxy or other patch.

Flange leaks may be stopped with these methods using rubberized epoxy forced into the flange under pressure. Very small leaks in welds and tanks may be stopped by peening with a ball-peen hammer, cleaning with the proper solvent, and applying a “patch” of the correct epoxy.

Experienced leak mitigation contractors whose work is guaranteed may also be employed. Some leaks may have to be welded. Welding may be done with oil in the transformer if an experienced, qualified, and knowledgeable welder is available. If welding with oil in the tank is the method chosen, oil samples must be taken for DGA both before and after welding. Welding may cause gases to appear in the DGA and it must be determined what gases are attributed to welding and which ones to transformer operation.

1.8 Pressure Relief Device

With the transformer under clearance, check the pressure relief device indicating arm on top of the Figure 3.— Pressure Relief Device. transformer to see if it has operated. If it has operated, the arm will be in the up (vertical) position, and alarm and shutdown relays should have activated.

Figure 3.— Pressure Relief Device

Figure 3.— Pressure Relief Device

Do not re-energize a transformer after this device has operated and relays have de-energized the transformer, until extensive testing to determine and correct the cause has been undertaken. Explosive, catastrophic failure could be the result of energization after this device has operated.

1.9 Oil Pumps

If the transformer has oil pumps, check flow indicators and pump isolation valves to ensure oil is circulating properly. Pump motor(s) may also have reversed rotation, and flow indicators may still show that oil is flowing. To ensure motors are turning in the proper direction, use an ammeter to check the motor current. Compare results with the full-load-current indicated on the motor nameplate. If the motor is reversed, the current will be much less than the nameplate full-load-current.  Check oil pumps with a vibration analyzer if they develop unusual noises.

Have the DGA lab check for dissolved metals in the oil and run a metal particle count for metals if the bearings are suspect. This should be done immediately, as soon as a bearing becomes suspect; bad oil-pump bearings can put enough metal particles into the oil to threaten transformer insulation and cause flashover inside the tank. An explosive catastrophic failure of the transformer tank could be the result.

1.10 Fans and Radiators

Inspect all isolation valves at the tops and bottoms of radiators to ensure they are open. Inspect cooling fans and radiators for cleanliness and fans for proper rotation. Check for dirty or damaged fan blades or partially blocked radiators. Fans are much more efficient if the blades are clean and rotating in cool air. Normally, fans blow cool air through the radiators; they should not be pulling air through. Check to see if fans are reversed electrically (i.e., pulling air first through the radiators and then through the fan blades). This means the blades are rotating in warm air after it passes through the radiator which is much less efficient. Place a hand on the radiator opposite the fans; air should be coming out of the radiator against your hand.

Watch the blades as they rotate slowly when they are starting or stopping to determine which way they should be rotating and correct the rotation if necessary.

1.11 Buchholz Relay
Figure 4.—Buchholz Relay

Figure 4.—Buchholz Relay

Inspect the isolation valve on the Buchholz relay to ensure it is open. With the transformer offline and under clearance, examine the Buchholz relay by lifting the window cover (center in figure 4 at right) and looking inside. If there is gas inside, the oil will be displaced, and the gas will be evident as a space on top the oil. If sufficient gas is found to displace the upper float, the alarm should be activated. The small valve at the top left is to bleed the gas off and reset the relay. If a small amount of gas is found in this relay when the transformer is new (a few months after startup), it is probably just air that has been trapped in the transformer structure and is now escaping; there is little cause for concern.

If the transformer has been on line for some time (service aged), and gas is found in the Buchholz, oil samples must be sent to the lab for DGA and extensive testing. Consult with the manufacturer and other transformer experts. A definite cause of the gas bubbles must be determined and corrected before re-energization of the transformer.

1.12 Sudden Pressure Relay
Figure 5.—Sudden Pressure Relay

Figure 5.—Sudden Pressure Relay

An example relay is shown in figure 5 at the left. The purpose of this relay is to alarm if there is a sudden pressure rise inside the tank. This relay is very sensitive and will operate if the pressure rises only a little. If a very small pressure change occurs caused by a small electrical fault inside the tank, this relay will alarm. In contrast, the pressure relief device (shown above in figure 5) operates if a large pressure builds inside the tank caused by heavy arcing and heating causing the oil to boil and bubble. Inspect the isolation valve to ensure it is open.

With the transformer offline and under clearance, functionally test the sudden pressure relay by slowly closing the isolating valve. Leave it closed for a few seconds and reopen the valve very suddenly; this should activate the alarm. If the alarm does not activate, test the relay, and replace it with a new one if it fails to function.

1.13 Bladder Failure Relay

On newer transformers, a bladder failure relay may be found on or near the conservator top on the oil side of the bladder. This relay is near the highest point of the transformer. Its purpose is to alarm if the bladder fails and admits air bubbles into the oil.

The relay will also serve as a backup to the Buchholz relay. If the Buchholz relay overfills with gas and fails to activate an alarm or shutdown, gas will bypass the Buchholz and migrate up into the conservator, eventually to the bladder failure relay. See figure 6. Of course, these gases should also show up in the DGA. However, DGAs are normally taken only once per year, and a problem may not be discovered before these alarms are activated.

Figure 6.—Bladder Failure Relay

Figure 6.—Bladder Failure Relay

If the bladder failure alarm is activated, place the transformer under clearance and check the Buchholz for gas as mentioned in section 1.10. Open the conservator inspection port and look inside with a flashlight to check for oil inside the bladder. Bleed the air/gas from the conservator using the bleed valve on top of the conservator. If the transformer is new and has been in service for only a few months, the problem most likely is air escaping from the structure as mentioned in section 1.11.

With the transformer under clearance, open the inspection port on top of the conservator and look inside the bladder with a flashlight. If oil is found inside the bladder, it has developed a leak; a new one must be ordered and installed.

SOURCE: Transformer Diagnostics, Fascilities Instructions, Standards And Techniques


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The Unique Role Of Wind Turbine WTSU

The Unique Role Of Wind Turbine WTSU

Harnessing wind energy to perform work is not a new concept. Since the earliest of times, wind power has been captured with sails to allow traders, merchants and explorers to ply their trades and discover the world around them. On land, windmills have been used for irrigation, grinding grains, and performing crude manufacturing for centuries. Even the generation of electricity from wind power is not a new idea. What is new, however, is the scale at which this renewable energy source is being used today.

Early wind generation served a local need, often supplying power for isolated equipment. Today, wind energy represents nearly 5% of the US electrical generation and is targeted to reach 20% in the foreseeable future.
For this to happen, wind turbine outputs need to be gathered, stepped-up to transmission levels and passed across the nation’s interconnected power grid to the end users. The role of the Wind Turbine Step-Up (WTSU) transformer in this process is critical and, as such, its design needs to be carefully and thoughtfully analyzed and reevaluated in our view.

Historically this WTSU transformer function has been handled by conventional, “off the shelf” distribution transformers, but the relatively large numbers of recent failures would strongly suggest that WTSU transformer designs need to be made substantially more robust. WTSU transformers are neither conventional “off the shelf” distribution transformers nor are they conventional “off the shelf” power generator step-up transformers. WTSU transformers fall somewhere in between and as such, we believe, require a unique design standard.
Although off-shore wind farms using dry-type transformers are beginning to grow in popularity, for this discussion we will look only at liquid-filled transformers that are normally associated with inland wind farm sites.

Transformer Loading

Wind turbine output voltages typically range from 480 volts to 690 volts. This turbine output is then delivered to the WTSU transformers and transformed to a collector voltage of 13,800 to 46,000 volts. The turbines are highly dependant upon local climatic conditions; and this dependency can result in yearly average load factor as low as 35%. Both conventional distribution transformers and power generator step-up transformers are typically subjected to more constant loading at, or slightly above, their theoretical maximum rating. This high level of loading stresses insulation thermally and leads to reduced insulation life. On the other hand, the relatively light loading of WTSU transformer has a favorable effect on insulation life but introduces two unique and functionally significant problems with which other types of conventional transformers do not have to deal.

The first problem is that, when lightly loaded or idle, the core losses become a more significant economic factor while the coil or winding losses become less significant and de-emphasized. Typically used price evaluation formulae do not apply to this scenario. NEMA TP1 and DOE efficiencies are not modeled for the operational scenario where average loading is near 30-35% and, consequently, should be cautiously applied when calculating the total cost of ownership for WTSU transformers.

The second problem is that the WTSU transformer goes into thermal cycling as a function of these varying loads. This causes repeated thermal stress on the winding, clamping structure, seals and gaskets. Repeated thermal cycling causes nitrogen gas to be absorbed into the hot oil and then released as the oil cools, forming bubbles within the oil which can migrate into the insulation and windings to create hot spots and partial discharges which can damage insulation. The thermal cycling can also cause accelerated aging of internal and external electrical connections.
These cumulative effects put the WTSU transformer at a higher risk of insulation and dielectric failure than either the typical “off the shelf” distribution transformer or the power generator step-up transformer experiences.

Harmonics and Non-Sinusoidal loads:

Another unique aspect of WTSU transformers is the fact that they are switched in the line with solid state controls to limit the inrush currents. This differs widely from the typical step-up transformer which must be designed to withstand high magnetizing inrush currents which cause core saturation, and in the extreme Ferroresonance.

While potentially aiding in the initial energization, these same electronic controls contribute damaging harmonic voltage frequencies that, when coupled with the non- sinusoidal wave forms from the wind turbines, cannot be ignored from a heating point of view. Conventional distribution transformers do not typically see non-linear loads that require preventative steps due to harmonic loading. When a rectifier/chopper system is used, the WTSU transformer must be designed for harmonics similar to rectifier transformers, taking the additional loading into consideration as well as providing electrostatic shields to prevent the transfer of harmonic frequencies between the primary and secondary windings, quite dissimilar to conventional distribution transformers.

Transformer sizing and voltage variation

WTSU transformers are designed such that the voltage is matched to the generator (e.g. wind turbine) output voltage exactly. There is no “designed in” over-voltage capacity to overcome voltage fluctuations, as is typically done on distribution and power transformer designs which allow for up to 10% over-voltage. Further, it should be noted that the generator output current is monitored at millisecond intervals and the generator limited to allow up to 5% over-current for 10 seconds before it is taken off the system. Therefore, the WTSU transformer size ( kVA or MVA) is designed to match the generator output with no overload sizing. Since overload sizing is a common protective practice with “off the shelf” distribution or power step-up generator transformers, the WTSU transformer design must be uniquely robust to function without it.

Requirement to withstand Fault Currents

Typically, conventional distribution transformers, power transformers, and other types of step-up transformers will “drop out” when subjected to an under-voltage or over- current situation caused by a fault. Once the fault has cleared, the distribution transformer is brought back on-line either individually or with it’s local feeder in conjunction with automatic reclosures. Wind turbine generators, on the other hand, in order to maintain network stability are only allowed to disconnect from the system due to network disturbances within certain, carefully controlled network guidelines developed for generating plants.

Depending upon the specific network regulations, the length of time the generator is required to stay on line can vary. During this time the generator will continue to deliver an abnormally low voltage to the WTSU transformer. Therefore, during near-to generator faults, the generator may be required to carry as low as 15% rated voltage for a few cycles and then ramp back up to full volts a few seconds after fault clearing. This means that the WTSU transformer must be uniquely designed with enough “ruggedness” to withstand full short circuit current during the initial few cycles when the maximum mechanical forces are exerted upon the WTSU transformer windings.

Since wind turbines must stay connected during disturbances in the network, the WTSU transformers must be designed to withstand the full mechanical effects of short circuits.


The role of WTSU transformers in today’s wind generation scheme is unique; it’s design must be equally unique and robust. The combination of wide variations in loading; harmonic loads from associated control electronics and generators; sizing without protection for over-voltages, under-voltages or over-loading; and the requirement to “ride through” transient events and faults sets the WTSU apart from it’s more conventional, “off the shelf” counterparts. It is neither a conventional distribution transformer nor is it a conventional generator step-up transformer.

“Off the shelf” . . . doesn’t belong . . . “down on the farm”!

AUTHOR: Pacific Crest Transformers

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Transformer Ratings

Transformer Ratings

Transformer size or capacity is most often expressed in kVA. “We require 30 kVA of power for this system” is one example, or “The facility has a 480 VAC feed rated for 112.5 kVA”.

However, reliance upon only kVA rating can result insafety and performance problems when sizing transformers to feed modern electronic equipment.

Use of off-the-shelf, general purpose transformers for electronics loads can lead to power quality and siting problems:

  • Single phase electronic loads can cause excessive transformer heating.
  • Electronic loads draw non-linear currents, resulting in low voltage and output voltage distortion.
  • Oversizing for impedance and thermal performance can result in a transformer with a significantly larger footprint.

It is vital for the systems designer to understand all of the factors that affect transformer effectiveness and performance.

Thermal Performance

Historically, transformers have been developed to supply 60 Hz, linear loads such as lights, motors, and heaters. Electronic loads were a small part of the total connected load. A system designer could be assured that if transformer voltage and current ratings were not exceeded, the transformer would not overheat, and would perform as expected. A standard transformer is designed and specified with three main parameters: kVA Rating, Impedance, and Temperature Rise.

KVA Rating

The transformer voltage and current specification. KVA is simply the load voltage times the load current. A single phase transformer rated for 120 VAC and 20 Amperes would be rated for 120 x 20 = 2400 VA, or 2.4 KVA (thousand VA).


Transformer Impedance and Voltage Regulation are closely related: a measure of the transformer voltage drop when supplying full load current. A transformer with a nominal output voltage of 120 VAC and a Voltage Regulation of 5% has an output voltage of 120 VAC at no-load and (120 VAC – 5%) at full load – the transformer output voltage will be 114 VAC at full load. Impedance is related to the transformer thermal performance because any voltage drop in the transformer is converted to heat in the windings.

Temperature Rise

Steel selection, winding capacity, impedance, leakage current, overall steel and winding design contribute to total transformer heat loss. The transformer heat loss causes the transformer temperature to rise. Manufacturers design the transformer cooling, and select materials, to accommodate this temperature rise.

Transformer Heat Loss

Transformer Heat Loss

Use of less expensive material with a lower temperature rating will require the manufacturer to design the transformer for higher airflow and cooling, often resulting in a larger transformer. Use of higher quality materials with a higher temperature rating permits a more compact transformer design.

Transformer Insulation Systems

Transformer Insulation Systems


“K” Factor Transformer Rating

In the 1980′s, power quality engineers began encountering a new phenomenon: non-linear loads, such as computers and peripherals, began to exceed linear loads on some distribution panels. This resulted in large harmonic currents being drawn, causing excessive transformer heating due to eddy-current losses, skin effect, and core flux density increases.

Standard transformers, not designed for nonlinear harmonic currents were overheating and failing even though RMS currents were well within transformer ratings.

In response to this problem, IEEE C57.110-1986 developed a method of quantifying harmonic currents. A “k” factor was the result, calculated from the individual harmonic components and the effective heating such a harmonic would cause in a transformer. Transformer manufacturers began designing transformers that could supply harmonic currents, rated with a “k” factor. Typical “K” factor applications include:

  • K-4: Electric discharge lighting, UPS with input filtering, Programmable logic controllers and solid state controls
  • K-13: Telecommunications equipment, UPS systems, multi-wire receptacle circuits in schools, health-care, and production areas
  • K-20: Main-frame computer loads, solid state motor drives, critical care areas of hospitals

“K” factor is a good way to assure that transformers will not overheat and fail. However, “K” factor is primarily concerned with thermal issues. Selection of a “K” factor transformer may result in power quality improvement, but this depends upon manufacturer and design.

Transformer Impedance

Transformer impedance is the best measure of the transformer’s ability to supply an electronic load with optimum power quality. Many power problems do not come from the utility but are internally generated from the current requirements of other loads.

While a “K” factor transformer can feed these loads and not overheat, a low impedance transformer will provide the best quality power. As an example, consider a 5% impedance transformer. When an electronic load with a 200% inrush current is turned on, a voltage sag of 10% will result. A low impedance transformer (1%) would provide only a 2% voltage sag – a substantial improvement. Transformer impedance may be specified as a percentage, or alternately, in Ohms (Ω) from Phase- Phase or Phase-Neutral.

High Frequency Transformer Impedance

Most transformer impedance discussions involve the 60 Hz transformer impedance. This is the power frequency, and is the main concern for voltage drops, fault calculations, and power delivery. However, nonlinear loads draw current at higher harmonics. Voltage drops occur at both 60 Hz and higher frequencies. It is common to model transformer impedance as a resistor, often expressed in ohms. In fact, a transformer behaves more like a series resistor and inductor.

The voltage drop of the resistive portion is independent of frequency, the voltage drop of the inductor is frequency dependent.

Standard Transformer impedances rise rapidly with frequency. However, devices designed specifically for use with nonlinear loads use special winding and steel lamination designs to minimize impedance at both 60 Hz and higher frequencies. As a result, the output voltage of such designs is far better quality than for standard transformers.

Recommendations for Transformer Sizing

System design engineers who must specify and apply transformers have several options when selecting transformers.

Do It Yourself Approach

With this approach, a larger than required standard transformer is specified in order to supply harmonic currents and minimize voltage drop. Transformer oversizing was considered prudent design in the days before transformer manufacturers understood harmonic loads, and remains an attractive option from a pure cost standpoint. However, such a practice today has several problems:

  • A larger footprint and volume than low impedance devices specifically designed for non-linear loads
  • Poor high frequency impedance
  • Future loads may lead to thermal and power quality problems
Standard Isolation Transformer

Standard Isolation Transformer


“K”-factor Rated Transformers

Selecting and using “K”-factor rated transformers is a prudent way to ensure that transformer overheating will not occur. Unfortunately, lack of standardization makes the “K” factor rating a measure only of thermal performance, not impedance or power quality.

Percent Impedance

Percent Impedance

Some manufacturers achieve a good “K” factor using design techniques that lower impedance and enhance power quality, others simply derate components and temperature ratings. Only experience with a particular transformer manufacturer can determine if a “K” factor transformer addresses both thermal and power quality concerns.

Transformers Designed for Non-Linear Loads

Transformers designed specifically for non-linear loads incorporate substantial design improvements that address both thermal and power quality concerns. Such devices are low impedance, compact, and have better high frequency performance than standard or “K” factor designs. As a result, this type of transformer is the optimum design solution.

This type of transformer may be more expensive than standard transformers, due to higher amounts of iron and copper, higher quality materials, and more expensive winding and stacking techniques. However, the benefits of such a design in power quality and smaller size justify the extra cost, and make the low impedance transformer the most cost effective design overall.


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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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Guide To Low Voltage Busbar Trunking Systems

Guide To Low Voltage Busbar Trunking Systems

Modern electrical desdign and installations are often placing increasing demands on all products of the electrical equipment manufacturer.

Products must have:

• Reliable service life
• Adaptability to new requirements
• Low installation costs
• Low maintenance costs
• Inherent safety features
• Minimal purchase cost
• Energy efficiency

In today’s market one of the most important elements is cost effectiveness. In an electrical installation, one area where savings can be made and provide the features listed above is in the use of busbar trunking systems. Busbar trunking installations can be categorised into two basic types:

  • Distribution
  • Feeder

Distribution Feeder

This is the most common use of busbar trunking and is applied to distribute power over a predetermined area.    Busbar trunking can be run vertically or horizontally, or a combination of both. Typical applications would be:

  • Supply to large numbers of light fittings
  • Power distribution around factories and offices
  • Rising main in office blocks or apartment blocks to supply distribution boards serving individual floors.

Power is taken from busbar trunking by the use of tap off units which connect at defined positions along the busbar trunking, and allow power to be taken from the system, usually via a suitable protective device.

Advantages over cable:

  • The contractor can achieve savings with respect to material i.e. cable trays and multiple fixings and also labour costs associated with multiple runs of cable.
  • Reduced installation time since busbar trunking requires less fixings per metre run than cable.
  • Multiple tap-off outlets allow flexibility to accommodate changes in power requirements subsequent to the initial installation (subject to the rating of the busbar trunking).
  • Repositioning of distribution outlets is simpler
  • System is easily extendable.
  • Engineered product with proven performance.
  • Type tested to recognised international and national standards.
  • Aesthetically pleasing in areas of high visibility.

Feeder Trunking

When used for the interconnection between switchboards or switchboard and transformer, busbar trunking systems are more economical to use, particularly for the higher current ratings, where multiple single core cables are used to achieve the current rating and compliance with voltage drop and voltage dip requirements.

Beside this, bunch of cables are increasing possiblity of heating between cables and eventually short circuit.

Advantages over cable:

  • Greater mechanical strength over long runs with minimal fixings resulting in shorter installation times.
  • Replaces multiple runs of cable with their associated supporting metalwork.
  • Easier to install compared to multiples of large cables with all of the associated handling problems.
  • Less termination space required in switchboards.
  • Type tested short circuit fault ratings.
  • Takes up less overall space, bends and offsets can be installed in a much smaller area than the equivalent cable space.
  • Cable jointer not required.
  • Busbar trunking systems may be dismantled and re-used in other areas
  • Busbar trunking systems provide a better resistance to the spread of fire.
  • Voltage drop and voltage dip in the majority of cases is lower than the equivalent cable arrangement.

Typical Busbar Layout
Typical Busbar Layout

Tap-Off Units

Tap-off units are of two types, either plug-in or fixed. Plug-in units are designed to be accommodated at tap-off outlets at intervals along the distribution busbar trunking. Fixed tap-off outlets are engineered and positioned during manufacture to suit the specified installation. The tap-off unit usually contains the device providing protection to the outgoing circuit terminated at the unit to distribute power to the required load.

There are various types of protective devices, for example:

1. HRC fuses to BS EN 60269-1 (BS88)
2. Miniature Circuit Breakers to BS EN 60898
3. Moulded Case Circuit Breakers to BS EN 60947-2

HRC fuses may be incorporated into fuse combination units to BS EN 60947-3. The degree of enclosure protection of the tap-off unit is defined by BS EN 60529.

Each tap-off unit contains the necessary safety features for systems and personnel protection, as follows:

  • Plug-in units are arranged to be non-reversible to ensure that they can only be connected to give the correct phase rotation.
  • Plug-in units are arranged to connect the protective circuit before the live conductors during installation and disconnect the protective circuit after the live conductors while being removed.
  • Where units are provided with a switch disconnector or circuit-breaker these are capable of being locked in the OFF position.
  • Covers permitting access to live parts can only be removed by the use of a tool and will have any internally exposed live parts shielded to a minimum of IP2X or IPXXB in accordance with BS EN 60529.
  • Outgoing connection is achieved by cable terminations in the unit or by socket outlets to BS EN 60309-2 or BS 1363.

Fire Stops

Recommendations for the construction of fire-stops and barriers where trunking penetrates walls and floors classified as fire barriers. Internally the trunking may or may not require fire-stop measures according to the construction; where they are required these will generally be factory-fitted by the manufacturer and positioned according to a schematic drawing for the installation. Compact or sandwich-type trunking does not require internal fire-barriers, as suitability as a fire-barrier is inherent in the design.

However in all cases verification of the performance of the trunking under fire conditions needs to be provided by the manufacturer.

The following information is provided for guidance, and the method used should be agreed with the trunking manufacturer. It is not the responsibility of the trunking manufacturer to provide the specification or detail the rating or construction of the fire-stop external to the trunking.

Protective Earth Condustor Sizes

The sealing external to the busbar trunking (with or without an internal fire barrier) will need to conform to applicable building regulations. This may require filling the aperture around the busbar trunking with material to maintain the same fire proofing as the wall or floor.
Careful consideration needs to be given to the access required to complete the fire- stop. It may be necessary to install sections of fire-stop at the stage of installation of the trunking if access afterwards is impossible e.g. trunking runs in close proximity.

The protective earth connection(s) to the busbar trunking system shall conform to Section 543-01 of BS 7671 (IEE Wiring Regulations Sixteenth Edition).

Low-Noise Earth Systems

A low-noise earth, commonly referred to as a ‘clean earth’, is typically specified when electronic apparatus supplied from the system is sensitive to spurious voltages arising on the system earth. This is particularly true with IT equipment, found in all commercial premises these days, where data processing functions can be corrupted.

The low-noise earth is provided by a conductor separated from the protective earth (PE) and from all extraneous earth paths throughout the distribution system.
Many busbar trunking systems provide a ‘clean earth’ conductor in addition to the three phase conductors plus neutral, using the case or an external conductor as PE.

Tap-off units must be specified as ‘clean earth’ for the circuits concerned since the separation of the earths must be maintained and an additional termination will be provided for the load circuit ‘clean earth’ conductor. Sizing of the ‘clean earth’ conductor is not specified in BS 7671 (IEE Wiring Regulations Sixteenth Edition) but the usual practice is to calculate the size in the same way as for the protective earth conductor.

Neutral Sizes/Harmonics

The designer of the electrical network specifies the size of the neutral conductor depending upon the network loading. Typically this tends to be a neutral conductor the same size as the phase conductors (i.e.100% neutral).    As a minimum a 50% neutral may be specified.

The BS 7671 (IEE Wiring Regulations Sixteenth Edition) states “In a discharge lighting circuit and polyphase circuits where the harmonic content of the phase currents is greater than 10% of the fundamental current, the neutral conductor shall have a cross-sectional area not less than that of the phase conductor(s).”

With the increase of non-linear (almost anything electronic) single phase loads connected to a network, for example electronic ballasts in lighting fittings, or switch-mode power supplies (the type found in personal computers and servers) the total harmonic distortion is increased.


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Dry-Type disc wound transformers in MV applications

Dry-Type disc wound transformers in MV applications

Medium voltage, dry-type transformers may have their high voltage windings constructed using either the layer winding technique or the disc winding technique.

Both winding techniques provide the same result in terms of electrical performance parameters, i.e. turns ratio, impedance etc.

However, the use of transformers employing disc wound high voltage windings can result in increased reliability and therefore reduced downtime.


The basic purpose of a transformer is to convert electricity at one voltage to electricity at another voltage, either of higher or lower value. In order to achieve this voltage conversion, coils are wound on a laminated silicon steel core which provides a path for the magnetic flux. The coils comprise a number of turns of conductor, either copper or aluminum, wound as two electrically separate windings, called the primary winding and the secondary winding. The primary winding is connected to the source of voltage while the secondary winding is connected to the load. The ratio of primary to secondary turns is the same as the required ratio of primary to secondary voltages.

The turns of conductor forming the primary and secondary windings must be insulated from one another, while the primary winding must be insulated from the secondary winding and both the primary and secondary windings must be insulated from ground. The insulation of turns and windings is collectively called the insulation system of the transformer. The insulation system must be designed to withstand the effects of lightning strikes and switching surges to which the transformer is subjected, in addition to the normal operating voltages. A further requirement of the insulation system is that it must withstand the environmental conditions to which it is exposed, such as moisture, dust etc. A variety of techniques and materials are employed to achieve the necessary performance characteristics of the insulation system.

Layer winding

Fig.1 Layer winding

Fig.1 Layer winding

For low voltage, i.e. 600 Volt class windings, the winding technique used almost exclusively is the layer winding technique, also sometimes called helical winding or barrel winding. In this technique, the turns required for the winding are wound in one or more concentric layers connected in series, with the turns of each layer being wound side by side along the axial length of the coil until the layer is full. The conductors of the winding are insulated and so between turns there will be a minimum of two thicknesses of insulation. Between each pair of layers there will be layers of insulation material and/or an air duct.

Low voltage windings will generally be wound top to bottom, bottom to top etc. using a continuous conductor, until all layers are complete. High voltage windings, i.e. above 600 Volt class, may be wound in the same way, provided the voltage between layers is not too great.

To reduce the voltage stress between layers, high voltage windings are often wound in only one direction, for example, top to bottom. When the first layer of winding is complete, the winding conductor is laid across the completed layer from bottom to top and then the next layer is wound, again from top to bottom. In this way, the voltage stress between layers is halved.

The conductor must, of course, have additional insulation where it crosses the winding from bottom to top.

Fig.2 Transformer with layer wound coils

Fig.2 Transformer with layer wound coils

Disc winding

In the disc winding, the required number of turns are wound in a number of horizontal discs spaced along the axial length of the coil. The conductor is usually rectangular in cross-section and the turns are wound in a radial direction, one on top of the other i.e. one turn per layer, until the required number of turns per disc has been wound.

Fig.3 Disc winding

Fig.3 Disc winding

The conductor is then moved to the next disc and the process repeated until all turns have been wound. There is an air space, or duct, between each pair of discs. The disc winding requires insulation only on the conductor itself, no additional insulation is required between layers, as in the layer winding.

The disc wound high voltage winding is usually wound in two halves, in order that the required voltage adjustment taps may be positioned at the electrical center of the winding. In this way the magnetic, or effective length of the winding is maintained, irrespective of which tap is used, and therefore the magnetic balance between primary and secondary windings is always close to its optimum.

This is essential to maintain the short circuit strength of the winding, and reduces the axial electromagnetic forces which arise when the windings are not perfectly balanced.

Fig.4 Transformer with disc wound coils

Fig.4 Transformer with disc wound coils

Characteristics of Layer wound coils

As stated previously, the layer wound coil requires insulation between layers, in addition to the conductor insulation. The thickness of insulation required will depend upon the voltage stress between layers, and comprises one or more thicknesses of the appropriate insulation material. In practice, due to the nature of the construction of a layer wound coil, the finished coil will have several unavoidable small air pockets between turns and between layers. Many of these air pockets will become filled with resin during vacuum pressure impregnation of the coil.

Fig. 5 Equivalent circuit for Impulse voltage distribution

Fig. 5 Equivalent circuit for Impulse voltage distribution

However, it sometimes happens that some air pockets remain and it is in these air pockets that partial discharges can occur, greatly increasing the possibility of premature aging of the insulation and eventual failure.

Catastrophic failure can occur within a few months of energization. Under short circuit conditions, the electromagnetic forces developed cause transformer windings to attempt to telescope. At the same time the coil end blocking is trying to prevent movement. The result is often that the turns of the winding have a tendency to slip over one another, causing turn-to turn failure, due to abrasion of the insulation as the turns rub together. A further disadvantage of the layer wound coil is its poor impulse voltage distribution between the first few turns of the winding, due to the high ground capacitance and the low series capacitance.

A transformer winding forms a complex network of resistance, inductance and capacitance. As far as the impulse voltage distribution is concerned, the resistance can be ignored and at the instant of application of the impulse wave, when very high frequencies are predominant, the inductive elements become effectively infinite impedances. The whole structure therefore reduces to a capacitive network (see fig.5). Each turn of a transformer winding is insulated with a dielectric material and can be thought of as one plate of a multiple plate capacitor. In addition, the combination of dielectric material and air between each turn and ground forms further capacitive elements.

Characteristics of Disc wound coils

The major advantage of the disc wound coil lies in its open construction and relative lack of insulation. For a 15kV class transformer employing a disc wound primary winding, the number of discs will typically be in the range 36 to 48, resulting in a relatively low voltage per disc. Since each disc is separated from the next by an air space, the voltage stress between discs can easily be handled by the combination of conductor insulation and air, no additional insulation being necessary.

Each disc comprises a number of turns with each turn occupying one layer, i.e. one turn per layer: the voltage stress between layers is therefore the same as the voltage stress between turns and again, can easily be handled by the conductor insulation. The turns of each disc, being wound tightly together provide almost no possibility of air pockets being present within the disc.

Due to the open construction of the discs, any small air pockets which may be present are readily filled with resin during vacuum pressure impregnation of the coil. A properly designed and manufactured dry-type transformer disc winding therefore displays very low values of partial discharge, typically in the range 10 to 20 picocoulombs.

Unlike the layer wound coil, the disc wound coil provides good impulse voltage distribution, due to its inherently low value of ground capacitance and high series capacitance. The disc wound coil also displays excellent short circuit strength. Each disc by itself is mechanically very strong and the complete assembly of discs are held very securely in place. While the electromagnetic forces resulting from a short circuit result in a tendency, for the windings to telescope, the high voltage turns usually remain intact relative to each other. Instead, the complete disc has a tendency to distort as an assembly, with all the turns distorting by the same amount. The transformer can often continue to function, despite the distortion, until a convenient time arises for repair.


The flow of electric current through the turns of a transformer winding causes power losses which manifest themselves in the form of heat. These losses are called ‘’load losses’’ and are proportional to the square of the current. Obviously, it is necessary to dissipate this heat, to prevent overheating of the transformer, and in a dry-type transformer, this is achieved by the use of air spaces, or ducts, within the winding. The layer wound coil relies on vertical air ducts between layers and between windings, for cooling. Cool air enters the air ducts at the bottom of the coil and by natural convection, rises through the ducts, collecting heat on its way, then exits the coil at the top. It is essential for proper operation of the transformer that these air ducts are kept clear at all times.

The insulation required between the layers of a layer wound coil has a tendency to thermally lag the winding, impeding the dissipation of heat. The greater the operating voltage of the winding, the greater is the amount of insulation required and the greater is the lagging effect of the insulation. Some radiation also takes place from the outer surfaces of the coils. The open nature of the disc wound coil greatly improves the transfer of heat from the winding to the surrounding air. The thermal lagging effect of insulation is removed and the multiple horizontal air spaces between discs provide a large surface area for cooling by both radiation and convection.


The combination of layer wound low voltage winding, disc wound high voltage winding, NOMEX insulation and vacuum pressure impregnation of the windings with a solventless epoxy resin, results in a very reliable transformer with a long life expectancy. Transformers constructed in this way will be relatively free from partial discharge and will provide excellent impulse strength and short circuit strength, vital requirements for reliable operation in the most demanding of applications.


Author: Derek Foster, Olsun Electrics Corporation


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Power transformer

Power transformer

In a real transformer, some power is dissipated in the form of heat. A portion of these power losses occur in the conductor windings due to electrical resistance and are referred to as copper losses. However, so-called iron losses from the transformer core are also important. The latter result from the rapid change of direction of the magnetic field, which means that the microscopic iron particles must continually realign themselves technically, their magnetic moment—in the direction of the field (or flux). Just as with the flow of charge, this realignment encounters friction on the microscopic level and therefore dissipates energy, which becomes tangible as heating of the material.
Taking account of both iron and copper losses, the efficiency (or ratio of electrical power out to electrical power in) of real transformers can be in the high 90% range. Still, even a small percentage of losses in a large transformer corresponds to a sig- nificant amount of heat that must be dealt with. In the case of small transformers inside typical household adaptors for low-voltage d.c. appliances, we know that they are warm to the touch. Yet they transfer such small quantities of power that the heat is easily dissipated into the ambient air . By contrast, suppose a 10MVA transformer at a distribution substation operates at an efficiency of 99%: A 1% loss here corresponds to a staggering 100 kW.
In general, smaller transformers like those on distribution poles are passively cooled by simply radiating heat away to their surroundings, sometimes assisted by radiator vanes that maximize the available surface area for removing the heat.

Large transformers like those at substations or power plants require the heat to be removed from the core and windings by active cooling, generally through circulat- ing oil that simultaneously functions as an electrical insulator.

The capacity limit of a transformer is dictated by the rate of heat dissipation. Thus, as is true for power lines, the ability to load a transformer depends in part on ambient conditions including temperature, wind, and rain. For example, if a transformer appears to be reaching its thermal limit on a hot day, one way to salvage the situation is to hose down its exterior with cold water—a procedure that is not “by the book,” but has been reported to work in emergencies. When transformers are operated near their capacity limit, the key variable to monitor is the internal or oil temperature. This task is complicated by the problem that the temperature may not be uniform throughout the inside of the transformer, and damage can be done by just a local hot spot. Under extreme heat, the oil can break down, sustain an electric arc, or even burn, and a transformer may explode.
A cooling and insulating fluid for transformers has to meet criteria similar to those for other high-voltage equipment, such as circuit breakers and capacitors: it must conduct heat but not electricity; it must not be chemically reactive; and it must not be easily ionized, which would allow arcs to form. Mineral oil meets these criteria fairly well, since the long, nonpolar molecules do not readily break apart under an electric field.

Another class of compounds that performs very well and has been in widespread use for transformers and other equipment is polychlorinated biphenyls, commonly known as PCBs. Because PCBs and the dioxins that contaminate them were found to be carcinogenic and ecologically toxic and persistent, they are no longer manufactured in the United States; the installation of new PCB-containing utility equipment has been banned since 1977.11 However, much of the extant hardware predates this phase-out and is therefore subject to careful maintenance and disposal procedures (somewhat analogous to asbestos in buildings).

Introduced in the 1960s, sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) is another very effective arc-extinguishing fluid for high-voltage equipment. SF6 has the advantage of being reasonably nontoxic as well as chemically inert, and it has a superior ability to with- stand electric fields without ionizing. While the size of transformers and capacitors is constrained by other factors, circuit breakers can be made much smaller with SF6 than traditional oil-filled breakers. However, it turns out that SF6 absorbs thermal infrared radiation and thus acts as a greenhouse gas when it escapes into the atmos- phere; it is included among regulated substances in the Kyoto Protocol on global climate change. SF6 in the atmosphere also appears to form another compound by the name of trifluoromethyl sulfur pentafluoride (SF5CF3), an even more potent greenhouse gas whose atmospheric concentration is rapidly increasing.

Transformer fan

Transformer fan

Heat from core losses and copper losses must be dissipated to the environment. In dry type transformers, cooling is accomplished simply by circulating air around and through the coil and core assembly, either by natural convection or by forced air flow from fans. This cooling method is usually limited to low-voltage indoor transformers (5 kV and below) having a three-phase rating below 1500 KVA. At higher voltages, oil is required to insulate the windings, which prevents the use of air for cooling the core and coils directly. At higher KVA ratings, the losses are just too high for direct air cooling to be effective. In outdoor environments, direct air cooling would introduce unacceptable amounts of dirt and moisture into the windings.
Transformers come in various cooling classes, as defined by the industry standards. In recent years, there have been attempts to align the designa- tions that apply to transformers manufactured in North America with the IEC cooling-class designations. Table below gives the IEC designations and the earlier designations that are used in this book. All of the IEC designations use four letters. In some respects, the IEC designations are more descriptive than the North American designations because IEC makes a distinction between forced-oil/air cooled (OFAF) and directed-flow-air cooled (ODAF). Some people find using the four-letter designations somewhat awkward, and this book uses the earlier designations throughout.
In small oil-filled distribution transformers, the surface of the tank is sufficient for transferring heat from the oil to the air. Ribs are added to the tanks of some distribution transformers to increase the surface area of the tank and to improve heat transfer. Large distribution transformers and small power transformers generally require radiator banks to provide cooling. Regardless of whether the tank surface, ribs, or radiators are used, transformers that trans-fer heat from oil to air through natural convection are all cooling class OA transformers.

Radiators used on OA transformers generally have round cooling tubes or flat fins with large cross section areas in order to allow oil to flow by natural convection with minimal resistance. Hot oil from the core and coils rises to the top of the tank above the inlet to the radiator. Cool oil from the radiator sinks to the bottom of the radiator through the outlet and into the bottom of the core and coils. This process is called thermo-siphoning and the oil velocity is relatively slow throughout the transformer and radiators. For this reason, OA transformers have relatively large temperature gradients between the bot- tom oil and the top oil, and relatively large temperature gradients between the winding temperatures and the top oil temperature. Likewise, the air circulates through the radiator through natural convection, or is aided by the wind.

Designations and descriptions of the cooling classes used in power transformers
Previous designationIEC designationDescription
Oil-air cooled (self-cooled)
Forced-air cooled
Oil-air cooled (self-cooled), followed by two stages of forced-air cooling (fans)
.OA/FA/FOA.ONAN/ONAF/OFAFOil-air cooled (self-cooled), followed by one stage of forced-air cooling (fans), followed by 1 stage of forced oil (oil pumps)
Oil-air cooled (self-cooled), followed by one stage of directed oil flow pumps (with fans)
. OA/FOA/FOA.ONAF/ODAF/ODAFOil-air cooled (self-cooled), followed by two stages of directed oil flow pumps (with fans)
Forced oil/air cooled (with fans) rating only—no self-cooled rating
Forced oil / water cooled rating only (oil / water heat exchanger with oil and wa- ter pumps)—no self-cooled rating
Forced oil / air cooled rating    only    with    di- rected oil flow pumps and fans—no self-cooled rating
Forced oil / water cooled rating only (oil / water heat exchanger with directed oil flow pumps and water pumps)— no self-cooled rating

As the transformer losses increase, the number and size of the radiators that are required to cool the oil must increase. Eventually, a point is reached where wind and natural convection are not adequate to remove the heat and air must be forced through the radiators by motor-driven fans. Transformers that have forced air cooling are cooling class FA transformers. FA transform- ers require auxiliary power to run the fan motors, however, and one of the advantages of OA transformers is that they require no auxiliary power for cooling equipment. Since additional cooling is not usually needed until the transformer is heavily loaded, the fans on most FA transformers are turned off until temperatures exceed some threshold value, so under light load the transformer is cooled by natural convection only. These transformers are cool- ing class OA/FA transformers.

Some transformers are cooled by natural convection below temperature T1, turn on one stage of fans at a higher temperature T2 and turn on a second stage of fans at an even higher temperature T3. These transformers are cooling class OA/FA/FA transformers. The direction of air flow in forced-air units is either horizontally outward or vertically upward. The vertical flow pattern has the advantage of being in the same direction as the natural air convection, so the two air flows will reinforce each other.

Although the cooling capacity is greatly increased by the use of forced air, increasing the loading to take advantage of the increased capacity will increase the temperature gradients within the transformer. A point is reached where the internal temperature gradients limit the ability to increase load any further. The solution is to increase the oil velocity by pumping oil as well as forcing air through the radiators. The usual pump placement is at the bottom of the radiators, forcing oil from the radiator outlets into the bottom of he transformer tank in the same direction as natural circulation but at a much higher velocity. Such transformers are cooling class FOA transformers. By directing the flow of oil within the transformer windings, greater cooling effi- ciency can be achieved. In recognition of this fact, the calculation of hot-spot temperatures is modified slightly for directed-flow cooling class transformers.

As in forced-air designs, forced-oil cooling can be combined with OA cooling (OA/FOA) or in two stages (OA/FOA/FOA). A transformer having a stage of fans and a stage of oil pumps that are switched on at different temperatures would be a cooling class OA/FA/FOA transformer.
The radiator design on FOA transformers can differ substantially with the radiator design on FA transformers. Since the oil is pumped under consid- erable pressure, the resistance to oil flow is of secondary importance so the radiator tubes can be designed to maximize surface area at the expense of cross section area. FOA radiators are sometimes called coolers instead, and tend to resemble automotive radiators with very narrow spaces between the cooling tubes and flat fins in the spaces between the cooling tubes to provide additional surface area. The comparison of the two types is illustrated in picture left (OA/FA type) and right (FOA type).

OA/FA radiator construction

OA/FA radiator construction. The large radiator tubes minimize restric- tion of oil flow under natural convection. The fan is shown mounted at the bottom with air flow directed upward.

FOA cooler construction

FOA cooler construction. The oil is forced through narrow tubes from top to bottom by means of oil pumps. The cooling fans direct air horizontally outward.

Cooling equipment requires maintenance in order to run efficiently and provide for a long transformer life. There is the obvious need to main- tain the fans, pumps, and electrical supply equipment. The oil coolers them- selves must be kept clean as well, especially FOA-type coolers. Many transformers have overheated under moderate loads because the cooling fins were clogged with insect and bird nests, dust, pollen, and other debris. For generator step-up transformers, where the load is nearly at nameplate rating continuously, steam-cleaning the coolers once every year is a good mainte- nance practice.


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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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