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Introduction to Flashover


Prepared by/
Mahmoud Ahmed Abdullatif Salem

(Pre-Masters Degree Course Requirement)

Presented to/
Prof. Dr. Mohamed A. Izzularab

1. General Introduction to Flashover Phenomenon

1.1. Flashover Definition
1.2. Dimensions of Flashover Problem in Power System
1.3. Development Stages of Flashover

2. Models of Polluted Insulator Flashover

2.1. Literature Review of Models for Flashover of Polluted Insulators
2.2. Model of Obenaus

3. Frequently Used Methods for Flashover Avoidance

3.1. Increasing leakage Distance
3.2. Semiconducting Glaze
3.3. Periodic Washing
3.4. Periodic Cleaning
3.5. Covering with Silicon Rubber

4. References
1. General Introduction to Flashover Phenomenon
1.1. Flashover Definition
In general flashover is defined as the dielectric breakdown of a gaseous atmosphere or of
vacuum in the neighborhood of an insulating surface. The discharge initiates and always
develops in the gas because its dielectric strength is invariably inferior to that of a solid.
Depending on gas pressure and electrical conductivity of the surface, the primary phenomena
can be totally different, also the flashover progress mostly depends on the experimental

1.2. Dimensions of Flashover Phenomenon in Power System

The pollution flashover of insulators is one of the main factors threatening the safe operation
of the power grid, which can lead to great economic losses to the whole power system,
therefore it is of great value to study the pollution flashover characteristics and mechanisms
from both the academic and engineering viewpoints. Outdoor power transmission line
insulation is subjected to mainly three types of over voltages i.e. 1) Lightning, 2) switching
surges, and 3) abnormal voltage gradients caused by contamination on insulator surface. These
over voltages may lead to flashover and subsequent outage of transmission lines. With higher
transmission voltages, the flashover due to contaminated surfaces becomes more
predominant. The factors which affect the flashover of polluted insulation are numerous and
therefore the flashover phenomenon is complex.

1.3. Development Stages of Flashover

The flashover process develops in the following stages:

a) Surface contamination: Insulators operating in polluted atmosphere collect pollutants which

are deposited on insulator surfaces. Deposition of pollutants on insulator surface depends on
many factors e-g. shape of insulator, nature of voltage i.e. AC or DC, location, angle of
inclination of insulator, wind, rain etc.
The performance of the insulator itself is not altered significantly by the presence of dry
contaminant because the electrical strength of a dry polluted insulator is close to that of a
clean insulator.

b) Wetting process: When the polluted surface becomes moist due to fog or rain then the
polluted layer becomes conductive. The process of moistening depends on wetting conditions
e-g. moisture absorption depending on the nature of contaminant, temperature of the
surroundings, condensation, mounting, etc.

c) Dry band formation: Due to the presence of the conducting layer the electric field is greatly
distorted along the polluted surface. The electric stress may exceed that of air and the spark over
occurs, causing discharges to occur along small portions of the insulator surface. The discharges
are maintained by current which flows through the wet but discharge free surface. Due to higher
resistance at some locations the heat dissipated in that location may be greater and therefore
moisture dries more rapidly at these locations leading to the formation of dry bands.

d) Breakdown of dry bands: Almost the entire applied voltage appears across the dry band and
when the dry band cannot sustain the applied voltage an arc is initiated and bridges the dry band.

e) Propagation of arc: Depending on the conditions e-g. applied voltage, leakage current, etc.
the arc may travel further and bridge the insulator surface resulting in flashover or it may
extinguish prior to flashover.

Note that DC flashover voltages are lower than the AC under the same operating conditions.
Under DC voltage there is no current zero. Moreover more pollutants are attracted to the
insulator under DC voltage than AC. Also, due to absence of current zero in DC the propagation
of arc is easier than in AC. The flashover voltages of both AC and DC depend on many factors
and even when experiments are conducted under the same controlled conditions, the
flashover voltage may not be the same. Thus, the two flashover voltages for the same exact
conditions are not the same. This applies to both AC and DC.

2. Models of Polluted Insulator Flashover

2.1. Literature Review of Models for Flashover of Polluted Insulators
Obenaus derived a relationship between the critical stress, Ec, and the maximum leakage
current. His analysis was based on the assumption of a constant resistance in series with the
arc discharge, an assumption that seems to be inconsistent with experimental results, which
indicate a varying resistance. The work of Alson and Zoledziowski deals with the arc
development on a flat surface. By considering the source and the arc resistance and by adding
an arc reignition condition under AC voltage, relations between current, arc length andv oltage
were established. They calculated a critical condition below which flashover is impossible. This
can be shown to be the same as Hamptons results, if the same arc characteristics are used.
They deduced analytically that flashover is impossible if the maximum current does not exceed
233Ec 1.31, where Ec is the critical applied voltage stress. The analytical results were compared
to experimental results of naturally contamination insulators operated at 85 to 231 kV, with
peak applied stress between 250 and750 V/cm. There was good agreement between the
analytical and experimental results indicating flashover may be predicted by the measurement
of leakage current only. Both Jolly and McElroy tested suspension insulators in salt fog to
determine the effects of porous surface layers, salt fog concentrations, and surface conditions.
To study the flashover phenomena they measured the leakage current continuously. Jolly
derived a mathematical model, which gives the critical voltage if it is assumed that the
discharge root will move forward whenever the field strength at the root exceeds some
constant value. Rizk proposed theories involving reignition. He reviewed and analyzed different
flashover models and proposed a mathematical model for flashover. A presently proposed
computational model to predict flashover voltage also uses the effect of field gradient and
leakage current for the movement of an arc. From the above studies it was established that
leakage current is necessary to understand the flashover process. Verma observed that a
flashover could be expected if a certain maximum leakage current is present. In fact, it has
been shown that, for the failure of an insulator with a contamination layer, the peak value of
the leakage current, Imax, immediately before a flashover is a characteristic parameter largely
independent of the type of pollution. This finding he calls the Imax approach. From 11 studies
of current records up to complete flashover, Verma found that a critical peak current is
reached, about 10 ms before complete flashover occurred, indicative of the imminence of
flashover. If Imax is reached, flashover occurs, but if Imax is not reached, flashover cannot
occur. But if the current exceeds Imax from whatever combination of circumstances, flashover
is inevitable.

2.2. Model of Obenaus

After a study of the earlier publications, the first model utilized was inspired by two simplifying

a) The behavior of a polluted insulator subjected to discharges can be described by a discharge

in series with a resistance R equal to that of the pollution
b) This can be described by a constant resistance r per unit length all along the leakage path of
length L, such as R = (L-X) r.

The model utilized is represented in figure 1 and its schematical equivalent in Figure 2
The experimental value of the measured current intensity during flashover (some hundreds of
milliamperes) makes us think that the discharge is of an intermediate type between
luminescence and arc. The voltage gradient in which case then has the form: Ea = A.I-n

By neglecting the accumulated voltage drop across the discharge, a legitimate approximation
whenever its length is not extremely small, ohms law leads to the relationship:

U = X.A.I-n + (L-X).r.I

Where, A and n are the constants depending on the nature of the atmosphere in which the
model is housed.

The U (I) graphs, Figure 2, represent the previous relation at x = constant

This model assumes a fixed pollution resistance in series with the arc. The model does not
predict any critical length. It assumes that the flashover occurs when arc length is equal to
leakage length. The mode1 also assumes that once the critical voltage is applied, the arc will
move and result in flashover. This means that at critical conditions there is enough force to
move the arc without extinction. The model does not indicate the mechanism of movement of

3. Frequently Used Methods for Flashover Avoidance

3.1. Increasing leakage Distance
Increasing leakage distance by increasing the number of units or by using fog-type insulators.
The disadvantages of the larger number of insulators are that both the polluted and the
impulse flashover voltages increase. The latter jeopardizes the effectiveness of insulation
coordination because of the increased strike distance, which increases the overvoltages at

3.2. Semiconducting Glaze

Application insulators are covered with a semiconducting glaze. A constant leakage current
flows through the semiconducting glaze. This current heats the insulators surface and reduces
the moisture of the pollution. In addition, the resistive glaze provides an alternative path when
dry bands are formed. The glaze shunts the dry bands and reduces or eliminates surface arcing.
The resistive glaze is exceptionally effective near the ocean.

3.3. Periodic Washing

Periodic washing of the insulators with high-pressure water. The transmission lines are washed
by a large truck carrying water and pumping equipment. Trained personnel wash the insulators
by aiming the water spray toward the strings. Substations are equipped with permanent
washing systems. High-pressure nozzles are attached to the towers and water is supplied from
a central pumping station. Safe washing requires spraying large amounts of water at the
insulators in a short period of time. Fast washing prevents the formation of dry bands and
pollution-caused flashover. However, major drawbacks of this method include high installation
and operational costs.

3.4. Periodic Cleaning

Periodic cleaning of the insulators by high pressure driven abrasive material. Periodic cleaning
by materials such as ground corn cobs or walnut shells. This method provides effective
cleaning, but cleaning of the residual from the ground is expensive and environmentally

3.5. Covering with Silicon Rubber

Covering the insulators with a thin layer of room-temperature vulcanized (RTV) silicon rubber
coating. This coating has a hydrophobic and dirt-repellent surface, with pollution performance
similar to non-ceramic insulators. Aging causes erosion damage to the thin layer after 5-10
years of operation. When damage occurs, it requires surface cleaning and a reapplication of
the coating. Cleaning by hand is very labor intensive. The most advanced method is cleaning
with high pressure driven abrasive materials like ground corn cobs or walnut shells. The coating
is sprayed on the surface using standard painting techniques.
4. References
1. Q. Yang, R.Wang, Wenxia S., Chilong J., Markus Zahn. Electrical Circuit Flashover
Model of Polluted Insulators under AC Voltage Based on the Arc Root Voltage Gradient
Criterion. Energies 2012, 5, 752-769.

2. SMAILI, Atallah, D. Mahi, and Boubakeur Zegnini. "Study of the Electrical Flashover of
an Insulating Surface Polluted by an Alternating Current Discharge." (2008).

3. Felix Amarh, Electric Transmission Line Flashover Prediction System, Ph.D Thesis
Final Report, Arizona State University, May 2001.


POLLUTED INSULATORS, Masters Thesis Final Report, University of Manitoba, June