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Power line noise http://www.w8ji.com/power_line_noise.


Power line noise

Also see Radiated and Conducted Noise

Distribution lines are the high voltage lines that distribute power along residential and light commercial feeds. Many years ago these lines
were just over 2200 volts, then 4160 volts (from primary to neutral) became a standard. Many amateurs used surplus 4160 transformers in
power supplies! I once had a 572B amplifier using a 4160 pole pig. The line voltage switch (2.5% taps) was at the middle of the winding,
making a great center tapped winding. Back around 1970, I ran about 2900 volts on the plates of four Cetron 572B's.

In the 1970's, I started building noise locating equipment and repairing noise locating equipment for utilities. 1980's and later, I
subcontracted work for a few small (and one major) companies locating more difficult cases of power line noise. As I quit working with
utilities, most residential system were 7200 volts from primary to neutral. My local feed today, on a rural dirt road with single phase, is
7200 volts.

Power Line Noise

Distribution power line noise is generally a raspy buzz modulated at some low harmonic of the power line frequency. Almost always the
base "buzz" is 120 Hz. This is because noise is from arcs, and the arc almost always occurs twice in each cycle near the peak of since
wave. Some forms of modern digital noise can sound like power line noise. One example is my neighbor's Direct TV recorder system. The
Direct TV device they have far exceeds FCC emission limits. From mid-AM broadcast band to mid HF, it sounds just like a residential
distribution power line noise and the raspy buzz it generates follows the power lines.

Transmission line systems, the really big lines running from town-to-town, run at much higher voltage. Because of that, the noise is
generally different. The noise ranges from a sharper buzz to a hissing with a faint 120 Hz or higher note. High voltage transmission line
noise can sneak up on us, making us think we have normal background noise because at times it blends into normal background hiss. This
is because the arc or discharge, being from a much higher voltage, often lasts over a much larger portion of the cycle. It also can involve
multiple phases. This smoothes the sound of the noise out, but if you listen carefully there is generally some 120 Hz, 240 Hz, or 360 Hz
slightly musical tone present..

Power line noise is relatively frequency independent, having only a very gradual change in level with frequency. Power line noise can be
band specific, but it is never frequency specific. Light dimmers and other consumer devices can be the same.

If a noise is frequency periodic, especially a signal repeating with 10 kHz or more spacing between peaks, it is probably a switching power
supply or digital device of some type.

CB jargon sometimes mistakenly refers to line noise as land-noise or ground-noise, very unusual slang since neither the ground nor the
land is a source of noise.

Distribution system power line noises originate in the following items, each of which has subtle but unique characteristics in pitch or
sound. Some sources also start and stop in response to weather:

Pin or hardware arcs on insulators, generally bell insulators. Often quiet in wet weather, and almost always wire-motion sensitive
Arcs from loose clamps or bolts that join wires. Often sensitive to hard hits on the pole, but can drop dangerous molten pieces of
Arcs in hardware, like lightning arrestors. Not usually affected by weather
Arcs in hardware near, but not connected directly to, power lines. These are generally much worse when dry, but usually unaffected
by pole movement
Poorly wrapped or insulated tie wires that secure power lines to knob insulators. This is another dry weather arc, usually on VHF and
Arcs inside equipment, like internal arcs in transformers. These arcs are generally unaffected by weather or wire movement

Insulator Pin or Hardware Arcs

These arcs are primarily, but not always, dry-weather noises.

This type of noise is generally a higher-pitch raspy or rough noise. Pin noise or hardware arcs between loose pieces of metal on the pole
almost always go away in wet weather. This is because moisture wets the dielectric (oxide or corrosion) in the pin area making it
conductive, and that stops the arc. This particular noise source also "breaks up" when poles and wires wiggle or move. When I did noise
investigation for a few utility companies, I would strike the suspected pole with a large hammer and listen for the noise to "break up".
Another method I used (after looking to see the guy wires were well clear of any hot lines) was to shake or push on guy wires. You should
not do this without permission of the pole owner. I had permission.

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Power line noise http://www.w8ji.com/power_line_noise.htm

Insulator pin arcs are one of the most common sources of broadband noise on power lines. This noise is caused by low tension on bell
insulators, allowing them to hang with visible sag or slack. The noise is generally a medium to low level noise with a higher sounding
smoother pitch because the arc is weak with very low current, but like all noises it can propagate a long distance along the lines.

The pins on each end of insulators can be a common source of noise. The long insulator above is a newer Polymer type. It does not have
the leakage capacitance of older ceramic bell insulators, and is not as noisy when span tension is low. The pins however are the same in
almost all insulators. With low tension the pins corrode and make poor contact. This can cause a very tiny arc. The arc excites the power
line through the insulator's stray capacitance and the power line acts like a giant antenna. A few milliwatts of energy can radiate a long
distance when using a long wire antenna like a power line!

Sources of Noise on typical pole

connections on
power factor
capacitors can
arc for many
years without
anything. This
is generally an
all weather

The bracket
of the
should be
grounded to
the pole
ground wire,
and the
solidly. Not
makes a dry
weather noise,
and is a safety
hazard to

insulators can
have slack
spans or low
tension with little likelihood of noise. Since they are very long and have very low end-to-end capacitance, they are unlikely to have enough voltage at the
pole end to arc, even when loose. They are good trouble-free insulators.

Loose ceramic bell insulators are bad news, especially in dry weather! The large metal caps towards the pole side capacitive couple to the hot wire side. This
bell-style insulator has considerable capacitance from the hot end of the insulator to the ground end. It should never be used in slack spans. Slack spans
should use post mounted insulators or long polymers to minimize capacitance and increase leakage path between the ends.

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Power line noise http://www.w8ji.com/power_line_noise.htm

Most often a noise problem with slack spans is rooted more in the capacitance of the insulator than actual leakage across the insulator
surface, although both can be involved.

The longer polymer insulators on the pole above have a long fiberglass rod core and a very long external leakage path around the ribs.
Ceramic bell insulators have a very large metal casting capping the low voltage or grounded end, and have an interlocked center pin and
body cap separated by ceramic. Spacing is small and parallel surface areas are large in the more compact ceramic insulators, causing very
high capacitance between the metal cap and the center pin of the ceramic insulator. The longer multi-ribbed polymer insulators have very
low capacitance and a long leakage path, so they do not couple from end-to-end nearly as well as the ceramic bell insulators. A span might
have to be left slack if the pole can not be back-guyed. Polymer insulators are preferred when a span has to be left slack.

Pins that secure the insulator to the hardware will corrode and build up a thin layer of insulation. When a span is slack (under low tension)
the insulator metal end cap, the floating pin that locks the end cap to the eye bolt or mounting hardware, and the mounting hardware will
arc across the thing layer of corrosion in the joints. This is because the pin is not pulled tightly against the mounting hardware and a small
arc develops across the corrosion in the joint. In wet weather the arcing will often stop and the line become quiet. Slack spans with bell
insulators are mostly a dry weather problem.

Loose Clamps and Hardware on Poles

Loose hardware on poles and wires is a common problem. It is also a safety issue! This type of problem generally makes a severe raspy
strong noise over all bands. This type of noise is generally unaffected by moisture, although it can get get either louder or quieter in rain. If
it is arcing from something being ungrounded, noise will generally go away in the rain. If it is a loose connection on a through connection,
like a loose nut on the transformer primary connection, it will come and go, being largely independent of moisture.

All metallic
should be
solidly bonded
to the ground
wire on the
pole or it
should be
from anything
else. This is
important for
radio noise as
well as
workers. It
also reduces
the chances of

Note the
eyebolt at pole
top is
through a wire
to the guy wire
and the
ground wire
running up the

All hardware should ground to the pole ground. The bracket to the left, for example, should be securely grounded to the ground wire running down the pole.

Notice this utility let the bracket float. (the line that might be a ground wire to the bracket is actually a shadow)

While a well-insulated ungrounded bracket won't make noise, it does create a safety hazard to linemen.

If the disconnect switch insulator should ever arc through, develop leakage, or crack the bracket would become hot. If the lightning arrestor would fail
shorted and blow its ground wire off, then the bracket could have full primary voltage. If the ground wire was close but not touching the ground wire, it
could arc from normal leakage and cause radio noise. The bracket either needs to be a long distance away from the ground wire, or it needs to be bonded to
the ground wire. The best installation would bond the bracket into the pole ground wire.

The eyebolt holding the polymer insulator should also either be solidly grounded, or it should be kept away from the ground wire. Again

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Power line noise http://www.w8ji.com/power_line_noise.htm

the safest installation for linemen would be with a grounded bracket.

Hot clamps and other line hardware should be tight. Some of the most severe noise sources are loose hot clamps and corroded disconnect
switches. Loose connections can actually start fires in dry weather.

Ballasts in street lamps can also be a problem.

Other Non-utility Sources

Off-on buzzing noises, timed with a regular rhythm, are often small permanently wired electric transformers, heating pads, fish tank
heaters, and older electric fences.

Electric fences are generally about 1 second on and one second off. Noises are caused by bad splices and connections, or wires contacting
something that causes a small arc.

Small transformers often have a thermal cutoff switch. They usually pulse slower than an electric fence. The general cause is a shorted
secondary circuit, which in turn overheats the transformer and causes the thermal bimetal overload switch to cycle off and on as the
transformer winding heats and cools internally. Small heating pads are similar in time.

Heating elements for fish tanks and large electric blankets are often very slow in cycling with long off times.

Frequency-periodic drifting signals are usually switching power supplies of some type.

Really broadband almost indescribable trash that is almost white noise often comes from plasma TV sets.

Locating Noise
For you own noise locating equipment, it is best to use AM detection. It is important that any impulse or arc detector use a wide IF
bandwidth and AM detection. AM broadcast receivers work after a fashion, but make localizing noise to one particular pole difficult or
impossible. This is because the wavelength of the AM band is very long. Wires and conductors along the electric system conduct longer
wavelength noise with very little attenuation. Another effect is standing waves, which can make the same noise peak and null as the
receiver moves along the wires. The combination of low attenuation with distance and standing waves along the wires can make it very
difficult to pin down the exact source. As such, AM receivers have very limited utility for narrowing down source locations.

The very best receivers are VHF or UHF AM receivers, like old television field strength meters. Another commonly available and
relatively inexpensive receiver is a regular portable aircraft receiver. A few FM portables or mobiles for amateur use include aircraft band,
or selectable AM detection.

Commercial Gear
This is a very wide tuning range battery-powered receiver with a wide IF bandwidth. It has an AM detector and attenuator. This Sprague
noise interference locator was typical of handheld noise locating devices used by utility companies. It is one of many RFI locators I used
when doing consulting. It tunes from the low AM broadcast range up to UHF in one tuning range!

The basic
receiver is
very much like
units I built for

My units used
two detectors.
The first
detector used a
tuned local
oscillator and
mixer. It up
converted to a
40 MHz IF
system driving
a video
detector. The
IF system was
actually an IF
and video

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Power line noise http://www.w8ji.com/power_line_noise.htm

module from a standard TV set. I switched between the low frequency mixer (40 MHz down) to television set varactor VHF and UHF tuners.

This commercial unit is very similar. It up converts to a UHF TV tuner and IF system. A single dial tunes from below the AM broadcast band to UHF.

This unit has an internal battery, and uses several different hand-held antennas shown below in order of descending frequency.

upper VHF
and UHF

Low VHF to
upper HF
loop, inside a
bigger mid to
upper HF

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Broadcast to
mid-HF rod

This rod
antenna is
plugged into
the hand unit
that contains
the tuning

The rod
antenna is

This is a home brew loop I made. It includes a built in amplifier and band switches from AM broadcast up through 10 MHz.. I also use it in conjunction with
a MFJ-259B meter to locate buried cables. I can find the location of underground cables within one inch using this loop!

The yellow
area is yellow
heat shrink
over 5/16th
inch copper
tubing. The
gap or split in
the tubing is at
the very top,
opposite the
copper tuning

The bottom
ends of the
copper tubing
run through
and solder to
the copper

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Power line noise http://www.w8ji.com/power_line_noise.htm

box. Multiple
turns inside
are tapped by
a switch, and
tuned by a 200
PF variable

This loop,
because it employs a JFET amplifier, is very sensitive.

The null is
though the
loop center.

This loop
makes an
excellent cable

I easily find
the location of
cables with
this loop and a
small signal
source, like
the MFJ-259B.

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Power line noise http://www.w8ji.com/power_line_noise.htm

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