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Serveron White Paper: DGA Diagnostic Methods

The purpose of this white paper is to provide insight and guidance on Dissolved Gas
Analysis (DGA) diagnostic methods. Much progress has been made in the last decade
in understanding the relationships of gases in transformer insulating oil and diagnostic
outcomes have become more accurate. Yet field practice doesn’t always reflect the
newer insights.

Transformer Fleet Reliability

Reliable energy flow is paramount and power transformers are critical, and costly,
assets in the grid. As an asset class, power transformers constitute one of the largest
investments in a utility’s system. For this reason transformer condition assessment
and management is a high priority. In several parts of the world the transformer fleet
is operating beyond its design life and with higher average loads than ever before.
Some statistics on the North American power transformer fleet follow:

• The average age of power transformers is >42 years and increasing 0.6 years
per year [1]
• Transformer failure rates, both catastrophic and non-catastrophic, continue to
increase [2]

Funding the cost to replace enough power transformers to reduce or flatten the growth
of the average age is not an alternative for most utilities. This situation demands the
best asset management and condition assessment approaches available to garner the
most value from the existing fleet while maintaining reliability to ever increasing
standards. DGA of transformer insulating oil is considered the single best indicator of
a transformer’s overall condition and is practiced universally today. However,
interpretation of DGA data through the use of DGA diagnostic tools is not always “state
of the art”. There are several reasons for this and among them are:

• DGA interpretation expertise is leaving utilities through retirements

• Modern DGA diagnostic tools require a variety of gas ratios to be calculated and,
in urgent situations, the time and personnel may not be available to do so
• There is a perception that “shortcut” diagnostic methods yield results as good as
the more complex methods
• Older, less capable, diagnostic methods became part of standard operating
procedure (SOP) and are less likely to be changed due to the effort needed to
change an SOP

The use of appropriate DGA diagnostic methods can improve the conclusions from the
DGA process which results in improved service reliability, avoidance of transformer
failure and deferred capital expenditures for new transformer assets.

© 2007 Serveron Corporation. All rights reserved. Printed in USA. PN 880-0129-00 Rev. B 1
DGA Diagnostic Tools
Most of the DGA diagnostic tools in use today can be found in the IEEE C57.104 or IEC
60599 guides as well as other national or international guides based on these two.
There are some additional tools available in the other guides but this document will
deal only with those found in the IEEE and IEC guides. This paper assumes that all
transformer owners have developed, as a first step in DGA diagnosis, normal, caution
and warning levels as well as rates of change levels for each of the diagnostic gases,
using the guides as a reference. Having ppm levels and rates of change identified is
necessary but not sufficient for a proper DGA diagnostic process. This paper will deal
with the next step in diagnosis, successfully applying ratio-based diagnostic tools. As
can be seen in Table 1, all fault types are indicated by a variety of gases, not just one.
Therefore diagnostic approaches that address multiple gases take into account the
total gassing picture and offer the best diagnostic accuracy.

Table 1

© 2007 Serveron Corporation. All rights reserved. Printed in USA. PN 880-0129-00 Rev. B 2
The IEEE and IEC guides offer a variety of ratio-based tools to diagnose DGA data.
Each guide has a somewhat different list and, in some cases, different conclusions
about results from the same diagnostic tools. A quick summary of the different tools
found in the current IEEE guide as well as a recent draft standard (IEEE C57.104-
D11d; not approved) of the IEEE guide and the IEC guide is in Table 2:

Table 2
Reference Standard
Tool IEEE C57. IEEE PC57. IEC 60599-
104-1991 104 D11d 1999
Individual & TDCG guidelines 3 3
Doernenburg Ratios 3
Rogers Ratios 3 3
Basic Gas Ratios 3
Key Gas Procedure 3 3
TCG Procedure 3
TDCG Procedure 3 3
Duval Triangle 3
CO2/CO Ratio 3 3
O2/N2 Ratio 3
C2H2/H2 Ratio 3

DGA diagnostic tools vary in their complexity and accuracy. Some are simple sums or
single ratios of gases with a guideline for normal, caution and warning levels while
others consist of multiple ratios with diagnosis based on the fit of each ratio result to a
specific range of values. Let’s review the available tools and determine their

DGA Diagnostic Tool Selection

There is a class of tools that are non-ratio based. These are the Total Combustible Gas
(TCG) and Total Dissolved Combustible Gas (TDCG) procedures. These tools can be
found in the IEEE guide and come from North America’s history of gas analysis in
mines where total combustible gas was a significant measure. They are less
instructive in transformers in that they offer no diagnostic value regarding fault type
but do offer utility as an indication that gas levels are increasing – generally a bad
trend in any transformer. The TCG are the gases in the gas headspace and TDCG are
those dissolved in oil. These procedures are recommended by the IEEE guide to be
combined with other diagnostic tools to get a better understanding of what is
happening in the transformer. This last point about combining with other tools
sometimes gets lost in practice and procedures should be examined to include other
tools to insure a robust diagnostic process.

© 2007 Serveron Corporation. All rights reserved. Printed in USA. PN 880-0129-00 Rev. B 3
From the TCG and TDCG procedures we can next look at the Key Gas Procedure. This
is one of the most frequently used diagnostic tools and, unfortunately, one of the
weakest in our arsenal. The combination of frequent use and poor diagnostic
capability unite with the result being the source of a significant number of mis-
diagnoses in the field. Why is the Key Gas Procedure so frequently used when it is not
accurate? Because it is a good “shortcut” or “approximation” technique that can be
implemented quickly. Let’s review the elements of the Key Gas Procedure to
understand its shortcomings.

Key gases are defined in the IEEE guide as “gases generated in oil-filled transformers
that can be used for qualitative determination of fault types, based on which gases
are typical or predominant at various temperatures.” (We have emphasized
qualitative). The Key Gases and their fault indications are summarized in Table 3.

Table 3

© 2007 Serveron Corporation. All rights reserved. Printed in USA. PN 880-0129-00 Rev. B 4
The IEEE guide Key Gas Method offers diagnosis through calculating the relative
proportions (in percent) of these key gases to the rest of the gases in the transformer.
The proportions indicate the general fault type and these fault types with their relative
proportions of gases (in percent) are identified in Table 4.

Table 4
Thermal Oil Fault Low Energy Partial Discharge

100 100
80 80
60 60
40 40
20 20
0 0
CO H2 CH4 C2H6 C2H4 C2H2
CO H2 CH4 C2H6 C2H4 C2H2

Thermal Oil and Cellulose Fault High Energy Arcing

100 100

80 80

60 60

40 40
20 20
0 0
CO H2 CH4 C2H6 C2H4 C2H2 CO H2 CH4 C2H6 C2H4 C2H2

There are a few issues that contribute to the Key Gas Method’s poor diagnostic

1. There are only 4 generalized fault types named while other diagnostic methods
offer more detailed fault type identification
2. Transformers will typically not exhibit the exact relative proportions of gases
outlined by the IEEE guide and users need to make a “judgment call” as to
which fault type is being indicated
3. Users frequently mistake the IEEE-defined qualitative nature of this diagnostic
to be more absolute as in the nature of a quantitative method

Studies based on the IEC data bank of inspected transformers have shown the Key Gas
Method to arrive at an incorrect diagnosis 58% of the time. This is a significant error
and suggests that this method should be subordinated or eliminated in favor of more
accurate approaches to DGA diagnostics.

© 2007 Serveron Corporation. All rights reserved. Printed in USA. PN 880-0129-00 Rev. B 5
The problem gets still larger when a “modified” version of the Key Gas Method is
practiced. This version, not found in any guide, nor supported by any empirical
evidence, matches the change in a single gas to a general fault type. There are no
normal, caution or warning levels defined; only the judgment of the practitioner
determines the level of the problem. The method is based on a number of
assumptions shown below along with an analysis of the assumptions:

Assumption #1: Acetylene in a transformer is caused by an arc; therefore it is

possible to diagnose an arcing condition solely by looking at

• Analysis:
ƒ This assumption does not enable the practitioner to understand the
nature of the arc. Is it a harmless case of sparking partial
discharge in oil from a poorly grounded part or, is it the early
stages of a dangerous high energy discharge? Could it be
acetylene formed in a localized high temperature fault in oil rather
than in an electrical arc? Maybe it is the result of communication
between the oil of the main tank and LTC tank? None of these
questions can be answered without taking the ratio of acetylene to
other gases into account. The lack of an accurate diagnosis could
mean that either a harmless situation is over-treated (de-
energizing, draining and inspecting the tank and finding no
evidence, because partial discharges typically cannot be visually
identified) or, allowing a serious problem to worsen.

Assumption #2: CO in a transformer indicates overheated cellulose, therefore it is

possible to diagnose cellulose problems solely by looking at CO

• Analysis:
ƒ Based on the IEC data bank of inspected cases in service when
using the formation of CO only to detect paper involvement in a
fault, a wrong diagnosis will be provided in about 65% of cases

ƒ Furthermore, increasing amounts of CO in service do not

necessarily mean that there is a fault involving paper. This very
much depends on the corresponding amounts of CO2. Indeed, in a
large number of cases, CO increases are related to oil oxidation
only, as a result of overheating, even in transformers equipped with
air-preservation systems, where some oxygen is always present
because of leaks in these systems.

ƒ CO ppm by itself is not a reliable indicator of localized paper-

insulation damage because: a) the level is usually reduced by
dilution in a large quantity of oil, b) the level is affected by oil-
temperature (absorption & de-sorption by paper insulation) caused
by load and/or ambient-temperature changes and c) its tendency
to escape depending upon the type of oil expansion system and
how tightly the transformer is sealed.

© 2007 Serveron Corporation. All rights reserved. Printed in USA. PN 880-0129-00 Rev. B 6
Assumption #3: Hydrogen indicates partial discharge as well as other faults, therefore
it is important to measure hydrogen

• Analysis:
ƒ Hydrogen appears in almost all fault conditions (see Table 1) and is
therefore an indicator and not a diagnostic gas. It must be
combined in a ratio-based analysis with other gases in order to
begin to diagnose an incipient fault. Unfortunately, the three gases
listed here in the “modified” key gas method do not combine into
any meaningful ratios with the exception of a H2/C2H2 ratio
indicating LTC communication with the main tank. In fact, when
gas ratios are used, methane offers better diagnostic capability
than hydrogen. This is because hydrogen is the least soluble gas in
oil and also has a high diffusion rate (escapes easily from the
transformer or laboratory oil sample) making the exact
quantification of hydrogen difficult.

This “modified” key gas approach has not been formally evaluated regarding its
accuracy due to the fact that it is an undocumented “de-facto” approach. The
documented Key Gas Method offers the worst diagnostic record of any approach
evaluated here and the “modified” version has elements in it that would lead us to
believe it is inferior even to the Key Gas Method. Further, with the gaining popularity
of on-line DGA monitors the pitfalls of this approach using on-line monitors are
exacerbated. This is because a monitor with this three gas combination cannot
support any diagnostics, as explained above, and would simply offer more frequent

Ratio-based Diagnostic Tools

The remaining diagnostic tools have a more effective diagnostic accuracy rate. They
involve more calculation and therefore aren’t always the first choice. However, these
tools can offer superior results and there are now more automated means of
calculating these results. Many DGA laboratories today provide some or all of these
diagnostic tool results with their reports on the gas data.

The ratios that make up the first three methods are listed below. The process for each
method uses a subset of these ratios with diagnosis of fault type based on the fit of
each ratio result to a specific range of values. One important point to remember when
using ratio-based diagnostic tools is that minimum gas levels are required, and are
generally defined in the guides, for the ratio analysis to be considered valid. The ratios
are as follows:

Ratio 1 (R1) = CH4/H2

Ratio 2 (R2) = C2H2/C2H4
Ratio 3 (R3) = C2H2/CH4
Ratio 4 (R4) = C2H6/C2H2
Ratio 5 (R5) = C2H4/C2H6

© 2007 Serveron Corporation. All rights reserved. Printed in USA. PN 880-0129-00 Rev. B 7
The Doernenburg method found in the IEEE guide utilizes ratios R1 through R4 and the
process outlined above. The method has fallen out of favor in some parts of the world
due to its complexity as well as the evolution of it into the Rogers and Basic Gas Ratios
approaches also found in the current standards. However, when compared with other
diagnostic methods, the Doernenburg method still holds value as one of the better
diagnostic tools.

The Rogers (IEEE) and Basic Gas Ratios (IEC) methods utilize ratios R1, R2 and R5
which are implemented by the process listed above. The Rogers method evolved from
the Doernenburg method and the Basic Gas Ratios are an improvement over the
Rogers method. The research that led to the changes in each case was to better
correlate specific ratio value ranges for fault types with databases of inspected cases of
transformer failures.

While offering better diagnostic accuracy, one of the weaknesses of the Doernenburg,
Rogers and Basic Gas Ratio approaches is that there can be some combinations of
gases that, when calculated, do not fit into the specified range of values and a
diagnosis of the fault type cannot be given. Diagram 1 below shows a three
dimensional view of the IEC Basic Gas Ratio with actual transformer gas data and
visually demonstrates blank spaces in the graphic where calculations of gas ratios are
plotted moving from an undetermined diagnosis into a fault type area.

Diagram 1

© 2007 Serveron Corporation. All rights reserved. Printed in USA. PN 880-0129-00 Rev. B 8
The final ratio-based method is the Duval Triangle found in the IEC guide Annex B.3.
The Triangle method was developed empirically in the early 1970’s. It is based on the
use of 3 gases (CH4, C2H4 and C2H2) corresponding to the increasing energy levels of
gas formation. One advantage of this method is that it always provides a diagnosis,
with a low percentage of wrong diagnoses. The triangle method plots the relative % of
the 3 gases on each side of the triangle, from 0% to 100%. The 6 main zones of faults
are indicated in the triangle, plus a DT zone (mixture of thermal and electrical faults).
Approximately 200+ inspected cases in service were used to develop the Triangle. An
example of the Triangle method is below:

If, for example, the DGA results are:

CH4 = 100 ppm First calculate: CH4 + C2H4 + C2H2 = 300ppm
C2H4 = 100 ppm Then calculate the relative % of each gas:
C2H2 = 100 ppm Relative % of CH4 = 100/300 = 33.3 %
Relative % of C2H4 = 100/300 = 33.3 %
Relative % of C2H2 = 100/300 = 33.3 %

These values are the triangular coordinates to be used on each side of the triangle. To
verify that the calculation was done correctly, the sum of these 3 values should always
give 100%, and should correspond to only one point in the triangle. Diagram 2 shows
a graphical plot of the Duval Triangle utilizing data from an actual transformer with a
poorly grounded part.

Diagram 2

© 2007 Serveron Corporation. All rights reserved. Printed in USA. PN 880-0129-00 Rev. B 9
The accuracy of the main diagnostic methods used has been evaluated [3], using the
IEC data bank of inspected transformer failures and other reports [4]. Table 7 shows
the results of this effort:

Table 7

% Correct % Unresolved % Wrong

Diagnoses Diagnoses Diagnoses
IEEE Key Gas
M ethod 42 0 58
IEEE Rogers
Ratios 62 33 5
Ratios 71 26 3
IEC Basic Gas
Ratios 77 15 8
IEC Duval
Triangle 96 0 4

Table 7 summarizes many of the main points developed in this paper. There are a
variety of diagnostic tools available to the DGA practitioner and it is important to
understand which ones to apply and when.

© 2007 Serveron Corporation. All rights reserved. Printed in USA. PN 880-0129-00 Rev. B 10
Single Ratio Tools
Three other single ratio tools may be used to complement the main diagnosis methods
described above. These include the CO2/CO ratio, the O2/N2 ratio and the C2H2/H2

The CO2/CO Ratio

This is a popular ratio used to detect paper involvement in a fault. If the ratio is <3, it
is a strong indication of a fault in paper, either a hot spot or electrical arcing of
T>200°C. If >10, it indicates a fault of temperature T<150°C. The CO2/CO ratio,
however, is not very accurate, because it is also affected by the background of CO2
and CO coming from oil oxidation. The amounts of furans in oil may also be used in
some cases to confirm paper involvement; however, the interpretation of results is
often difficult.

Further, CO2/CO ratios due to normal cellulose aging are highly dependent upon how
tightly sealed the transformer is and vary from 10 to >100. With a high quantity of
CO2, seeing a significant change in the CO2/CO ratio is close to impossible. However,
“incremental” CO2/CO may be helpful in identifying early paper degradation (provided
potential temperature effects are considered) as suggested in a 2004 CIGRE paper. [4]

Be sure to utilize this ratio in combination with other diagnostic tools that can indicate
thermal faults in order to get a more accurate determination if cellulose is involved in a

The O2/N2 Ratio

A decrease of this ratio indicates excessive heating. Once again, combining this ratio
with other diagnostic tools that indicate thermal faults will give you more confidence in
your conclusions about thermal faults.

The C2H2/H2 Ratio

A ratio >2 to 3 in the main tank indicates contamination by the LTC compartment. In
these situations the level of acetylene in the main tank can be quite high and in order
to diagnose true main tank problems, incremental changes in acetylene must be
monitored. On-line monitoring is uniquely suited to viewing incremental changes in

On-line DGA and Diagnostic Tools

On-line DGA is gaining in popularity worldwide and, because of its frequency and
accuracy of measurements, provides the best data set for the ratio-based diagnostic
tools. The advent of on-line DGA has enabled the DGA practitioner to go from
infrequent snapshots in time of transformer condition to understanding the dynamic
behavior of gases over the operating cycles of the transformer. On-line DGA data is
delivering new insights previously unavailable. The trending of the diagnostic ratios
rather than just the basic gas data is the breakthrough. The value is in rate of change
of diagnostic ratio indicators, not in static snapshots. On-line DGA monitors are
available now with different combinations and counts of the 8 diagnostic gases.
Software and services also accompany these monitors that automate the calculation
and display of some of the diagnostic tools.

© 2007 Serveron Corporation. All rights reserved. Printed in USA. PN 880-0129-00 Rev. B 11
However, let the buyer beware: To deliver on the new insights, on-line DGA monitors
must offer the right combinations of gases measured that support the diagnostic tools
you prefer to use. As an example: If the gases measured by the on-line monitor only
support a key gas type of approach, (or worse, the “modified” key gas method
highlighted earlier) then the promise of trending diagnostic ratios and delivering
correct diagnoses is not fulfilled. It would just become a more expensive way to mis-
diagnose transformer faults.

Progress has been made by the DGA community in developing and refining diagnostic
tools. Some tools are proving to perform better than others and DGA practitioners can
benefit from reviewing the latest information and incorporating it into their DGA
procedures. The imperative for transformer asset managers in the current
environment of an aging transformer fleet that needs to perform more reliably than
ever under increasing loads: Be as effective as possible in transformer condition
assessment through a robust DGA diagnostic program incorporating laboratory as well
as on-line DGA approaches.

[1] David Woodcock, “Risk-Based Reinvestment – Trends in Upgrading the Aged T&D
System”, Energy Pulse, March 12, 2004

[2] William H. Bartley, “Analysis of Transformer Failures”, paper IMIA-WGP 33 (03),

International Association of Engineering Insurers, 2003

[3] M.Duval and J.Dukarm, “Improving the Reliability of Transformer Gas-in-Oil

Diagnosis”, IEEE Elec.Insul.Mag., Vol.21, No.4, pp. 21-27, 2005.

[3] M.Duval and A.dePablo, “Interpretation of Gas-in-Oil Analysis using new IEC
Publication 60599 and IEC TC10 Data Bases”, IEEE Elec.Insul.Mag., Vol.17, No.2,
pp.31-41, 2001.

[4] S. R. Lindgren, “Transformer Condition Assessment Experiences Using Automated

On-Line Dissolved gas Analysis”, paper A2-202, CIGRE 2004 Session, 29th August –
3rd September, 2004, Paris, France.

For more information, contact your nearest Serveron Representative or

Serveron Corporation.

Serveron Corporation, A BPL Global Company

3305 NW Aloclek Drive
Hillsboro, OR 97124-7101
Phone: (503) 924-3200
Toll-free: (800) 880-2552 (USA and Canada only)
Fax: (503) 924-3290

© 2007 Serveron Corporation. All rights reserved. Printed in USA. PN 880-0129-00 Rev. B 12