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Insulation Coordination and Over Voltages in Power Systems

The subject of electrical insulation level design and surge performance of high voltage
equipment, transmission lines and sub stations is customarily referred as 'insulation
co-ordination'. The insulation provided to electrical installations in the power system is
subjected not only to the normal operating voltage which varies within quite narrow
limits, but it has to withstand a variety of over voltages having their shapes,
magnitudes and durations in a wide range. Thus one can distinguish between steady
state and transient over-voltages with which the power system is stressed some times.

The steady-state over voltages, also known as temporary over voltages, are
generated within the system due to the connection or disconnection of circuit elements
or the initiation or interruption of faults. By circuit elements is meant here the bulk
loads connected over lines.

The transient over voltages have external as well as internal sources in the power
system. The lightning strike (an external source) on the power system gives rise to
lightning over voltages. The circuit breaker operation within the system gives rise to
"switching over voltages". It is nothing but the restriking voltage impressed across the
circuit breaker electrodes as it opens.

Both these types of transient over voltages proceed in the form of 'traveling waves'
from the point they are generated and stress the insulation above the system voltage
as they travel . In the process, they attenuate and ultimately they end up at the loads.

The intensity of lightning over voltage depends upon the magnitude of lightning
impulse current injected into the system by the lightning strike which in turn depends
upon the nature. The magnitude of current injected into the line, multiplied by its surge
impedance determines the over voltage magnitude V=IZ. The lightning over-voltage
wave shape is standardized as ≈ 1/50 µs duration to be generated in the laboratory by
the Impulse Generator for insulation testing. The magnitude of lightning current could
be as high as 200 kA recorded by researchers. The probability of higher order of
current is very low. However, the average magnitude of impulse current
accompanied with li strike is estimated to be between 10-15 kA. After the lightning
strike, the injected charge (the current) always tries to find the least resistance path to
the ground. Only when it does not get passage to the ground, it can create havocs.

The magnitudes of switching over voltages, their waveforms (much slower than the
lightning) depends upon the factors such as the speed of switching operation of the
circuit breakers, their arc quenching characteristics/properties, the instant at which the
arc across the electrodes is extinguished and the energy stored in that part of the
power system inductance. The modern SF6 gas and vacuum circuit breakers give rise
to "Very Fast Transient Over Voltages", (VFTO). These restrike on the system
repeatedly very fast before, the arc is extinguished, hence pose a big problem. The
magnitude of switching over voltages could rise to even 3.0 p.U. Every time it occurs,
it has a different shape/waveform. Hence it is difficult to standardize the switching
waveshape for its production in the HV laboratory. A popular standard waveshape is
250/2500 µs . As compared to lightning, it is a much slower waveshape. It is because
of this, the breakdown strength of dielectrics is highest for lightning impulse voltage
and it is minimum for a particular shape of switching impulse. Further, the magnitude
of switching impulse voltage keeps rising as the rated voltage of operation of the
system is raised over the time.

The insulation level provided to various installations in the power system by design
must withstand the expected maximum voltage of lightning and also switching it is
going to face as transient over voltages in its life. The Basic Insulation Level
(BIL) provided for lightning and switching are defined separately in the following:

BIL for design of apparatus

BIL for lightning impulse insulation level is the electrical withstand voltage of insulation
expressed in terms of the crest value of the 'standard lightning impulse', as per IEC-
71. In case of switching transients, it is defined as the switching impulse withstand
voltage of specified magnitude and the shape depending upon the rated system

The BIL level is actually determined by the transient over voltage protection
techniques provided by the horn gaps and surge diverters or the lightning arrestors
(LA). ZnO2 gapless surge diverters are used at the sub-stations and in particular for
the transformers being the costliest equipment. It is the residual transient voltage
across the LA which is impressed upon the transformer. The transformer must be
designed, developed and tested to withstand the residual voltage of the specified LA
in the network.