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Failure Analysis in ZnO Arresters Using Thermal


Conference Paper · September 2006

DOI: 10.1109/TDCLA.2006.311554 · Source: IEEE Xplore


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4 authors:

Estácio Tavares Edson G Costa

Universidade Federal de Itajubá (UNIFEI) Universidade Federal de Campina Grande (UFCG)


Tarso Vilela Ferreira Marcelo J A Maia

Universidade Federal de Sergipe CHESF - Companhia Hidrelétrica do São Franci…


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2006 IEEE PES Transmission and Distribution Conference and Exposition Latin America, Venezuela

Failure Analysis in ZnO Arresters Using

Thermal Images
E. T. Wanderley Neto, E. G. da Costa, T. V. Ferreira, and M. J. A. Maia

 Thermal image analysis is a non-invasive monitoring

technique that has been used for a long time in transmission
power systems. An arrester with some kind of failure is not able lines and power equipments [5]. However, in the case of surge
to actuate properly during an electrical surge. As a consequence arresters there is no specific methodology for the application
it will present an excessive heating which can lead to a thermal
of thermal monitoring. Each company follows its own
runaway [1, 2, 3]. Thermographic inspection is a widely used
method to monitor surge arresters preventing their failure. methodology and determines its own parameters to be
When an arrester is substituted due to some abnormality analyzed, based on the experience and observation of their
detected by means of thermal inspection, no further analysis is technicians and engineers. Besides that, when an arrester is
done, so that the causes of the problem cannot be evaluated. In pointed as defective by means of thermal inspection, no
addition, there is no study indicating which are the main causes further study is conducted to point the causes of failure or an
of failures in ZnO arresters or if there is another alternative to
alternative solution to the replacement of the equipment. So,
the substitution of the. This work presents a study done with 96
kV ZnO arresters presenting the most common failures detected the simple acquisition of a thermal image does not lead to a
in substations and their effects on the thermal image. precise diagnostic. A complete analysis could be done with
more detailed study of the thermal image and the conditions to
Index Terms—Arrester, Diagnosis, Failures, Monitoring, which the arrester was submitted.
Thermal Image, ZnO. A complete case study and the creation of a failures
database can become a very important tool to aid the analysis
I. INTRODUCTION of suspicious arresters thermal images. Beyond that, it could
Zinc oxide (ZnO) surge arresters are part of the protection help in a precise diagnosis of the problem of the equipment.
system of power substations and transmission and distribution This paper presents an study of failures in ZnO arresters was
networks. They actuate dumping overvoltages generated by conducted in the High Voltage Laboratory of the
atmospheric or switching surges, avoiding them to reach Universidade Federal de Campina Grande.
equipments like power transformers.
To work properly, an arrester absorbs part of the surge II. OBJECTIVES
energy converting it to thermal energy. A defective arrester This study has the main purpose of indicating the most
may not be able to work in a satisfactory way when an common failures in arresters and their influences over their
electrical surge occurs, presenting an excessive heating. As a thermal images. This is the starting point for the creation of an
consequence, a thermal runaway can begin, when the leakage analysis system based in thermal images and artificial
current and the temperature of the arrester increases till its intelligence techniques. In order to achieve this goal, a series
explosion or break up, risking the power system and people of tests simulating failures in actual 96 kV ZnO arresters was
nearby. conducted. These simulated failures correspond to the most
To avoid this kind of problem, power companies have been common problems found in arresters in operation. Their
more concerned with the operation of their arresters, searching analysis will allow the creation of a more safe criteria to the
and improving techniques for their monitoring and replacement of defective arresters. Besides that, arresters
maintenance. The leakage current monitoring and thermal manufactures will be more concerned about the main
inspections have been pointed as the most effective techniques problems occurring with their products.
for monitoring and predictive maintenance of ZnO arresters
The usage of ZnO arresters in power systems has begun at
This work had the financial support of the Companhia Hidro Elétrica do about 30 years ago. They were created as an evolution of semi
São Francisco – Chesf, by means of a Research & Development project with
the Universidade Federal de Campina Grande, and of the Federal government conductive ceramics for electronics and became an alternative
by means of CAPES. more efficient in relation to the silicon carbide ceramics used
E. T. Wanderley Neto and E. G. da Costa are with the Universidade in power surge arresters. Besides the problem related to
Federal de Campina Grande, Campina Grande, Brasil. (e-mail:, failures in ZnO arresters, there is also too little information
M. J. A. Maia is with the Companhia Hidro Elétrica do São Francisco, about the natural ageing of ZnO varistors. That’s because the
Recife, Brasil. (
1-4244-0288-3/06/$20.00 ©2006 IEEE

estimated lifetime of a varistor is about 30 years, that’s the C. External pollution

approximate age of the first ZnO arresters put into operation Superficial pollution is a common problem not only in
in power systems. To complete this overview, it is an usual arresters, but also in most equipments or structures that
practice in power companies to dispose off any defective present a larger height to improve a minimum level insulation
arrester with no further analysis about the failure. So there is between phase and ground, as insulators and equipment
not much available information or studies about failure bushings. Depending on the region where the equipment is
diagnosis in arresters so that these failures could become more located, this problem can be accentuated due to high air
easily identified with a thermal inspection. humidity or salinity. Basically, the superficial pollution is
Usually, when defective arresters are submitted to analysis, classified in dry pollution or humid pollution (Fig. 2), being
or when tests of degradation and aging are carried through, the second one the most harmful. Its main effect is to decrease
there is a series of defects whose occurrence is observed with the distance for the current conduction making possible the
more frequency. The majority of these defects presents well occurrence of discharges in the surface of the porcelain or
definite causes and characteristics, so that it is possible that polymer that constitutes the arrester housing.
the consequences, in the form of the extreme heating of the Superficial pollution can also generate dry bands in the
arrester, are perceivable through the thermal analysis. In the surface of the porcelain. Dry bands cause superficial
next topics, the main defects detected in the ZnO arresters will discharges in the porcelain, modifying the electric field in the
be analyzed. region and heating the varistors located in the height where
A. Sealing failure these dry bands are formed. This heating stabilizes the dry
bands turning them permanent, even in high humidity
A sealing failure in a ZnO arrester causes alterations in its
conditions [8]. As results of this problem, there is the
heating pattern due to an easier circulation of gases. It is
formation of limited heated region of the arrester and the
known that, with the temperature increase, there is an increase
influence in the voltage distribution along the varistors
of the chamber pressure of the arrester. If there is some
cracking in the sealing, the gas that constitutes the intern
media of the arrester will be free to circulate. A result of this
effect is the reduction of the level of security in the
performance of the equipment. As it has a continuous leakage
of gases, the system of protection against explosions becomes
inefficient, being no capable to act on an extreme heating. In a
similar way, a sealing failure also allows the entrance of gases
and humidity from the external environment. Depending on
the type of gas or the level of humidity to penetrate in the
arrester, its internal insulation can be compromised due to the
occurrence of superficial discharges [6].
B. Humidity Fig. 2. Salty pollution over arrester housing

The internal humidity in arresters is usually the result of D. Varistors degradation

some failure in the sealing material. The main problem caused The varistors degradation can be resulted from its natural
for the humidity is the occurrence of partial discharges, which ageing, from its premature ageing or its breaking. However, in
can occur in different ways. The first one of them is the many cases, when a varistor failure diagnosis is done, vestiges
formation of a humid path along the surface of the varistors of some factors that can have caused its failure are found.
column, leading to insulations problems and electrical sparks. Premature degradation of varistors is a factor that can
One another problem related to the humidity entrance is contribute to the occurrence of thermal runaway.
related to possible strange gases or particles of pollution
which can follow the humidity in the interior of the
equipment. Depending on the type of gas or particles, there
can be a reduction in the internal isolation. Finally, the
internal humidity can also be responsible for the premature
degradation of the varistors.

Fig. 3. Current puncture in varistor [9]

There are still some external aspects that should be

Fig. 1. Electrical discharges due to high humidity level [7] considered when evaluating the premature aging of the

varistors. Example are the environmental temperature and the In the following topics, it is shown the main intentional
entrance of humidity. It is known that these factors favor the failures created for the arresters and the results obtained for
increase of the leakage current and, as a consequence, there is the tests.
an increase of temperature and acceleration of the aging
A. Sealing failure
Some arresters were intentionally closed with failures in
E. Displaced varistors the sealing material so that a conduction path for gases and
Displacement of varistors along the arrester column is not a humidity could be generated. The main effect observed in the
very usual failure, although it is observed in some equipments thermal profile is a decrease in the temperature peaks in the
when they are opened. Most times, this displacement is result regions where a greater heating was observed (the upper
of a non appropriate transportation or storage. As most varistor groups), so that these regions which used to be easily
arresters manufacturers present a high control level of their identified are not well defined anymore. This is explained
producing processes, a displacement due to an assembly because the gas circulation inside the arrester aids the heat
problem is not very usual to happen, although it is possible. dispersion by means of convection.
F. Irregular voltage distribution B. Humidity
Irregular voltage distribution is a very usual problem in For this test, clean water was vaporized on internal
power equipments that present a larger height. In arresters, it columns of arresters to simulate the presence of humidity in
is characterized by the occurrence of larger voltage drops in the interior of the equipment. Analyzing the thermal images
the upper region of the equipment, close to the high voltage and the temperature patterns it is possible to notice that
terminal. different effects were obtained for each tested arrester.
The level of irregularity in the voltage distribution depends Anyway, in both cases, a large increase of temperature was
on the geometry of the equipment and the used materials. The visible in distinct regions of the arrester. These regions had
existence of earth capacitances is the main responsible for this suffered this increase from temperature probably due to
problem. It is known, by means of tests and calculations that circulation of vapor and to the occurrence of internal
an increase of heating and leakage current in varistors present discharges, as explained previously.
a straight relation with the level of earth capacitances in the
C. Varistors displacement
arrester [8]. Pollution along the arrester housing is a problem
that increases the voltage distribution irregularity, as though Some varistors were assembled in a displaced position
they create more intense earth capacitances. along the active columns, as illustrated in Fig. 4. For this case,
A simple solution to avoid this problem or reduce its no significant modification could be observed for the thermal
effects is the application of grading rings. They allow a better images of the arresters.
voltage distribution along the arresters, reducing the effects of
the earth capacitances. Another solution to avoid this problem
is assembling the arrester with a larger concentration of
varistors in the upper region so that there is a better
performance where there is a larger voltage drop. Fig. 4. Diagram for varistors displacement.
Short-circuits in the inner region of the arrester are also a
possible cause of voltage distribution irregularities in ZnO However, a further analysis, made with the aid of the
arresters. thermal profiles indicates a modification in the temperature
distribution mainly in the inferior part of the arrester. In Fig.
IV. TESTS AND RESULTS 4, the regions corresponding to varistor groups G3 and G4
In order to analyze the influence of the most common didn’t present the temperature peaks that are usually observed.
defects in ZnO arresters on its thermal pattern, some tests had Probably, a preferential conduction path for the current was
been carried through in laboratory. In these tests, the defects created in the areas where the varistors keep contact.
had been created intentionally in some EP3/Siemens 96 kV D. Superficial pollution
arresters supplied by Chesf. Each of these arresters was taken The arrester was put in to a salty fog in order to simulate
from the power system because they present some problem, so the presence of a more severe pollution on its surface. Fig. 5
that this existing problem also needed to be analyzed before depicts a superficial discharge on the high voltage terminal of
the tests. A first characterization procedure was considered for the arrester. This discharge probably is resultant from the
each arrester, in order to evaluate their conditions and possible presence of water drops the neighborhoods of the terminal.
failures, as though as their initial thermal patterns before the It can be observed in the thermal images that there is a
inclusion of intentional failures. After the initial greater heating in the proximities of the terminals and in the
characterization tests, the arresters were opened so that any downer part of the arrester. As though there is a lower heating
visible inner failure could be identified. Only then, the in its upper portion. The temperatures profile also indicates
intentional failures were generated and the arrester was sealed this situation. A possible explanation is that the pollution was

concentrated in the downer region of the arrester, causing G. Results for superficial pollution
partial discharges there. Due to the large number of tests executed, only the results
Other possibility is the increase of superficial currents in for superficial pollution will be shown here. Results for the
the upper region of the arresters which would cause a lower other cases can be obtained with the authors.
leakage current to be conducted by the varistors. It is possible Fig. 8 and Fig. 9 show, respectively, the thermal image and
that at some point in the middle region of the housing, this the temperature profile for arrester before it was submitted to
superficial current decreases, as though the leakage current the pollution. For the creation of the temperature profile
through the varistors increase. It would explain the larger
graphs, a normalized temperature was considered, i.e., the
heating in the downer part of the arrester instead of what is
values shown in the graphs correspond to the measured values
usually observed.
of temperature divided by the lower value of temperature
obtained for the equipment in analysis. This normalization is
necessary so that a pattern for the values in the graphs is
created, making possible a comparison among different
graphs. Without the normalization, the gotten values of
temperature in each assay would be very different, disabling
an adequate comparative degree.
Fig. 10 and Fig. 11, show the thermal images and
temperature profile for the same arrester in Fig. 8, after the
application of salty fog.
Fig. 5. Superficial discharge in arrester surface

E. Defective Varistor 38,5°C

For this case, a varistor in the active column was replaced AR02: 38,7
by broken one. The broken varistor presented a longitudinal
crack. The obtained thermal image indicated more intense AR01: 38,3

temperature on the region of the G1 group, to which belongs 30

the broken varistor (Fig. 6). This bigger heating is evidenced

by the analysis of the temperature profile, where a peak of 26,7°C

temperature in the region of G1 group is easily perceived. Fig. 8. Thermal image for arrester in good conditions

Such heating can be explained by the greater electrical stress

Perfil de temperturas - PR5
suffered for the broken varistor which can present difficulty
for the current conduction and heat dissipation. 1,8

Temperatura normalizada




Fig. 6. Diagram for the replacement of a good varistor for a defective one
F. Short-circuits 0 20 40 60 80 100 120

For this case, conductive materials were used to short- Comprimento (cm)

circuit some varistors located in different positions along the Fig. 9. Temperature profile along the arrester for thermal image in Fig. 8
arrester active column. An example is in Fig. 7, where two
varistors were short-circuited. This situation simulates a 46,0°C
AR01: 33,1
problem in varistor that would cause an excessive current
conduction for it and, as consequence, an alteration in the AR02: 31,4 40
voltage distribution.
AR03: 45,8


Fig. 10. Thermal image for arrester after salty fog application

Fig. 7. Example of a short-circuit created on varistors


Perfil de temperaturas - PR5

[7] L. Chrzan, “Concentrated discharges and dry bands on polluted outdoor
insulators”. 13th International Symposium on High Voltage Engineering.
1,8 August 25 – 29, 2003. Delft, Netherlands.
1,7 [8] S. Harasym, H. Z. Brosz, S. S. Shur, T. Shelepeten, W. Janischewskyj,
Temperatura normalizada
1,6 “Pollution Performance and Voltage Distribution in Surge Arresters
1,5 Enclosed in Porcelain Housing – Measured and Calculated”. 10th
1,4 International Symposium on High Voltage Engineering. August, 25 –
1,3 29, 1997. Montreal, Canada.
1,2 [9] B. Weise, C. Heinrich, L. Klingbeil, W. Kalkner, “High Energy
1,1 Lightning Impulse Stress on MO Arresters and their Degradation”. 25th
1 International Conference on Lightning Protection. September 18 – 22,
0 20 40 60 80 100 120
2000. Rhodos, Greece.
Comprimento (cm)

Fig. 11. Temperature profile along the arrester for thermal image in Fig. 10 VII. BIOGRAPHIES

Estácio Tavares Wanderley Neto was born in
The utilization of thermal images and temperature profiles Campina Grande, Brazil, on September 15, 1977. He
allows the detection of irregularities usually associated to graduated in Electrical Engineering from the Federal
University of Paraíba, Campina Grande, and obtained
failures or defects in ZnO arresters. These irregularities are his Masters degree from the Federal University of
easily perceived when a comparison is done between the Campina Grande in 2003. His experience includes a
thermal profile of a good arrester and the defective one. professional apprenticeship at the Companhia
Hidrelétrica do São Francisco – CHESF in 2000.
For this work, five ZnO arresters were used. These Estácio is now applying for his Ph.D. degree from the
arresters where tested for their electro-thermal Federal University of Campina Grande in the area of
characterization and then submitted to intentional failures, so zinc oxide arresters electrothermal studies.
that the effect of these failures on the thermal profiles could
be analyzed.
For all the tests, it was possible to detect variation over the Edson G. da Costa was born in Brazil, 1954. He
thermal images and the thermal profile due to the generated graduated as Electrical Engineer in 1978, received his
failures. Anyway, the analysis of the thermal profile graphs is Masters degree in 1981 and his Ph.D. title in 1999, at
Federal University of Paraíba. His interests are power
more precise as they indicate more clearly the peaks of systems, electric fields, partial discharges, arresters and
temperatures along the arrester. The detected variations, if insulators. His is professor at the Electrical Engineering
well characterized and analyzed, are a good way to indicate Department of Federal University of Campina Grande
since 1978.
and classify failures and defects in ZnO arresters.
In order to consolidate the obtained results, new tests Tarso Vilela Ferreira graduated in Electrical Engineering from the
should be conducted, with different configuration of arresters. Universidade Federal de Campina Grande in 2005. Tarso now applies for his
This new tests will allow an increase in the database and the Masters Degree in the área of power equipments. His main interests are
clearing of the results obtained for this first tests. polymeric insulators and zinc oxide arresters.

The results confirm the thermal analysis as an adequate M. J. de A. Maia received his B.Sc. degree in Electrical Engineering in 1978
methodology to monitor ZnO arresters. And, although it is not from the Universidade Federal da Paraíba. Since 1978, he has been with the
used with all its potential, it can be evaluated to become more Companhia Hidro Elétrica do São Francisco, Recife, PE, Brazil. His research
interests include power systems, surge arresters, transmission and distribution
precise and efficient. With this idea in mind, this work is the of electric energy.
first step to the creation of an analysis and diagnosis tool
based on the evaluation of the arrester thermal images.

[1] K. Eda, “Destruction Mechanism of ZnO Varistors Due to High
Currents”. J. Appl. Phys., Vol. 56, N° 10, pp. 2948 - 2954, November
[2] M. V. Lat, “Thermal properties of metal oxide surge arresters”. IEEE
Transactions on Power Apparatus and Systems, Vol. 102, N° 7, pp.
2194-2202, July 1983.
[3] A. Mizukoshi, J. Ozawa, S. Shirakawa, K. Nakano, “Influence of
Uniformity on Energy Absorption Capabilities of Zinc Oxide Elements
as Applied in Arresters”. IEEE Transactions on Power Apparatus and
Systems, Vol. 102, N° 5, pp. 1384-1390, May 1983.
[4] V. Hinrichsen, “Metal-Oxide Surge Arresters Fundamentals”. 1st
Edition. Siemens – Power Transmission and Distribution Power Voltage
Division, Berlin, 2001.
[5] Z. Korendo, M. Florkowski, “Thermography based diagnostic of power
equipment”. IEE Power Engineering Journal, February 2001.
[6] K. Lahti, K. Kannus, K. Nousiainen, “Diagnostic methods in revealing
internal moisture in polymer housed metal oxide surge arresters”, IEEE
Transactions on Power Delivery, Vol. 17, No. 4, pp. 951-956, 2002K.

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