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High Voltage

Dr Suhail Khokhar
Associate Professor
Electrical Engineering Department
QUEST Nawabshah
Chapter 4
Measurement of High Voltage

High Voltage Engineering (16EL) By Dr Suhail khokhar 2

Methods of Measurement of High Voltages
 In industrial testing and research laboratories, it is essential to measure the
voltages and currents accurately, ensuring perfect safety to the personnel
and equipment.
 A person handling the equipment as well as the metering devices must be
protected against over voltages.
 Electromagnetic interference (EMI) is a serious problem in impulse voltage
and current measurements, and it has to be avoided or minimized.
 Sphere gap can be considered as an approved calibration device, with a
limited accuracy, but with high reliability and simplicity.
 The breakdown field distribution can be controlled by the geometry of the
electrode and by the air density. In some cases, the spark gap needs to be
irradiated with ultraviolet light or X-rays sources in order to obtain consistent
values for smaller sphere gaps, with the gap spacing less than 1 cm.
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Methods of Measurement of High Voltages
 The most suitable method for measuring high voltage depends on the
measured voltage value, the available measuring devices, and whether the
need is to measure the peak or the effective value.
 It is known that spark gap spheres measure the peak AC voltage with a
precision of ±3%. The breakdown voltage depends on the distance
between the spheres, on the spheres diameter, and on the type of voltage:
DC, AC, or impulse.
 The breakdown voltage is a nonlinear function of the gap distance which is
due to the increasing field inhomogeneity. Sphere gaps can be arranged
vertically, with the lower sphere grounded, or horizontally.

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Methods of Measurement of High Voltages

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Measurement of DC High Voltages
1. Series resistance micrometer
2. Resistance potential divider
3. Generating voltmeter
4. Sphere and other sphere gaps

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Measurement of AC High Voltages
1. Series impedance voltmeter
2. Potential dividers (resistance or capacitance type)
3. Potential transformers (Electromagnetic or Capacitor Voltage Transformer)
4. Electrostatic voltmeter
5. Sphere gaps

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Measurement of Impulse High Voltages
1. Potential Dividers with a Cathode Ray Oscillograph (resistive or capacitive
2. Peak Voltmeter
3. Sphere Gaps

High Voltage Engineering (16EL) By Dr Suhail khokhar 8

Spark gaps
 Simple spark gaps insulated by atmospheric air can be used to measure the
voltage amplitude around 10 𝑘𝑉. Although spark gaps for measurement
purposes might be applied following given rules and recommendations only.
 Since, the fast transition from completely insulating or highly insulating state of
a gap to the high conducting arc state is used to determine a voltage level, the
disruptive discharge does not offer a direct reading of the voltage across the
 A complete short-circuit is the result of a spark, and therefore the voltage
source must be capable to allow such a short-circuit, although the currents may
and sometimes must be limited by resistors in series with the gap.
 Spark gaps can be considered as approved calibration devices with a limited
accuracy, i.e., known measuring uncertainty, but with a high reliability.
 Because of their high reliability and simplicity, spark gaps will probably never
completely disappear from HV laboratories.
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Spark Gaps
 More accurate and easier-to-use devices incorporating electronic circuits
are generally applied for routine measurements. But these circuits are often
sensitive to the electromagnetic effects and may sometimes fail to work.
 A regular calibration of such devices against approved spark gaps thus
eliminates the possibility of large measuring errors and awkward
consequences. The geometry of a spark gap is a decisive factor for its
 For some decades the international and also national standards recommend
the sphere gap and now also the rod gap for approved voltage
measurements, as their reliability are best confirmed.
 The uniform field gaps are merely included here to demonstrate their
disadvantages and to save the beginner troublesome experiments.

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Sphere Gaps

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Sphere Gaps
 Two adjacent metal spheres of equal diameters whose separation distance is
limited form a sphere gap for the measurement of the peak value of either DC, AC
or impulse voltages.
 The ability to respond to peak values of voltages, if the duration of the peak region
is not too short in time (≈ 1– 3 µsec), is governed by a short statistical time lag,
i.e. the waiting time for an electron to appear to initiate an electron avalanche and
breakdown streamer, and an equally short formative time lag required for the
voltage breakdown or fast current increase within the breakdown channel.
 The limitation in gap distance provides a fairly homogeneous field distribution so
that no pre-discharge or corona appears before breakdown; the formative time lags
are, therefore, also short.
 The permanent presence of primary or initiatory electrons within the regions of
maximum field gradients to start critical avalanches within a short time lag is of
great importance.

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Sphere Gaps
 The electrical field distribution within the high field regions must sufficiently
be controlled by the geometry of the electrode and the air density as well as
its composition must be known.
 Air is composed of various types of molecules which will influence the
breakdown voltage. All these influences can be accounted for by the well-
known breakdown criteria of gases besides the primary electron impact,
whose presence is a prerequisite.
 The standardized arrangement for the construction of the sphere gaps is
shown in Figs 3.1(a).
 The figure contains the most of the instructions necessary to define the
geometry, except for values A and B which require some explanation. These
two parameters define clearances such as to maintain the field distribution
between the points on the two spheres that are closest to each other
(sparking points) within narrow limits.
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Vertical Sphere Gaps
 1. Insulating support.
 2. Sphere shank.
 3. Operating gear, showing maximum
 4. High-voltage connection with series
 5. Stress distributor, showing maximum
 P. Sparking point of h.v. sphere.
 A. Height of P above ground plane.
 B. Radius of space free from external
 X. Item 4 not to pass through this plane
within a distance B from P.
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Sphere Gaps
 The height of the sparking point P above the horizontal ground plane, which
can be a conducting network in or on the floor of the laboratory, or a
conducting surface on the support in which the sphere gap is placed, must
be within given limits related to the sphere diameter D.
 To be accepted as a standard measuring device, a minimum clearance B
around the sphere must also be available, within which no extraneous
objects (such as walls, ceilings, transformer tanks, impulse generators) or
supporting framework for the spheres are allowed.
 Related to the accuracy of the field distribution are also requirements for the
construction of the spheres and their shanks. The most important rules are
reproduced partly.

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Rod Gaps
 Rod gaps have previously been used for the measurement of impulse voltages,
but because of the large scatter of the disruptive discharge voltage and the
uncertainties of the strong influence of the humidity, they are no longer allowed
to be used as measuring devices.
 The investigations have demonstrated how the simple electrode configuration
rod / rod gap may be used for the measurement of DC voltages, if the air
density and the humidity is taken into account, and if some rules relating to the
electrode arrangement are followed.
 This arrangement must comprise two hemi-spherically capped rods of about
20 𝑚𝑚 diameter as sketched in Fig. 3.3.
 The earthed rod must be long enough to initiate positive breakdown streamers
if the HV rod is the cathode. Then for both polarities the breakdown will always
be initiated by positive streamers giving a very small scatter and being humidity
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Rod Gaps

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Electrostatic voltmeters
 According to Coulomb’s law the electrical field is defined as a field of forces. The
electrical fields may be produced by voltages, hence voltage measurement can be
related to a force measurement.
 Lord Kelvin (1884) suggested a design for an electrostatic voltmeter based upon this
measuring principle.
 If the field is produced by the voltage 𝑉 between a pair of parallel plane disc
electrodes, the force 𝐹 on an area 𝐴 of the electrode, for which the field gradient 𝐸
is the same across the area and perpendicular to the surface, can be calculated
from the derivative of the stored electrical energy 𝑊𝑒𝑙 taken in the field direction (x).
 Since each volume element 𝐴𝑑𝑥 contains the same stored energy
𝑑𝑊𝑒𝑙 = 𝜀𝐸 2 𝐴𝑑𝑥 /2, the attracting force 𝐹 = −𝑑𝑊𝑒𝑙 /𝑑𝑥 becomes
𝜀𝐴𝐸 2 𝜀𝐴 2
𝐹 = = 2𝑉
2 2𝑆
 where 𝜀 is permittivity of the insulating medium and 𝑆 is gap length between the
parallel plane electrodes.
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Electrostatic voltmeters
 The attracting force is always positive independent of the polarity of the voltage. If the
voltage is not constant, the force is also time dependent. Then the mean value of the force is
used to measure the voltage, thus
1 𝜀𝐴 1 𝜀𝐴
𝐹(𝑡) 𝑑𝑡 = 2 𝑣2 𝑡 𝑑𝑡 = 2 (𝑉𝑟𝑚𝑠 )2
𝑇 2𝑆 𝑇 2𝑆
0 0

 where 𝑇 is a proper integration time. Thus, electrostatic voltmeters are r.m.s.- indicating
 The design of most of the realized instruments is arranged such that one of the electrodes or
a part of it is allowed to move. By this movement, the electrical field will slightly change
which in general can be neglected.
 Besides differences in the construction of the electrode arrangements, the various
voltmeters differ in the use of different methods of restoring forces required to balance the
electrostatic attraction; these can be a suspension of the moving electrode on one arm of a
balance or its suspension on a spring or the use of a pendulous or torsional suspension.

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Electrostatic voltmeters
 The small movement is generally transmitted and amplified by a spotlight and mirror system,
but many other systems have also been used. If the movement of the electrode is prevented
or minimized and the field distribution can exactly be calculated, the electrostatic measuring
device can be used for absolute voltage measurements, since the calibration can be made in
terms of the fundamental quantities of length and forces.
 The paramount advantage is the extremely low loading effect, as only electrical fields have
to be built up. The atmospheric air, high-pressure gas or even high vacuum between the
electrodes provide very high resistivity, and thus the active power losses are mainly due to
the resistance of insulating materials used elsewhere. The measurement of voltages lower
than about 50 V is, however, not possible, as the forces become too small.
 The measuring principle displays no upper frequency limit. The load inductance and the
electrode system capacitance, however, form a series resonant circuit, thus limiting the
frequency range. For small voltmeters the upper frequency is generally in the order of some
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Electrostatic voltmeters
 In spite of the inherent advantages of this kind of instrument, their
application for h.v. testing purposes is very limited nowadays.
 For DC voltage measurements, the electrostatic voltmeters compete with
resistor voltage dividers or measuring resistors, as the very high input
impedance is in general not necessary.
 For AC voltage measurements, the r.m.s. value is either of minor
importance for dielectric testing or capacitor voltage dividers can be used
together with low-voltage electronic r.m.s. instruments, which provide
acceptable low uncertainties.
 Thus the actual use of these instruments is restricted and the number of
manufacturers is therefore extremely limited.

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Electrostatic voltmeters
 Fig. shows a schematic diagram of an
absolute electrostatic voltmeter. The
hemispherical metal dome D encloses
a sensitive balance B which measures
the force of attraction between the
movable disc which hangs from one of
its arms and the lower plate P. The
movable electrode M hangs with a
clearance of above 0.01 cm, in a
central opening in the upper plate
which serves as a guard ring.

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Chubb–Fortescue Method
 Chubb and Fortescue (1913) proposed the simple and accurate method for
the measurement of peak values of AC voltages ,using a sphere gap as a
measuring device.
 The basic diagram shown in Fig. 3.12(a) comprises a standard capacitor,
two diodes and a current integrating ammeter (i.e. moving coil or equivalent
instrument) only.
 The displacement current 𝑖𝑐 (𝑡) is subdivided into positive and negative
components by the back-to-back connected diodes.
 The voltage drop across these diodes (less than 1 V for Si diodes) may
completely be neglected when high voltages are to be measured.
 The measuring instrument may be included in one of the two branches.

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Chubb–Fortescue Method

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Chubb–Fortescue Method
 In either case it reads a magnitude of charge per cycle, or the mean value of
the current 𝑖𝑐 𝑡 = 𝐶 𝑑𝑉/𝑑𝑡, and thus
1 𝑡2 𝐶 𝑡2 𝐶
𝐼= 𝑖𝑐 𝑡 𝑑𝑡 = 𝑑𝑉 = 𝑉+𝑚𝑎𝑥 + 𝑉−𝑚𝑎𝑥 −− −(1)
𝑇 𝑡1 𝑇 𝑡1 𝑇
 according to fig. 3.13 which illustrates the integral boundaries and the
magnitudes related to Fig. 3.12(a).
 The difference between the positive and negative peak values may be
designated as 𝑉𝑝−𝑝 , and if both peak values are equal, a condition which
usually applies, may be written as
𝐼 = 𝐶𝑓𝑉𝑝−𝑝 = 2𝐶𝑓𝑉𝑚𝑎𝑥 −− −(2)
 An increased current would be measured if the current reaches zero more
than once during one half-cycle.

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Chubb–Fortescue Method
 This means the waveshape of the voltage would contain more than one
maximum per half-cycle. AC testing voltages with such high harmonics
contents are, however, not within the limits of standards and therefore only
very short and rapid voltage drops caused by heavy pre-discharges within
the test circuit could introduce errors.

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Chubb–Fortescue Method
 A filtering of the AC voltage by a damping resistor placed between the
capacitor C and the object tested will eliminate this problem.
 The relationship in Eq (2) shows the principal sources of errors. First, the
frequency 𝑓 must be accurately known. In many countries the power
frequency often used for testing voltages is very stable and accurately
known. The independent measurement of the frequency with extremely high
precision (i.e. counters) is possible.
 The current measurement causes no problem, as these currents are in the
𝑚𝐴 range.
 The effective value of the capacitance C should also be accurately known,
and because of the different constructions available, a very high precision is
 The main source of error is often introduced by imperfect diodes.
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Chubb–Fortescue Method
 These have to subdivide the AC current 𝑖𝑐 𝑡 with high precision, this means
the charge transferred in the forward direction, which is limited by the
capacitance 𝐶, must be much higher (104 −105 times) than the charge in the
reversed voltage direction.
 But due to the back-to-back connection of the diodes, the reverse voltages are
low. However, the diodes as well as the instrument become highly stressed by
short impulse currents during voltage breakdowns.
 A suitable protection of the rectifying circuit is thus recommended as shown in
Fig. 3.12(b). The resistor R introduces a required voltage drop during
breakdown to ignite the overvoltage protector OP (e.g. a gas discharge tube).
 The influence of the frequency on the reading can be eliminated by
electronically controlled gates and by sensing the rectified current by analogue
to-digital converters. By this means and using pressurized standard capacitors,
the measurement uncertainty may reach values as low as 0.05 per cent.
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