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What is an Excitation System?

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What is an Excitation System?

Excitation systems are fundamental to


the operation of modern synchronous
machines. In this article, we introduce
the basic concepts in layman’s terms.

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 FREE EXCITATION SYSTEM SPECIFICATION

WHAT IS AN EXCITATION SYSTEM?

INTRODUCTION

1. BASIC FUNCTION

The basic function of an excitation system is to provide a continuous (DC) current to the field winding of a synchronous
machine. This is achieved through the use of closed-loop control (or feedback control). Modern excitation systems also
include diagnostics functions to simplify troubleshooting, communication protocols for SCADA integration, and limiter /
protection functions to ensure that the synchronous machine is operated within its capability curve.

2. OBJECTIVE 

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What is an Excitation System? - Reivax North America

The objective of an excitation system depends on the application:

For synchronous generators, it is responsible for maintaining a constant terminal voltage.

For synchronous motors, it is responsible for maintaining a constant power factor.

3. WORKING PRINCIPLE

The synchronous machine, which consists of a rotor and stator, produces AC currents using the principle of electromagnetic
induction. The DC current passing through the field winding of the rotor produces a static magnetic field. As the rotor is
rotated by the prime mover (such as a hydro or steam turbine), the magnetic field is also rotated. Since the rotor is contained
within the stator, the rotating magnetic field creates a varying magnetic flux as it intersects the stator windings. This varying
magnetic flux induces AC currents in the stator windings of the synchronous machine. An excitation system is necessary
since, without excitation current, the machine operates without field current and consequently, no voltage is generated
(induced) in the stator windings of the machine.

EXCITATION SYSTEM CONCEPTS

1. CLOSED LOOP CONTROL

Excitation systems use closed-loop or feedback control to regulate the machine’s output. In closed-loop control, the machine
output is routed back to the controller and compared to a setpoint, and the error between the setpoint and output is used to
compute the system response. The controller is typically modeled as a PID, PI or lead-lag controller.

The Reivax control loop is compatible with the ST4C model defined in IEEE 421.5. A simplified version of this control loop
is shown on the Reivax HMI screen:

The tuning parameters associated with the control loop can easily be modified directly from the HMI.  Three (3) sets of tuning
parameters, allows for tailoring the optimal response for when a generator is not connected to the grid and for grid-connected

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What is an Excitation System? - Reivax North America

mode depending if the Power System Stabilizer (PSS) is active or not :

A sample diagram of the full control loop is shown below:

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What is an Excitation System? - Reivax North America

2. LIMITERS AND PROTECTIONS

Modern excitation systems are responsible for protecting the synchronous machine, the excitation system itself, and other
devices. Limiters (OEL, UEL, VHz, SCL) and protections (24, 27, 32, 37F, 40/32Q, 50/51, 59, 59F, 76F, 81O/U) are software
features designed to limit the machine operation in undesirable conditions, and are implemented as add-ons to the AVR
control loop. Limiters will ensure that the machine is operated within the machines capability at all times, while the protection
functions will protect the machine by initiating a trip. The excitation protective functions are typically duplicated in a separate
unit protection relay.  It is possible to disable the excitation protective functions and only rely on the unit protective relay or
both protective functions can be utilized, in which case there needs to be a coordination between the two protective functions.

The most common limiters and their functions are given below:

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What is an Excitation System? - Reivax North America

2.1. OVER EXCITATION LIMITER (OEL)

For excitation systems manufactured by Reivax, limiters can easily be configured from the HMI. The simplified transfer
function and configuration screen for the OEL is shown below corresponds to IEEE 421.5 OEL2C. The OEL is configured as
an inverse-time characteristic curve as per IEEE/ANSI C50.13.

2.2. UNDER EXCITATION LIMITER (UEL)

The simplified transfer function and configuration screen for the UEL is shown below. The UEL is configured as a piece-wise
linear characteristic in the underexcited region (negative reactive power) of the capability curve as per IEEE 421.5 UEL2C.

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What is an Excitation System? - Reivax North America

3. PROTECTION COORDINATION

Coordination between limiters, equipment limits and external protection relays is an important aspect of proper excitation
system integration. Typically, coordination is performed as part of a protection study or model validation study, with the
settings tested during commissioning of the equipment.

During commissioning, the OEL is drawn such that it overlaps the IEEE/ANSI C50.13 rotor thermal limit.

4. CAPABILITY CURVE

The capability curve of a synchronous machine is a graphical representation of the operating limits of the machine. The
capability curve is a plot of the machine active power (MW) versus the reactive power (MVar). Typically, the following
physical operating limits are represented:

Rotor thermal limit

Turbine limit

Practical stability limit

Pole slip limit

In addition, the following limiters are typically represented:

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What is an Excitation System? - Reivax North America

Over Excitation Limiter (OEL)

Under Excitation Limiter (UEL)

Excitation systems manufactured by Reivax include a dynamic capability curve that can be used to monitor operating
conditions in real-time. An example of such a capability curve is shown below.

The capability curve shows the safe operating region of the machine, indicated in green, restricted by limiters and the physical
limits of the machine. It also shows the operating point of the machine, in terms of active and reactive power (both quantities
are shown in pu).

5. POWER SYTEM STABILIZER (PSS)

The Power System Stabilizer (PSS) is an add-on to the control loop of an excitation system that improves system stability by
compensating for low frequency (0-5Hz) oscillations in the power system. This translates into a more stable generator output
power, which can lead to significant savings due to reduced power losses. Power System Stabilizers offer superior cost
effectiveness and have been found to produce millions of dollars in annual benefits for large utilities.

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What is an Excitation System? - Reivax North America

The PSS output is added to the AVR control loop. The image below shows the PSS summing junction as it appears on the
transfer function of a Reivax excitation system.

The graph below shows the response of a 32.5MW utility-scale generator with and without the PSS. A disturbance is
introduced at the 2 and 12 second marks. The transient and steady-state stability are noticeably improved. Without the PSS,
oscillations continue for about 10 seconds after the disturbance, whereas they are damped almost immediately when the PSS
is turned on.

The Reivax PSS is compatible with the IEEE PSS2A and PSS2B models.

TYPES OF EXCITATION SYSTEMS

Different types of excitation systems have emerged over the years in the power industry. They are classified into two general

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What is an Excitation System? - Reivax North America

categories, depending on the power source, rotating exciters and static exciters.

1. ROTATING EXCITATION SYSTEMS

In rotating excitation systems, there are two exciters: the main exciter and the pilot exciter. The main exciter supplies the pilot
exciter, and the pilot exciter in turn directly supplies the synchronous machine. There are two sub-categories of rotating
excitation systems: AC and DC.

1.1. AC BRUSHLESS EXCITER

In an AC excitation system, the main power rectifier supplies an intermediary AC exciter. This AC exciter contains an internal
power rectifier which then supplies the field winding of the synchronous machine.

A single-line diagram of an AC rotating exciter is shown below.

1.2. DC EXCITER

In a DC excitation system, the power rectifier supplies an intermediary DC exciter, which in turn supplies the field winding of
the synchronous machine.

A single-line diagram of a DC rotating exciter is shown below.

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What is an Excitation System? - Reivax North America

2. STATIC EXCITATION SYSTEMS – TERMINAL-FED

In static excitation systems, the power rectifier directly supplies the field winding of the synchronous machine. There is no
pilot exciter.

A static excitation system is terminal-fed (also called bus-fed) when the supply is taken from the machine itself through a
power potential transformer (PPT). The primary of the PPT is connected to the stator of the machine and the secondary
supplies power to the rectifier.

Static excitation systems are not inherently self-exciting, so they require an external supply to jump-start the excitation
process and build up sufficient magnetic flux. This process is called field flashing.

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What is an Excitation System? - Reivax North America

2.1. ADVANTAGES OF STATIC EXCITATION SYSTEMS

Static excitation systems provide a number of benefits that make them an attractive option for synchronous machine control:

Simple, reliable and cost-effective design

Minimal maintenance requirements

High performance and fast response characteristics

2.2. MAIN COMPONENTS

The main components of a static excitation system are listed below:

2.2.1. AUTOMATIC VOLTAGE REGULATOR (AVR)

The automatic voltage regulator (AVR), commonly known simply as voltage regulator, executes all control functions of the
system, including the following:

Operating breakers

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What is an Excitation System? - Reivax North America

Sending firing pulses to bridges

Responding to operator commands or grid disturbances

Monitoring system I/Os and taking appropriate actions in response to them

Maintaining the excitation system within safety and stability limits through the use of limiters and protections

Issuing notifications to the plant SCADA system if anomalous conditions occur

Tripping the excitation system if a critical failure or dangerous condition occurs

The main elements of an AVR are as follows:

Control loop

Limiters

Power system stabilizer

Redundant control solutions are common. In a redundant configuration, there are two voltage regulators, one that executes the
control functions while the other is in hot standby.

2.2.2. POWER RECTIFIER

Static excitation systems typically use a power rectifier that converts AC to DC current and provides a controlled field current
to the synchronous machine. Power rectifiers typically use thyristor or IGBT technology.

Heat generation is a concern for the power rectifier. For bridge cooling, redundant fan sets are typically provided.

Redundant bridge configurations are common. In case multiple bridges are present, the excitation system will perform
current equalization to balance the bridge outputs.

2.2.3. CONVERTER INTERFACE

The converter interface consists of all intermediary devices between the controller and power rectifier. It converts the control
signal to firing pulses and isolates the control electronics from the power section.

On excitation systems manufactured by Reivax, diagnostics tools for monitoring the power rectifier are provided on the HMI.
The status of fans, fuses, and semiconductor temperatures can be checked in real-time, as shown below.

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What is an Excitation System? - Reivax North America

This screen demonstrates normal bridge operation. All 6 In this screen, the HMI is indicating a problem with fan A.
thyristors are conducting normally. Current is equally As a result, the exciter has automatically transitioned to fan
balanced between the 3 branches. Fan set 1 (A&B) is active, set 2 (D&E). There is also an indication of a fuse problem
while fan set 2 is on standby. with thyristor #5. The measured current through this
thyristor has dropped to zero, indicating that there is no
conduction.

2.2.4. POWER POTENTIAL TRANSFORMER (PPT)

The PPT is a 3-phase step-down power transformer used in static excitation systems. Its purpose is to step down incoming AC
voltages from the synchronous machine to a level that can be supplied to the power rectifier.

2.2.5. FIELD BREAKER (AC OR DC)

The main purpose of the field breaker is to interrupt the excitation and serve as an isolation point for performing maintenance
and troubleshooting.

Both AC and DC solutions are common. The field breaker can be installed either directly in the field circuit, or between the
secondary of the excitation transformer and the rectifier of the system. In the latter case, the breaker is often called an AC
contactor instead.

2.2.6. DC FIELD FLASHING

The field flashing circuit is used in the start-up process, when the magnetic flux in the generator is too low. The field of the
synchronous machine is temporarily connected in parallel to an external DC supply, such as a station battery, until the
synchronous machine develops enough terminal voltage such that the excitation becomes self-sustaining. Afterwards, the field
flashing is interrupted.

2.2.6. CROWBAR AND DISCHARGE CIRCUIT

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What is an Excitation System? - Reivax North America

The crowbar is a safety feature designed to protect the excitation system and field winding from external surges, generator
pole displacement, etc.

 If you would like to discuss these features with a qualified engineer to better understand the advantages, please call
our toll free number 1-877-7REIVAX.

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