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Electric Power Systems Research 79 (2009) 1121–1126

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Electric Power Systems Research

journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/epsr

Measurement and analysis of harmonic distortion in power

distribution systems
Saša Vlahinić a,∗ , Dalibor Brnobić a , Dubravko Vučetić b
Faculty of Engineering, Department of Automation, Electronics and Computing, Vukovarska 58, 51000 Rijeka, Croatia
Faculty of Maritime Studies, Studentska 2, 51000 Rijeka, Croatia

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: Power distribution systems often exhibit different harmonic behaviours at different locations. It is not
Received 25 April 2007 usually possible to completely characterise the distortion at a particular site, however, due to insufficient
Received in revised form 1 April 2008 data about the measured system and instrumentation inability to evaluate or register complete set of
Accepted 11 February 2009
measurement quantities. In this paper existing power quality standards are analysed and new harmonic
Available online 14 March 2009
distortion indices are derived. A new index describing the total harmonic distortion in current measure-
ments, TRD, is suggested in order to simplify and standardise harmonic measurements. Another index
representing the increase of harmonic voltage distortion with TRD, equivalent harmonic impedance zeq ,
Harmonic distortion measurement
Harmonic distortion monitoring and
is proposed as an efficient way of characterising a particular site. The framework described here can be
prediction used to predict future harmonic behaviour at any previously measured point. Finally, extensive harmonic
measurements of a real distribution system were performed to prove the usefulness of the proposed
© 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction In real-world situations, the details of customer installations

are insufficient for precise harmonic modelling. Moreover, over-
Harmonic distortion can be caused by both active and passive all consumption is a result of different load types and sizes. These
non-linear devices in a power system. The power transformer, for unknowns prevent efficient modelling of distribution systems and
example, generates a magnetization current with third-order and accurate prediction of distortion.
higher odd harmonics. In the past, these passive devices were the When necessary, or when requested by customers, harmonic
primary source of harmonics. Today, most harmonic distortion is distortions in voltage and current can be measured directly in the
generated by input stage of (active) electronic power converters. affected systems. The various standards (e.g. [6]) prescribe dif-
The increasing number of malfunctions and failures in power ferent measurement procedures, and many different techniques
systems has provoked development of several harmonic control have been proposed for analyses, characterisation and classification
standards. In addition to those published by the IEEE [1] and IEC [2], of power quality data (e.g. [7–9]). Extensive power quality mon-
there are many standards defined by national or regional author- itoring is often suggested for industrial and distribution systems
ities. Their common objective is to establish practical limits on [10–14]. Various benchmarks have been proposed as a way of con-
harmonic voltage distortion in order to guarantee equipment per- trolling the differences that arise in power quality measurements
formance (e.g. [1,3]). [10]. Nonetheless, only the present situation of the network can be
While it falls to distributors to maintain voltage distortion below confirmed by such measurements.
the prescribed levels, the predominant sources of harmonic dis- In the present paper, we establish a new framework for harmonic
tortion are the non-linear currents drawn by customer loads. It is distortion monitoring and prediction in power distribution sys-
therefore necessary to limit the influence on increase of voltage tems. This approach assumes the availability of routine harmonic
harmonic distortion by establishing current limits for individual distortion measurements. The equations and indices for power
customers (e.g. [1,2]). Unfortunately, it is not straightforward to quality suggested in [1,15] are adopted here, and modified slightly
derive appropriate current limits. The harmonic voltage distortion in developing a simple procedure for data analysis. We also pro-
depends on many different factors: harmonic phase variation, load pose a new index based on current measurements, the total rated
diversity [4], system impedance, the presence of capacitors [5], etc. distortion (TRD). Least-squares fitting of measurement data, esti-
mation of new parameter, equivalent harmonic impedance zeq , and
correlation analysis are suggested as appropriate methodologies
∗ Corresponding author. Tel.: +385 51 651 447; fax: +385 51 675 818. for measurement-based site characterisation and constructing an
E-mail address: sasa.vlahinic@riteh.hr (S. Vlahinić). accurate prediction of future voltage distortion. Finally, some actual

0378-7796/$ – see front matter © 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
1122 S. Vlahinić et al. / Electric Power Systems Research 79 (2009) 1121–1126

harmonic measurements performed at various sites are described The per-unit transformer impedance at harmonic h is therefore
and the characteristic parameters of the sites are extracted. equal to

ZTh vsc · Vr2 /Sr

2. Harmonic indices for system harmonic monitoring zTh = =h· = h · vsc , (4)
Zr Vr /Ir

The voltage harmonic distortion at a particular bus of the distri- provided the rated current Ir is equal to the transformer nom-
bution system is the sum of background voltage distortion and an inal current. Once again, predominantly inductive transformer
additional term generated by the harmonic bus current itself. The impedance is assumed.
background harmonic distortion is voltage distortion that would Approximating Zsc with ZT and substituting Eq. (3) into Eq. (2)
be present in the absence of analysed bus current and is a prod- yields
uct of the overall harmonic current and the system’s harmonic
(h · ZT ) · Ih
impedance. vh = = h · vsc · ih = zTh · ih (5)
The magnitude of the harmonic voltage produced by the bus
harmonic current is proportional to the harmonic impedance of When transformer nominal current is taken as base value for the
the bus: currents, we see that the harmonic voltage is directly proportional
to h, ih , and vsc .
Vh = (h · Zsc ) · Ih , (1)
Obviously, the final harmonic voltage is the sum of the back-
where Vh is the harmonic voltage, Ih is the bus harmonic current, Zsc ground harmonic voltage and the harmonic voltage increase due
is the short-circuit impedance, and h is the harmonic order. Eq. (1) to transformer inductance. The resulting voltage in the circuit will
assumes that the short-circuit impedance is predominantly induc- depend on their relative phase. A similar approach can be followed
tive. This assumption is valid in vicinity of a power transformer in determining the relationship between total harmonic voltage
(Xsc  Rsc ). IEEE 519-1992 places limits on harmonic voltages and distortion (THDV ) and total harmonic current distortion in the mea-
currents, the latter given as a function of load and system size. While sured bus (THDI ). The first step, however, is to determine a more
system size can be determined from the short-circuit impedance, appropriate current distortion index.
the load size is based on customer demand. These current limits The THDI in percentage gives average current distortion over
are defined in terms of a single customer, but can easily be gener- time. However, this index is not always useful for predicting the
alised to the case of multiple customers sharing the same bus. In impact of a harmonic current on the network. Small rms values
[15] the relations are given in per-unit (or percent) values relative with high current distortion increase THDI while having a negligi-
to the rated voltage and load current. ble impact on the overall harmonic voltage distortion. It is therefore
This work derives equations and parameters that can describe more convenient to express the total current distortion in per-unit
the results of multiple harmonic measurements performed in a values, with Ir as a base value.
power distribution system. Since the various measurement sites IEEE 519-1992 specifies the total demand distortion (TDD) in
need to be compared in order to extrapolate future harmonic terms of the total current distortion, giving it as a percentage of
behaviour, it is necessary to modify the standard measurement the maximum demand current (IL )
parameters. First of all, we suggest taking the rated current (Ir ) as a 
h h
more appropriate base value. In this case, harmonic current relates TDD = × 100%. (6)
to the system “strength” and Eq. (1) can be rewritten: IL

Vh Zsc Ih This work proposes that the total current distortion should
vh = =h· = h · zsc · ih , (2) instead be compared to the transformer rated current Ir , in the
Vr Zr Ir
same way as for individual harmonic. This new index for current
where vh , ih , and zsc are per-unit values of the harmonic voltage, cur- distortion, the TRD, is defined as follows:
rent, and short-circuit impedance, respectively, and Zr is the rated 
impedance (Zr = Vr /Ir ). Eq. (2) can be used to estimate the harmonic I2
h h
TRD = × 100%. (7)
voltage increase and highlights relation between harmonic current Ir
and voltage.
Following the approach given in [15], the short-circuit
When measuring harmonic distortion on the secondary side
impedance can then be calculated as follows:
of a HV–MV step-down transformer, the short-circuit impedance
is dominated by largest impedance in the current path. In most THDV
cases, this is the power transformer’s impedance; the short-circuit
zsc =  . (8)
impedance on the transformer’s primary side is usually at least an h
(hIh /Ir )
order of magnitude smaller. Therefore, any voltage drop generated
It must be noted that the current harmonic spectrum must be
will be highest at the power transformer. Transformer secondary
known in order to evaluate zsc . The calculated value of zsc therefore
side has already been suggested as a useful measurement point
depends both on the system characteristics and the bus current
The transformer’s short-circuit impedance at harmonic frequen-
If the expression in the denominator is measured, then zsc can
cies can be calculated from its short-circuit impedance at the
be used to characterize the harmonic distortion at that point of
fundamental frequency:
the system. Unfortunately, standard harmonic measurements give
Vr2 only the current total harmonic distortion (THDI ). The full current
ZT = vsc · , (3)
Sr spectrum is usually not recorded. The same problem arises if only
results from SCADA databases are available.
where vsc is the short-circuit voltage, Vr is the rated voltage and Sr is In the absence of a detailed spectrum profile, the TRD can be
the rated apparent power. The transformer impedance at harmonic used to define an equivalent harmonic impedance zeq :
h can be calculated as ZTh = ZT ·h, assuming a linear increase with
frequency. In this analysis only serial impedances are considered; THDV
zeq = . (9)
the transformer’s parallel branch has been neglected. TRD
S. Vlahinić et al. / Electric Power Systems Research 79 (2009) 1121–1126 1123

By combining and rearranging (7) and (8), Eq. (9) can be written amount of data. In Eq. (11), for example, THDV and TRD are the mea-
as sured values. By performing a least-squares fitting of available data
  2 on a TRD–THDV diagram, one can obtain:
hIh /Ir (hIh )
zeq =   = zsc · h = zsc · k. • the slope of increase or decrease of THDV (zeq ); and
 2 (Ih )2
(hIh /Ir ) (I /I 2 )
h h r
h • the initial value of THDV , or background distortion (THDVo ).
Estimated values of zeq and THDVo , can be used to characterise a
particular measurement site, and thereby predict future harmonic
The difference between zsc and zeq is summed up by a single
distortion at that particular location. If the customer profile of the
parameter k, as defined by Eq. (10). If there is no background distor-
system is relatively constant, zeq should also be constant.
tion, k depends only on the current spectrum. In cases where there
TRD, on the other hand, can be expressed in terms of THDI as
is a single or predominant harmonic of order h, the approxima-
tion zeq ∼
= zsc ·h is valid in accordance with Eq. (2). This value of the I2 I2
h h h h I1 1
harmonic short-circuit impedance is usually assumed in harmonic TRD = × 100% = · × 100% = THDI · .
Ir I1 Ir Ir
modelling and simulations.
Eqs. (1)–(10) describe relationships between the current and
voltage distortions at a specific measurement point, in the absence
of background distortion. Thus, if THDI is expected to remain constant then TRD should
In the presence of background distortion (THDVo ) there will be increase linearly with consumption.
an additional offset, and Eq. (9) becomes The correlation coefficient measures the interdependence of
THDV = zeq · TRD + THDVo . (11) two variables [17]. We can measure a correlation coefficient
between THDV and TRD, ccTRD , obtaining a value between –1 and
In Eq. (11), zeq indicates the slope of the THDV increase provoked +1. This statistic provides the following additional information:
by TRD. In this case the parameter k will depend on the background
distortion as well as the current spectrum. • Values of ccTRD near +1 indicate a strong relationship between
When describing real measurements, of course, k will also THDV and TRD. The total harmonic load current has an adverse
include the effects of unknown or omitted influences. In a low-load effect, increasing voltage distortion.
situation, for example, the transformer magnetization current can • Values of ccTRD near −1 indicate a strong inverse relationship
increase the effective value of zeq . At measurement sites with an between THDV and TRD. In this case voltage distortion decreases
unfavourable harmonic situation, zeq will also have higher effective with the total harmonic load current.
values. Thus, zeq is a quantity which can characterise and monitor • Values of ccTRD near 0 indicate an absence of correlation between
the harmonic distortion at a measurement site. THDV and TRD, which implies strong harmonic diversity.
Ref. [10] suggests several benchmark indices useful for describ-
ing the level of harmonic voltage distortion and overall system The similar calculations can be performed for other current
harmonic performance. However, all these indices consider only distortion indices and comparison of the results can be used to
voltage distortion. The above discussion has introduced a new con- establish which current harmonic index is in closer correlation with
cept to the analysis of distribution systems: how different sites in THDV and therefore is more appropriate measurement value. More-
a network respond to current distortion. This information can be over, correlation results can also be used to quantify the degree of
used to anticipate high voltage distortion. data dispersion.

3. Parameter extraction from harmonic measurements 4. Harmonic measurements

Harmonic measurements are often performed as part of a more Harmonic measurements have been carried out in one of the
general power quality measurement, in order to gain some insight Croatian distribution systems over the period 2002–2006. One
into the state of the distribution system. The secondary side of goal of these measurements was finding the distribution system’s
a step-down transformer is usually supplied with measurement background harmonic levels. The harmonics were analysed at two
transformers and is suitable for installing measurement equipment different medium voltages (MV): 35 and 20 kV. The rms values and
and monitoring harmonic distortion. harmonic distortion of the current were also measured. The data
The total harmonic voltage and current distortions are usually were exported to MATLAB, where a detailed analysis of the data
recorded, as well as a few individual harmonics (especially the 5th was performed.
and 7th) where the strongest distortion is expected to appear. Single Table 1 lists the substations along with their transformer’s short-
harmonic indices are usually evaluated at 20 or 200 ms intervals (for circuit voltages, rated powers, and transformation ratios as well as
50 Hz systems). In order to reduce the amount of data, however, it is the measurement results. Their secondary voltage levels range from
their mean values over 10 min integration periods that are recorded 35 to 20 kV as mentioned above.
in the memory of the instruments during interval of 1 week. Table 1 reports the 95% percentile values (P(95%)) of THDV . It can
Transformer data are also available, but many other parameters be observed that the total harmonic voltage distortion is generally
necessary to characterise the system are unknown. Power con- well below 8%, the distortion level prescribed by European norm
sumption fluctuates during any measurement period, as do the EN 50160.
harmonic currents and voltages. Moreover, variability of the har- A typical THDV time series at MV is given in Fig. 1. There is less
monic phases and diversity among different sources of distortion harmonic distortion between 10:00 pm to 6:00 am than during the
increase the dispersion of harmonic data. Considering the equa- rest of the day.
tions derived above, it can be stated that harmonic phase diversity THDI in percentage gives the average total harmonic current dis-
will also cause dispersion in the measured values of zeq . tortion. This index is not always useful for predicting the impact of
However, some important conclusions about the distribution current harmonic on the network, because small rms values with
system’s harmonic distortion can still be drawn given a fairly large high current distortion increase its value, while having little effect
1124 S. Vlahinić et al. / Electric Power Systems Research 79 (2009) 1121–1126

Table 1
List of substations analysed and measurement results.

Substation Transformation ratio vsc (%) Sr (MVA) Average consumption (%Pn ) P(95%) THDV (%) P(95%) THDI (%) P(95%) TRD (%)

Site 1 110/35 kV 11.4 40 L1:29.3 L1: 4.5 L1: 22.15 L1: 6.02
L1:16.1 L1: 2.7 L1: 13.20 L1: 1.91
Site 2 110/20 kV 11.6 20 L2: 16.0 L2: 2.6 L2: 13.77 L2: 1.93
L3: 16.5 L3: 2.9 L3: 13.72 L3: 1.98

L1: 31.4 L1: 3.8 L1: 13.18 L1: 4.54

Site 3 110/20 kV 11.4 20 L2:31.0 L2: 3.6 L2: 12.97 L2: 4.40
L3:30.9 L3: 3.2 L3: 13.30 L3:4.53

L1: 34.6 L1: 1.5 L1: 10.42 L1: 2.36

Site 4 110/35 kV 10.5 40 L2: 33.8 L2: 1.7 L2: 13.58 L2: 2.79
L3: 33.2 L3: 1.6 L3: 13.33 L3: 2.71

L1: 16.4 L1: 2.74 L1: 15.19 L1: 2.23

Site 5 110/20 kV 11.0 20 L2: 16.5 L2: 2.59 L2: 14.86 L2:2.08
L3: 16.7 L3: 2.90 L3: 14.07 L3: 2.03

on the overall harmonic voltage distortion. Still, THDI gives us an This variety highlights the need for detailed measurements if
indication of the current waveform distortion. we are to properly characterise the harmonic behaviour of each
Observing values of THDI (%) at many different measure- measurement site. Clearly sites 2 and 5, where zeq is much higher
ment sites, it appears that the current waveform distortion is than expected, deserve closer attention. Moreover, if a future
rather constant (between 10% and 15%) regardless of consump- increase (or decrease) in consumption is known or predictable,
tion. The notable exception is site 1, where a much larger distortion small variations of THDI together with Eqs. (11) and (12) and
was recorded. Site 1 was supplying a railway substation with parameters zeq and THDVo can be used to predict future harmonic
static converters. All the other sites were supplying a large num- distortion at all analysed sites. Fig. 3 gives the results of least-
ber of customers with some variable proportion of industrial squares fitting for one phase for all measurement sites. In this way,
loads. sites are compared and characteristic behaviour for each site is
As has already been stated, TRD is a useful means of estimating shown.
the impact of current distortion at a particular point in the system Table 3 gives the results of correlation analysis. The correlation
(Eq. (11)). These measurements allow us to conclude that the cur- coefficient is given between voltage distortion and TRD, as well as
rent distortion is expected to remain within the measured range. between voltage distortion and THDI (%). It is evident that a higher
According to Eq. (12), TRD should increase linearly with consump-
Table 2
The results of linear least-squares fitting yield values for zeq , Parameters of the least-squares linear fits (see Fig. 2).
THDVo , and k. These results are summarized in Table 2, while the
Site 5 vsc (%) k zeq (%) THDVo (%)
measurements themselves are shown in Fig. 2a and b. Since the fifth
harmonic is predominant, reference values of 5 vsc are reported in 1 0.57 L1: 6,5 L1: 0.74 L1: 0.02
column two for comparison with the estimated zeq . L1: 8.7 L1: 1.01 L1: 0.85
2 0.58 L2: 8.6 L2: 1.00 L2: 0.82
Comparing the measured and expected values for each zeq , we L3: 8.4 L3: 0.97 L3: 1.12
see that the measurement sites have noticeable difference in the
L1: 4.3 L1: 0.49 L1: 0.94
harmonic behaviour. In particular, sites 2 and 3 are located near
3 0.57 L2: 4.5 L2: 0.51 L2: 0.91
each other, sharing the same high voltage line, and their mea- L3: 4.0 L3: 0.45 L3: 1.26
surements were performed in 2 consecutive weeks. The observed
L1: 4.4 L1: 0.47 L1: 0.37
discrepancies between reference and measured values can be
4 0.53 L2: 5.5 L2: 0.58 L2: 0.13
attributed to the different system and load characteristics. L3: 4.3 L3: 0.46 L3: 0.45

L1: 7.4 L1: 0.81 L1: 1.00

5 0.55 L2: 6.8 L2: 0.75 L2: 1.04
L3: 7.3 L3: 0.80 L3: 1.31

Table 3
Correlation coefficients between THDV and THDI (%), ccTHDI , and THDV and TRD, ccTRD .

Site ccTHDI ccTRD

1 L1: 0.56 L1: 0.99

L1: 0.60 L1: 0.92
2 L2: 0.59 L2: 0.91
L3: 0.59 L3: 0.93

L1: 0.55 L1: 0.94

3 L2: 0.50 L2: 0.94
L3: 0.54 L3: 0.93

L1: 0.28 L1: 0.77

4 L2: 0.54 L2: 0.87
L3: 0.50 L3: 0.85

L1: 0.05 L1: 0.81

5 L2: 0.09 L2: 0.79
Fig. 1. The total harmonic voltage distortion recorded at site 3 over time. L3: 0.09 L3: 0.76
S. Vlahinić et al. / Electric Power Systems Research 79 (2009) 1121–1126 1125

tion generally increases the voltage distortion. (The ccTRD statistic

is near +1, and the slope zeq is positive.)

5. Conclusion

This paper analyses the relationship between current and volt-

age distortions in power distribution networks, and suggests a new
index describing harmonic distortion in the current waveform:
the TRD. This parameter is used to define equivalent harmonic
impedance, which describes the impact of TRD on the total har-
monic voltage distortion (THDV ) at a given site. Using these
parameters, local increases in the voltage distortion can be esti-
mated in a straightforward fashion.
Linear least-squares fitting and correlation analysis of THDV and
TRD can give further information on the behaviour of current and
voltage distortions at a certain point of the system. In this way,
uncertainties related to unknown system and load parameters are
combated in an approximate manner. As a result, background dis-
tortion and slope of increase of THDV are estimated and can be
used in power quality monitoring systems for extrapolation of sys-
tem distortion’s future behaviour. Nevertheless, both parameters
depend on variety of factors and their relationship is expected to
vary with measurement site position.
The suggested analysis is performed on measurements of a
Croatian power distribution system. The new parameters are
estimated, and those sites with unfavourable behaviour are individ-
uated accordingly. However, the variations in harmonic behaviour
observed over five sites suggest that further measurements are
needed to explain the observations in more detail.


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Saša Vlahinić received the B.Sc. and Ph.D. degree in Electronic Engineering from
Fig. 3. The results of least-squares fitting for one phase for all measurement sites. University of Trieste, Trieste, Italy, in 1998 and 2003, respectively. Since 2000 he
1126 S. Vlahinić et al. / Electric Power Systems Research 79 (2009) 1121–1126

was young researcher at the Department of Automation, Electronics and Computing, Croatia and working to a Ph.D. His current interests are PQ instrumentation and real
Faculty of Engineering, University of Rijeka, Rijeka, Croatia. Currently, he is Assistant time systems.
Professor at the same faculty. His current research interests are concerned with
power quality and harmonic measurements. Dubravko Vučetić received the B.Sc. and M.Sc. degree in Electrical Engineering from
University of Zagreb, Zagreb, Croatia, in 1986 and 1990, respectively, and Ph.D. degree
Dalibor Brnobić received B.Sc. degree in Automation from Faculty of Electrical in Technology of Transport from University of Rijeka, Rijeka, Croatia in 2006. He has
Engineering, University of Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia in 1997 and M.Sc. degree been Lecturer at the Department of Marine Electronics and Communications, Fac-
from Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing, University of Zagreb, Zagreb, ulty of Maritime Studies, University of Rijeka, Rijeka, Croatia. His research interests
Croatia in 2006. From 1997 till 2001 as R&D engineer participated in several PQ are concerned with power electronics, ship electric propulsion and electric power
instruments projects. Since 2001 he is young researcher at Department of Automa- systems.
tion, Electronics and Computing, Faculty of engineering, University of Rijeka, Rijeka,