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Protection against lightning and switching overvoltage MV surge arresters

Why the transformer needs to be protected

During operation, an electrical distribution network undergoes external stress such as overvoltage. This overvoltage often damages the electrical equipment when the amplitude exceeds the insulation level for which the equipment was sized. The transformer has the same insulation level as the other equipment but may undergo a higher level of stress when an overvoltage occurs. Indeed, it acts as a high input impedance in pulsed operating conditions. It therefore provides the best point of wave reflection and is consequently one of the most exposed tive parts on the network. This is why it is necessary to protect the transformer from the outside environment and limit overvoltage to an acceptable level, i.e. by ensuring there is a margin in relation to the devices insulation level. The best way of doing this is to install surge arresters close to the transformers connection points.

overvoltage factor 10 to 15

types of overvoltage - atmospheric - due to interruption*

protection levels

transformer withstand level llightning impulse withstand withstand at 2.5 Un

surge arresters range of effect

2 to 4 3 1

due to switching due to power frequency

Taken from Schneider Electric Technical booklet N151

* multiple arcing in specific operating conditions

Overvoltage withstand of the transformer and the surge arrester

Why overvoltage causes a problem

An overvoltage is a voltage whose value is abnormally high in relation to the network operating voltage. It may be caused by either: - atmospheric conditions, in which case it is external to the network, - switching operations or resonance phenomena, in which case the cause is said to be internal, - or the untimely opening of the circuit-breaker during transformer magnetisation.

Atmospheric overvoltage
This is caused by atmospheric discharge (from lightning), and may be generated : either directly, when lightning strikes the transformers feed line conductors, or indirectly, when lightning strikes the ground or metallic structures near the line, thus generating induced current and an increase in the ground potential.

T3 : MV surge arresters on transformers 03/02/2004


Switching overvoltage
This is caused by maintenance work on the networks during which circuit-breakers or fuses interrupt inductive or capacitive loads.

Overvoltage caused by untimely opening on energizing

The circuit-breaker may open just after energizing if the protection devices have not been set correctly, or if the user does not have sufficient knowledge of the making currents or has forgotten to implement the H2 check. This untimely opening during transformer magnetisation causes significant overvoltage.

The ideal solution to the problem is the surge arrester

The surge arrester is a static device designed to limit the amplitude of overvoltage, which may be generated at a given point on the network.
Current via surge arrester

In = 10 kA

Operating Uc = Voltage 15 kV

Ures = 75 kV

Voltage at surge arrester terminals

Dynamic behaviour of a surge arrester

The overvoltage is limited by running off the current into the earth via the surge arrester. The surge arrester is permanently connected to the network, close to the transformers terminals. When an overvoltage wave is propagated over the network and becomes greater than the surge arresters limitation voltage, the resistance of the surge arrester becomes temporarily very weak, allowing the current to be run off to earth and hence limiting the voltage at the transformers terminals. It spontaneously recovers its insulation quality once the voltage has reached its normal value again.. This solution offers a genuine advantage in terms of network operation since it does not involve interrupting the supply.
Voltage Without a surge arrester

With a surge arrester


Behaviour of surge arrester in overvoltage conditions

Choice of surge arrester, and its purpose

T3 : MV surge arresters on transformers 03/02/2004


To justify the use of a surge arrester, it is necessary to assess the risk of lightning striking using various parameters such as : the lightning impact level Nk, which is the number of days a year thunder has been detected in a given place, the type of network, the topology of the place. To define a surge arrester it is necessary to know the networks characteristics, and notably the neutral point connection conditioning the choice of constant operating voltage. The transformer manufacturer is usually unaware of the network parameters; furthermore, probability calculations differ according to the type of network and the country.
The main electrical sizing criteria are:

the maximum constant voltage Umcov, dependent on the rated voltage Un and neutral point connection, the rated current (e.g. 10 kA), the residual voltage at In (8/20 s wave), creepage distance.
Rated voltage transformer Un

Info on neutral point connection


If no info, take Uc=Umax =1.1 x Un


Umax = 1.1 x Un

Impedance neutral with Z < 40

Impedance neutral with Z > 40 or isolated power

Grounded neutral

Uc = 1,5*Umax / 1,732

Uc = Umax

Uc = 1,4*Umax / 1,732

Choice of the surge arrester

Selected surge arrester

Simplified diagram of the surge arrester selection procedure

T3 : MV surge arresters on transformers 03/02/2004


If the distance between the surge arrester and the transformer to be protected is significant, the wave will be reflected at the terminals of this last one, whose impedance is high, causing stress well above the surge arresters level of protection. In this situation, the surge arrester no longer ensures its protective role. It is consequently imperative to : - install the surge arrester in the immediate vicinity of the transformer (less than 10 metres if possible), and even directly on this one. - connect the earth of the surge arrester directly to the mass of the transformer ; in this way the transformer will undergo the overvoltage limited by the surge arrester. Remember that the impedance of an earth cable is 1H/m, which means that if a lightning impulse of 1 kA/s with a rising front is run off to earth, the voltage drop is 1 kV/m.

The discharge counter

As the surge arrester has a limited service life, it should be changed when the number of discharges exceeds 500. The number of discharges can be tracked using a discharge counter, automatically installed with the surge arresters earth connection.

Surge arrester ideal installation

Conclusions and recommendations

What you should remember: Surge arresters should be installed if: - Nk > 25 - switching transformers with weak inductive load - overhead-underground supply It is essential to install phase-earth surge arresters in the following cases: When the lightning impact level Nk is greater than 25, the risk of direct or induced atmospheric overvoltage is directly proportional to Nk (e.g. Indonesia Nk = 180 ). During the occasional switching (less than 10 operations a year) of a transformer with a weak load, or during a magnetisation period. We strongly recommend that phase-earth surge arresters be installed in the following case: When the substation is supplied by a network including overhead parts, then a cable which is longer than 20m (case of an overhead-underground network).

T3 : MV surge arresters on transformers 03/02/2004